‘Aggressive’ EU stance demanded on Middle East

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Series Details Vol.7, No.40, 1.11.01, p4
Publication Date 31/10/2001
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Date: 31/10/01

By David Cronin

THE EU should play a "more aggressive role" in the quest for peace in the Middle East, a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has urged. "Europe can be aggressive without being anti-Israeli," Amjad Atallah told European Voice. "It can be aggressive in presenting proposals that both sides can use in final status negotiations [on territories under dispute]."

Acknowledging that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been "involved daily" in attempts to reinvigorate the region's peace process, he added: "The EU has traditionally been cautious in the Middle East. It has been afraid of sounding arrogant and doesn't want to tread on US toes. There might be too much caution, when you consider it is Israel's largest trading partner."

Despite being critical of the Union's deference to Washington's close relationship with Israel, Atallah said it is vital for a EU-US initiative to sponsor fresh peace talks before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting season which starts on 17 November. "There has to be an international consensus that talks take place within a certain period of time," he stressed. Another member of the Palestinian delegation visiting Brussels last weekend, Dr Amr Shalakany, is optimistic that such an initiative would be taken but less hopeful about its substance. "It isn't a question of whether there will be a Palestinian state. That's already a given. It's a question about the nature of the state. Will it be a viable one?" Palestinians are adamant that the Israeli 'final status' proposal made last year at the Camp David talks was unacceptable. A PLO paper states that it would have the Palestinian territory divided into four separate cantons "entirely surrounded, and therefore controlled, by Israel".

Additionally, Palestinians would have been denied control over their own borders, airspace and water resources. In May, the EU censured Ariel Sharon's government for placing 'Made in Israel' labels on goods from the occupied territories in an attempt to qualify for tariff reductions.

The EU-Israeli association council is due to discuss what further action should be taken on this 'rules of origin' case in November. Shalakany is concerned that an arbitration proceeding could be launched "which would drag on forever and ever".

It would be preferable, he argues, if the Union warns importers that they should not handle the goods and insists that Israel respects international law.

Maen Areikat, head of the PLO's negotiation affairs department, contends that the progress made in Northern Ireland in the past week due to IRA decommissioning could provide an inspiration for the Middle East. But he said Sharon does not reciprocate Palestinian gestures in the way Britain has done, by starting to dismantle its military surveillance posts in Ulster. "Since 11 September, there is a tendency to try and put out fires raging all over the world in terms of regional conflict.

And yet Israel is still showing a total disregard for the wishes of the international community."

The EU should play a 'more aggressive role' in the quest for peace in the Middle East, a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has urged.

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