|Vol.7, No.42, 15.11.01, p2
Israeli diplomats are warning that the EU will wreck its efforts to establish a reputation as an 'honest broker' in the Middle East if it imposes sanctions on Ariel Sharon's government next week for abusing its trade accord with Brussels.
The Union's frustration over the export of goods with a 'Made in Israel' label from the occupied territories is due to dominate next Tuesday's (19 November) meeting of the EU-Israel association council. As European Voice went to press, EU ambassadors were discussing whether the duty-free status enjoyed by such produce should be scrapped because its labelling breaches the 'rules of origin' provisions in the trade agreement.
Officials at Israel's EU embassy said they are seeking a compromise, which would depoliticise the row so that it is deemed a purely technical matter. One argued that if the Union insisted on imposing duties on the products, "this would give a negative inflection to the EU's role in the peace process. The EU wants to play the role of an honest broker but an honest broker doesn't take one-sided decisions," the official added.
Although the EU has been expressing frustration with Israel over its control of €227-million worth of exports from the occupied territories since 1998, observers have detected that the language used by policy-makers on this issue has become more emphatic in the past year. In May, for example, External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten coupled his references to the 'rules of origin' dispute with a condemnation of the "disproportionate use of force" by Israeli troops against Palestinians. However, The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the Union's ambassador to Israel, Giancarlo Chevallard, had said some member states did not want to force the issue at this stage.
Tuesday's meeting in Brussels follows this weekend's peace mission by an EU 'troika' to the Middle East. The Union will be represented at the association council by Patten, foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Belgium's Foreign Minister Louis Michel; Israel is due to be represented by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Israeli diplomats are warning that the EU will wreck its efforts to establish a reputation as an 'honest broker' in the Middle East if it imposes sanctions on Ariel Sharon's government for abusing its trade accord with Brussels.
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