Signs of strain show as Israel ‘snubs’ Commission request

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Series Details Vol 7, No.18, 3.5.01, p2
Publication Date 03/05/2001
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Date: 03/05/01

By John Shelley

A EUROPEAN Commission request to expand its delegation in Jerusalem is being quietly ignored amid signs of increasing strains in its relationship with Israel.

Sources close to Ariel Sharon's government say it has chosen not to reply to an application from External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten's department to boost staff numbers at the institution's delegation to the Palestinian Authority.

"There was a decision not to give a positive answer," said the Israeli source. He claimed that his government regarded the Commission as increasingly pro-Palestinian.

The Jerusalem office had been chosen as one of 23 representations worldwide to be beefed up in the first phase of the Commission's 'flagship' reform of the external relations directorate general, announced last May.

But without Israel's support, which it needs under existing rules, the plans to expand the EU's office now seem doomed for the immediate future.

Patten's spokesman, Gunnar Wiegand, insisted that the go-ahead for expansion of the office was merely "taking a longer time than originally envisaged".

"I can neither say that there has been a positive breakthrough or that things have broken down; it's an ongoing process," he added.

The development follows a strong reaction by the Commission after last week's report in European Voice that revealed MEPs'concerns over the funding of Palestinian school textbooks containing anti-Israeli sentiments.

The Commission reiterated previous statements by Patten that none of its 180 million euro-a-year funding for the Palestinian Authority was spent on books.

However, European cash from Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands has gone towards the printing and distribution of school books introduced last year.

These countries insist the books are a marked improvement over the Jordanian and Egyptian teaching materials which were previously used, and they say they carefully monitor the way the money has been spent.

"The programme has built into it strict monitoring and reporting requirements," said Irish spokeswoman Sinead Ryan.

Israel, though, claims some of the books are still anti-Jewish.

In a letter to Patten, Israel's EU ambassador Harry Kney-Tal said: "The open call for the demise of Israel, found in previous curricula, is no longer present. Notwithstanding that, the new Palestinian books fail to educate the new generation of students to perceive Israel as a legitimate neighbour, thus raising significant doubts about the Palestinian ultimate design."

Finnish foreign office official Keijo Ruokoranta said his government was carefully reviewing its scheme for funding Palestinian books because of fears about anti-Semitism.

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's minister for international cooperation, reacted angrily when confronted with the allegations that his administration was misspending European money.

He likened the position of his people to that of a raped woman being blamed for the crimes against her.

"We are not spending EU money in this way; we are seeking EU money to support the setting up of the minimum institutions that we need," he said after meeting High Representative Javier Solana for talks in Brussels last Thursday.

A European Commission request to expand its delegation in Jerusalem is being quietly ignored amid signs of increasing strains in its relationship with Israel.

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