Union prepares to step up pressure on Netanyahu

Series Title
Series Details 05/09/96, Volume 2, Number 32
Publication Date 05/09/1996
Content Type

Date: 05/09/1996

By Elizabeth Wise

WHEN EU foreign ministers meet this weekend, they will have plenty to digest as they take stock of the world's turnings since they last met more than a month ago.

But perhaps the most pressing item will be to forge some kind of cattle prod to get Israel's young government back on the Middle East peace wagon.

They will have several opportunities to do so in the coming weeks.

Several of them will have meetings in the next few days with Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who today begins his first European tour on behalf of Premier Benjamin Netanyahu's three-month-old government.

Levy will meet his Irish counterpart, Dick Spring, before the 15 EU foreign affairs chiefs gather tomorrow evening (6 September) for a weekend of informal talks in Tralee, in Ireland's County Kerry. Levy will also meet his opposite numbers in London, Bonn, Paris and Rome next week.

One of the subjects under discussion with Levy will be a proposed EU 'troika' trip to the Middle East in October by Irish, Italian and Dutch foreign policy officials. Plans for this have already run into opposition from Tel Aviv over the EU's insistence on visiting the Palestinians' Orient House office in Jerusalem. The dispute has been heated enough to prompt rumours that the Israeli leg of the trip, which would include stops in Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian territories, might be called off.

The third and most substantial opportunity will come on 1 October, when EU foreign ministers will be presented with a draft EU-Palestinian accord on trade and economic cooperation.

The Union would like to formalise its political and economic ties with the Palestinian Authority in an association agreement similar to those it has with Israel and other Mediterranean nations.

But it has agreed to restrain itself to those areas over which Israel allows the Palestinians autonomy.

So far, Israel has not questioned the Union on the content of its proposed trade accord with Yassir Arafat's government and EU governments are likely to approve the accord easily, because the volume of Palestinian agricultural exports is so trivial, and quickly because, say officials, “there is a political priority behind this”.

The EU, which has committed more than 80 million ecu to the Palestinians this year, is losing patience with Netanyahu's continued closure of Palestinian areas which limits the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel and chokes exports from the territories.

Calls from European capitals for Netanyahu to reduce tensions with the Palestinians are being made with increasing frequency and intensity as plans for Jewish settlements in the West Bank expand.

Bonn last week referred to the Israeli moves as “obstacles to peace” and called for EU efforts to stop Jewish settlement expansion, while Dublin asked Israelis and Palestinians “immediately to re-engage themselves in the peace process”.

An Israeli diplomat said he hoped this week's meeting between Netanyahu and Arafat could ease tensions and even sow the seeds for an agreement over Israeli troops still in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Such a meeting, combined with the Levy visit, should give the EU more confidence in Netanyahu's government, he said. “The Levy visit demonstrates the importance for our government of having good and close contacts with the Union,” he added.

But European policy leaders will need more convincing now than even a month ago, when diplomats and EU officials spoke cautiously of subjects such as Netanyahu's backtracking from the previous government's “land for peace” approach. A policy of “wait and see” has changed to outright pessimism about the premier's intentions as regards the Middle East peace process. “It has probably got worse rather than better,” said an EU official.

One European diplomat was equally gloomy. “We have moved from a situation of peace for land to peace for very little. There will be strong feelings in the Union that we need to take a stronger line,” he said.

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Record URL https://www.europeansources.info/record/?p=309411