Europeans to Vote Wednesday on Trade Pacts with Israel

A ratification vote on three economic and trade agreements Israel signed last year with the 12 European Community member states is expected to take place this Wednesday at a meeting of the European Parliament.

It will be the second vote on this matter since March, when the Strasbourg-based Parliament, the E.C.’s legislative body, refused to endorse the protocols. The rebuff was an expression of displeasure over Israel’s handling of the Palestinian uprising.

This time, however, chances for approval seem good. Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel has been lobbying vigorously for a positive vote. On Sunday he ended a five-day official visit to Belgium as guest of the Belgian Parliament.

“Everyone now understands that one cannot use an economic agreement to impose a political idea,” Hillel told a news conference here. “Rejecting the ratification of those protocols is useless, for the political situation as well as from the economic point of view.”

Hillel was cautious about predicting the outcome of Wednesday’s voting. “As a parliamentarian, let me tell you that I will only be assured after the vote,” he said.

Hillel said he met with the president of the Parliament of Europe, Lord Plumb of Britain, while attending a gathering of European speakers of parliament last week in Bern, Switzerland.

He also met with several other members of the Strasbourg assembly from its Liberal, Socialist and Christian Democratic factions.

According to an official of the Parliament of Europe, there is no “100 percent” guarantee that the trade agreements will be ratified this time.

Nevertheless, he said, “the fact that the three protocols have been referred back to the plenary session suggests that there has been an agreement between the major political groups prior to the vote.”

In order to be ratified, 260 of the 518 deputies must vote for the agreements. The Socialists, the largest bloc in the European Parliament with 165 members, recently announced they would no longer oppose them.

During the March voting, Socialists, Communists, Greens and even some Conservatives and Christian Democrats joined to block ratification. Israeli clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were at a peak at the time.

The parliamentarians also accused Israel of reneging on an agreement to allow Palestinians in the territories to export their agricultural produce directly to the European Common Market countries instead of through the official government marketing agency.

That dispute has since been ironed out.

NEXT STORY