BRUSSELS (Dec. 19)
The European Community will undertake a major diplomatic initiative in the Middle East next month, sending a ministerial delegation first to Israel for talks with Israeli leaders and then to Tunis to meet with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat.
The purpose — to advance the peace process by trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians together — is being pursued in light of the American decision to hold a dialogue with the PLO.
The ministerial mission selected for the task has been dubbed a “troika” by diplomats here. It will consist of ministers of Greece, Spain and France, probably headed by the Spanish foreign minister, Francisco Fernandez Ordonez.
Greece will relinquish the rotating chairmanship of the E.C. Council of Ministers at the end of the year. Spain will hold it for the first six months of 1989 and France for the second six months.
“The fact that Israel will be the first party to be contacted by the troika means that the E.C. wants to stress that Israel may rely on European understanding and support,” an E.C. diplomat told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
GAINING ISRAEL’S CONFIDENCE
All three countries have Socialist governments which have been more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the European Community’s northern tier of states — Britain, West Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Therefore, they are expected to make a special effort to gain the confidence of Israel. The fact that Israel stands first on the list represents a “concession” by Greece, the most pro-Palestinian of all 12 E.C. countries.
The troika countries have emphasized that Israel must not be made to feel isolated by the European Community in the wake of the PLO’s “peace offensive.”
“We must avoid any initiative or gesture that may harden Israel’s position,” one British diplomat said.
“All this will of course be undertaken in close contact with the United States,” an E.C. official explained.
The ultimate goal is direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO and other parties concerned, within the framework of an international peace conference under U.N. auspices, the official said.