STRASBOURG, France (Dec. 10)
The European Community has lashed out at Israel’s alleged human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, at a time when the United States is moving closer toward bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the bargaining table.
After a two-day summit here, the leaders of the 12 nations of the European Community issued a statement Saturday calling on Israel to “abandon its repressive policy in the occupied territories.”
The communique could not have pleased Washington, coming as it did just after the Bush administration won backing from both Egypt and Israel for Secretary of State James Baker’s five-point proposal for preliminary talks between Israel and a Palestinian delegation.
The Americans clearly do not relish European interference at this stage, especially as their allies are openly skeptical of the U.S. initiative’s chances to succeed.
French President Francois Mitterrand, who currently chairs the community, has backed the Baker plan, and the other E.C. leaders are expected to follow suit.
But the E.C. leaders hope the Baker initiative will lead toward an international peace conference, which they consider the only way to a comprehensive settlement in the region.
The United States is dubious and the Israelis are fiercely opposed to the conference scenario.
The Israelis distrust the Europeans, whom they consider pro-Arab, and would like them to stay out of the unfolding process altogether. But they have failed to persuade the E.C. to remain on the sidelines.
GENEVA CONVENTION CITED
The Arabs on the other hand, including Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, insist the 12-member-state E.C. must play an active role.
The so-called “troika” of E.C. ministers designated to conduct Middle East diplomacy was encouraged to do this on its visits last month to Tunis and Cairo. They are the foreign ministers of Spain, France and Ireland, the past, current and future chairman respectively of the E.C. Council of Ministers.
The three also met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and reportedly asked him to show “political flexibility” in the peace process.
The E.C. leadership met here late last week, for its traditional year-end summit. It was the final occasion for France to wield its influence as chair of the 12-nation body. The rotating office goes to Ireland next month.
The two-day gathering coincided with the second anniversary of the outbreak of the intifada, as the Arabs call their uprising against the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians received strong moral support.
Mark Eyskens, the Belgian foreign minister, admitted to reporters that the E.C. statement on the Middle East was “a tough text for Israel, but encouraging for the Palestinians, particularly in the territories.”
It reminded Israel of the need “for the occupying power to respect strictly the obligations arising from the Fourth Geneva Convention” of 1949, which governs the behavior of nations occupying civilian populations during wartime.
Israel was accused of not abiding by the convention “in sectors as essential as education and health.”
The Europeans also deplored “the continuous deterioration of the situation in the territories, which affects gravely the conditions of life of the population, jeopardizes tangibly the future of the Palestinian society and hinders the economic and social development of the territories.”
WILL INCREASE ECONOMIC AID
In that connection, the E.C. pledged to increase substantially its economic aid to the residents of the territories.
That resolve apparently was the result of a report recently submitted by a mission of E.C. experts who visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip to study conditions.
The E.C. commissioner for Mediterranean affairs said the additional European aid to the territories would mainly be used for education and to promote trade.
He said it was important to increase E.C. aid to education, because the Israelis have shut down all of the Arab universities in the territories, a move condemned by the E.C.
The E.C., through its European Commission, has asked Israel to lift the tariffs and fiscal measures which, it says, are an obstacle to increased aid.
The E.C. commissioner also promised to help Palestinian farmers to export their products to the E.C. market. The Palestinians have been allowed, since 1988, to export directly to Europe, bypassing the official Israeli export agencies.
But the results have been far below expectations, largely because of the Arabs’ lack of experience in export management. The Palestinians are complaining that the Israeli authorities sabotatged their first seasonal shipment of grapes to Europe.