LUXEMBOURG (Jun. 16)
Meeting here this week with the European Union’s Council of Foreign Ministers, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called for closer ties between his country and the E.U. as a quid pro quo for Israel’s cooperation in the Middle East peace process.
“We would like to receive things that were promised to us,” Peres told reporters after meeting with the ministers here Monday. Referring to Israeli technological expertise, he added, “We have important human capital that we want to export.”
During his discussions with the 12 European foreign ministers, Peres made a pitch for closer ties with the E.U., particularly in the area of research and development projects.
Peres reportedly stressed to the Council of Foreign Ministers that Israel had already done much of what the Europeans had requested for furthering the Middle East peace process.
It was therefore “unfair,” he said, that the E.U. was not showing more willingness to meet Israel’s concerns about its future relations with the European body.
Israel’s current negotiations with the E.U. to update their 1975 trade and economic agreement are likely to be concluded by the end of the year.
The E.U.’s 12 member nations had previously decided to strengthen their relations with Israel after it signed the Palestinian self-rule accord last fall.
Israel is currently suffering a $5 billion trade deficit with the E.U., which is its main trading partner.
In an effort to cut that deficit, Israel is hoping to gain greater access to European agricultural markets and to research and development programs. It is also hoping to stimulate European investment in Israeli companies.
Israeli diplomatic sources said that the E.U. had promised to have a more “balanced” attitude toward Israel following the signing of the self-rule accord.
ISRAELI COMPETITION FEARED
But some European countries are said to be reluctant to include Israel in joint research and development programs.
France and Britain in particular are said to fear Israeli competition in the high-tech arena.
Peres also used the meeting with the foreign ministers to criticize some European countries for dragging their feet in efforts to end the Arab economic boycott of Israel.
According to diplomatic sources, Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Theodoros Pangalos, who currently chairs the Council of Ministers asked Peres to freeze Israeli settlement activity in parts of the territories not covered by the self-rule accord and to grant Palestinians renewed access to their institutions in eastern Jerusalem.
These measures, Pangalos was quoted as saying, are necessary to consolidate the peace process and to improve commitment by Palestinians to the peace process.
But Peres later told journalists that “Jerusalem was not included in the autonomy accords and that it was not foreseen to discuss this issue in the next two years.”
During his Luxembourg visit, Peres also met with the president of the E.U.’s Executive Commission, Jacques Delors, and discussed Delors’ initiative to set up an assistance plan to supply water and energy to the Middle East.
During the meeting, Delors, a leading French Socialist, expressed his unequivocal support for granting Israel full status in the E.U.’s research and development program.
Peres received a similar assurance during a meeting with Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jacques Santer. It was also announced that Luxembourg will invest approximately $3 million in joint scientific and research projects with Israel.
On Tuesday, at Italy’s invitation, Peres met with Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Martino to discuss recent Israeli concerns about the inclusion of neo-fascists in the newly formed Italian government.
Peres later told reporters that the conversation had been “very good, friendly and open.”
“There are some problems concerning some members of the Italian government, but we shall not jump to conclusions,” he said. “We shall follow their actions, decisions and declarations, and our judgement will be based on what they will do or say.”
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Dvorah Getzler in Jerusalem.)