Assertive E.u. Posture Worries Israeli Officials

Israel is looking for ways to respond to a European Union that wants to take a more active role in the peace process.

A top-level Israeli delegation, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political aide Uzi Arad, traveled to London last week to brief 15 Israeli ambassadors stationed across Europe.

Israel mistrusts Europe’s ability to be even-handed in the political arena, but some officials believe the European Union could encourage normalization and economic cooperation, and devise a code of conduct for the negotiations.

While the officials say they would welcome intensified European involvement in these issues, they would oppose a more substantive role for Europe in direct bilateral political negotiations.

But some officials are concerned that Israel will be unable to successfully oppose Europe’s demands for a more substantive role in negotiations unless momentum is restored to the stagnant peace process.

E.U. officials during the past month have made it clear that Europe is no longer satisfied to restrict its contribution to financial aid.

The latest bid to enhance the organization’s role came in a recent 23-page document in which the 15-member European Union not only seeks a more central role alongside the United States in the peace process, but also hinted that future economic cooperation with Israel will be linked to Israeli acquiescence over Europe’s ambitions.

The meeting of Israeli envoys coincided with a wide-ranging interview by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Saudi-owned, London-based daily al- Hayat.

Blair, who was due to meet with President Clinton in Washington this week, declared that Israeli troop redeployments in the West Bank should be substantial, credible and implemented “without preconditions.”

Israeli settlement activity is “illegal and in direct conflict with the principle of land-for-peace on which the whole peace process is built,” Blair said in written answers to questions put by the paper’s editor.

He also called for implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, which demands Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Only “the full withdrawal of Israeli troops can put an end to the tragic loss of life in southern Lebanon,” he said.

Blair reiterated that the Middle East peace process would be one of Britain’s foreign policy priorities during its current presidency of the European Union.

Britain, he said, is also implementing a program of assistance to help the Palestinian Authority combat terrorism.

“We believe it is essential to tackle the problems faced by the Palestinian economy,” he said. “I sympathize with the despair experienced by Palestinians whose standard of living has fallen by 30 percent since the signature of the Oslo accords.”

In a separate development, the European Union said Monday it would give Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial $500,000 for a publication on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews.

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