BRUSSELS (Oct. 30)
E.U. lawmakers sympathetic to Israel say a European Parliament report that urges Israel and the Palestinians to implement the “road map” peace plan is unbalanced.
The Parliament overwhelmingly adopted the report, entitled “Peace and Dignity in the Middle East,” on Oct. 23.
Most E.U. lawmakers consider the report balanced. However, even after some anti-Israel language was watered down, some E.U. lawmakers who consider themselves friends of Israel have criticized the report.
The report starts by urging the Palestinian Authority to reorganize its security forces, establish public order and make concrete efforts to dismantle terrorist organizations.
It also calls for free, fair and transparent elections in the Palestinian Authority as soon as possible.
Israel is urged to withdraw its army from Palestinian areas, stop targeted killings of terrorist leaders and freeze all settlement activities and construction of its West Bank security fence.
Israel also is urged to refrain from military operations that result in Palestinian civilian casualties.
Parliament members said they condemn Israel’s Oct. 5 airstrike on a terrorist training camp in Syria, considering it a violation of international law. The strike came a day after a suicide bombing in Haifa carried out by a terrorist group based in Syria.
They also expressed their solidarity with a group of 27 Israel Air Force pilots who issued a public letter refusing to fly missions in populated Palestinian areas.
The report opposes any attempt to deport, banish or kill P.A. President Yasser Arafat. However, the report calls on Arafat to participate more actively in implementation of the road map.
Critics of the report have focused on how it deals with terrorism and on its suggestion for an international force for the region.
The report condemns Palestinian terrorism, mentioning an Oct. 15 attack on a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the Gaza Strip that killed three Americans. However, the next paragraph condemns “all acts of terrorism and military repression against civilians and the excessive use of military force by Israel.”
That was galling to supporters of Israel.
“This paragraph is unacceptable because it puts Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli military ‘repression’ on equal footing,” Belgian lawmaker Frederique Ries said.
French lawmaker Jean-Thomas Nordmann said, “I have the impression that, for some, the idea of Jews responding, instead of letting themselves be killed like in the good old days, is shocking and scandalous.”
According to Simona Halperin, an Israeli official responsible for relations with the European Parliament, the language creates an ambiguity that could harm Israel in the future.
“Many parliamentarians I have spoken to would not agree to place” Israel Defense Forces’ “actions on equal footing with Palestinian terrorism,” she said. “But unfortunately the text can be interpreted this way for those who do.”
The report also says that if the road map collapses, an “international mandate” under the authority of the road map’s authors — the so-called diplomatic “Quartet” of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — should be established in Palestinian areas, with an international force.
“There seems to be some indecent haste in trying to invent roles for putative E.U.-badged military forces, which is all part of some other agenda and little to do with the Middle East peace process,” British lawmaker and former NATO official Geoffrey Van Orden said.
Aside from these sore points, however, Israel supporters say the report has some positive elements.
“One of the major successes of this report is the issue of the ‘right of return’ for the Palestinian refugees,” Halperin said, referring to the Palestinian demand that millions of refugees and their descendants from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence be allowed to return to their former homes inside Israel.
The report says any such return should generally be confined to a future Palestinian state. Deputies have called on all Arab states concerned, especially Lebanon, to enable refugees to acquire citizenship where they currently live.
“This is the very first time that any E.U. body recognizes the delicate problem of the refugees in this light,” said Halperin, who called the development a “major achievement.”
“Back in the spring, this started out as a very anti-Israel report, but ended as an E.U. call for the parties to maintain the road map as the solution for peace,” Halperin explained.
In her view, European Parliament members increasingly are aware of the dangers Israelis face from terrorism every day.
They also have been exposed to peace campaigners such as Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh and former Israeli security chief Ami Ayalon. The two visited the European Parliament in mid-October as part of an effort to build support for their grass-roots peace plan.
The European Union this year has contributed about $285 million to the Palestinians through support to the Palestinian Authority, the UNRWA program for refugees and various non-governmental organizations.
According to the E.U. executive body, this is the most aid per capita anywhere in the world.