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European Peace Initiative Prompts Dispute with Israel

January 27, 1998
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A squabble has erupted between Israel and the European Union.

Senior Israeli officials in Europe are reacting angrily to increasingly strident demands by the E.U. for a place alongside the United States at the high table of Middle East peace diplomacy.

Europe has repeatedly sought to be a part of the peace process, but the latest E.U. bid took the form of a recent initiative by European Commissioner Manuel Marin, which, replete with veiled threats and warnings, is demanding that the 15-nation European Union receive a larger, more active role in recognition of its financial assistance to the peace process.

The initiative, approved by the European Commission, the E.U.’s highest decision-making body, seeks to translate Europe’s economic aid into political clout.

It also links future economic cooperation with Israel to Israeli acceptance of enhanced European involvement in the diplomatic process.

Israel knows it cannot simply ignore the demands of the European Union, which is its largest single trading partner, accounting for about one-third of Israel’s total foreign trade.

The Marin initiative complains that the substantial economic assistance to the Palestinians by the European Union has been “contaminated” — a frequently used word — by Israeli measures that have stunted Palestinian development.

Without referring to widespread corruption and cronyism within the Palestinian Authority or Israel’s own economic assistance to the Palestinians, the 23-page document lays the blame for Palestinian economic misfortune exclusively on Israeli measures, particularly the closures it imposes on the self-rule areas after each terror attack.

The European Union has been the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, but the E.U. document speaks of “international donor fatigue” brought on by a lack of progress and warns that “regional cooperation and integration cannot make headway unless there is real progress toward a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

It says the European Commission, which is responsible for allocating E.U. aid, would like to extend the economic assistance program to the Palestinians, but adds that while the commission can make proposals to improve the situation, “real advancement will only be possible if a number of conditions are met.”

Heading the list of demands is an end to the closures, which would allow the Palestinians “to exercise their right to economic development,” and unfettered trade access for the Palestinians to foreign markets, including Israel.

And it warns that the joint Israeli-E.U. dialogue, which is designed to overcome trade obstacles, “would have to be re-evaluated” in the absence of “tangible results.”

One Israeli source in Europe criticized the European Union demand that Israel should end its closures as a security measure for the sake of developing the Palestinian economy:

“No external body can tell a sovereign government to knowingly endanger its citizens,” said the source.

The source also contemptuously dismissed expressions of European concern for Israel’s security: “Its proposal to assist on security matters is nonsense.”

A statement by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem was more diplomatic in rejecting Europe’s demand for a greater role in bilateral talks, insisting “the existing frameworks are adequate to meet the current needs.”

And while it encouraged Europe to continue its efforts to strengthen the Palestinian economy, it said inadequate reference was made to the efforts Israel has invested in improving the Palestinian economy.

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