[Boycott - Euro News]
Former EU leaders call to sanction and boycott Israel
Benjamin Weinthal and Herb Keinon, The Jerusalem Post
12 December 2010
Twenty-six former European Union leaders, including the EU’s former top diplomat, Javier Solana, issued a letter last week calling for boycotts and sanctions targeting Israel due to settlement construction.
Javier Solana, former EU Foreign Policy Chief
According to the letter, which was reported on the euobserver.com website and addressed to EU leaders, the Jewish state, “like any other state,” ought to be slapped with “the consequences” and “a price tag” for its construction of housing in the West Bank.
Ten former European leaders signed the December 6 letter, including Germany’s former president Richard von Weizsäcker and ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former Irish president Mary Robinson, former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez and Thorvald Stoltenberg, an ex-Norwegian foreign and defense minister.
The 26 signatories called for the EU to prohibit import of products made in settlements, and demanded that Israel fund the bulk of aid to Palestinians. The letter also urged the EU to make an upgrade of relations with Israel contingent on the cessation of settlement construction.
The 26 signatories called for the EU to prohibit import of products made in settlements.
“Israel’s continuation of settlement activity... poses an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state,” the letter read.
Meanwhile, responding to the US decision to drop its settlement freeze demand, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s head of foreign affairs, wrote, “I note with regret that Israel has not been in a position to accept an extension of the moratorium as requested by the US, the EU and the Quartet. The EU position on settlements is clear: They are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Recent settlement related developments, including in east Jerusalem, contradict the efforts by the international community for successful negotiations.”
In an interview with the BBC, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the former EU leaders’ fixation on the settlements is “strange and harmful.”
“It is difficult to see how the call for sanctions and Israel’s isolation will promote peace, but clearly this will diminish the EU’s capability to play a constructive role in promoting peace in the region,” Palmor said.
He said that if the EU accepted the recommendations laid out in the letter, this would “totally sideline” it from the peace process. “To recommend sanctions against Israel,” he added, “is not only to ignore the simple fact that settlements never constituted an obstacle to peace and to territorial withdrawal, but it is also the most unhelpful way to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to reconciliation, compromise and peace.”
Another government official said that the letter was completely the wrong signal to send to the Palestinians at this time. “One of the problems we are facing now is that the Palestinians are disengaging from negotiations,” the official said, adding that Israel was concerned that the Palestinians were concluding there was no reason to negotiate because they can get a solution to their liking imposed from the outside.
Letters such as these, however well intended, “are only going to strengthen Palestinian intransigence since they will think there is another option,” the official said.
Tirawi expressed fear of an “explosion” in the Palestinian territories, not only because of the settlements, but also due to the “threat” to the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“I’ve been reading about warnings from an Israeli security official that parts of the Aksa Mosque may collapse,” he said. “I have warned in the past and say now that we can speculate what would happen if one stone of the Aksa Mosque falls. I fear we are headed toward an explosion. This could be the trigger that would set a fire in the whole region.”
Tirawi said he supported the idea of dismantling the PA once the peace process collapsed so that Israel would be held fully responsible for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Israel is not bearing any responsibility for occupation,” he said. “Occupation should not be that cheap for Israel.”
Israel faces tougher line from EU after former heads call for Palestinian state
Chris McGreal and Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian
10 December 2010
Twenty-six European grandees have urged the EU to adopt a tougher stance towards Israel including taking "concrete measures" and exacting "consequences" over continued settlement building on occupied land, which they say is illegal under international law.
The former EU leaders said that in the face of "the ongoing deterioration of the situation on the ground", the EU, in co-operation with other international bodies, should put forward a "concrete and comprehensive proposal for the resolution of this conflict". A deadline of April 2011 for progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians should be set, after which the international community should intervene.
"Time to secure a sustainable peace is fast running out," said the group, which includes former EU commissioner Chris Patten, former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former Irish president Mary Robinson and another nine former heads of state. It sent a letter to EU president Herman van Rompuy, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and all EU heads of government before a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, saying: "It is clear that without a rapid and dramatic move … a two-state solution, which forms the one and only available option for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, will be increasingly difficult to attain."
The letter says the group had received "signals" from US officials that the best way to help American efforts to reach a peace deal was to put a "price tag" on policies that contradict those advocated by Barack Obama.
The group calls on the EU to:
- Put forward a plan to resolve the conflict, including a clear time frame, together with the US, UN, Russia, and Arab League.
- Reiterate its position that it will not recognise any changes to the June 1967 boundaries [of Israel], that a Palestinian state should be "territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967", and that its capital should be East Jerusalem.
- Refuse to upgrade ties with Israel unless settlements are frozen. "The EU has always maintained that settlements are illegal, but has not attached any consequences for continued and systematic settlement expansion."
- Bring an end to the import of settlement products "which are, in contradiction with EU labelling recommendations, marketed as originating in Israel".
- Send a high-level delegation, including Lady Ashton, to East Jerusalem "as a matter of urgency to draw attention to the erosion of the Palestinian presence there, and report back to the EU with an agenda of proposals to arrest and reverse the deterioration of the situation on the ground". The situation in East Jerusalem, it says, is the "most critical flashpoint and greatest threat" to a peace deal.
The letter praises "impressive progress in the … development of the infrastructure of a Palestinian state", in which the EU has invested billions of euros.
The signatories to the letter all held office within the past decade, when there have been repeated attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Ashton replied to the letter, which refers in detail to EU policy on the Middle East agreed a year ago, saying "the implementation of the [EU's earlier] conclusions is proceeding on several fronts", according to the EUobserver website.
Ygal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the letter was "extremely problematic".
"It's hard to see how adopting uncritically all Palestinian positions and adopting a confrontational attitude to Israel will bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to reconciliation, compromise and peace.
"The document will only reinforce those who are suspicious of Europe's intentions and continue to marginalise the EU's role in peacemaking in this region."
He also denied that settlement products were mislabelled.
The letter, sent earlier this week, coincided with the US abandoning its attempts to persuade Israel to agree to a fresh settlement freeze in order to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was holding a series of bilateral meetings today with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in Washington.
Clinton was scheduled to meet the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, as well as the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the Israeli opposition leader, Tzipi Livni.
Clinton was expected to outline the direction of the administration's Middle East policy plans in a speech later. US officials say there is little prospect of direct talks. It is likely the Americans will return to shuttle diplomacy focused on issues of borders and Israel's security demands.
Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is returning to the region next week.
Europe must emerge from US' shadow
Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera
13 December 2010
The EU has allowed Washington to dominate Arab-Israeli diplomacy for far too long.
Several senior European politicians have urged the European Union (EU) to threaten Israel with sanctions if it continues to build Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
A letter signed by, among others, Mary Robinson, the former EU commissioner, and Javier Solana, the organisation's former foreign affairs chief, calls for a European peace plan based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the equivalent of "100 per cent of the territory [Israel] occupied in 1967, including its capital in East Jerusalem".
The demands made by the group of 26 former European leaders are not vastly different from the EU's declared position, but this call represents a push for a more assertive policy that includes measures designed to pressure Israel to comply.
Included within this is the suggestion that the EU's informal freeze on upgrading diplomatic relations with Israel should be linked to settlement construction. "The EU has always maintained that settlements are illegal, but has not attached any consequences for continued and systematic settlement expansion," the letter, which was sent to European governments and EU institutions, said.
The EU is essentially being called upon to take some initiative and move independently from the US policy that has so far dominated all diplomatic efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict - something long desired by Palestinians who have been disappointed by the EU's weakness before Washington.
Dominating the diplomatic stage
Independent EU policies, with claws, could dramatically alter the dynamics of international relations, particularly as they relate to the Middle East. But the fact that the signatories to the letter are politicians who until recently held powerful positions across Europe, indicates not only the extent of European resentment towards the status quo but also the continent's inability to break free from US foreign policy.
From the outset of Arab-Israeli negotiations, which began with the Madrid Conference in 1991, Europe has assumed an active but secondary role - leaving the US to dictate the terms of the process. Historically, the US was so keen to exclude other countries that it actively sought to prevent the convening of an international peace conference on the Middle East conflict until it was clear that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. Once it had collapsed, the US was able to fully monopolise the diplomatic stage.
With this US supremacy has come the dominance of Washington's policy focus, which has always been on ensuring that Israel maintains both a military and political edge. This it guaranteed by blocking others from participating in the asymmetrical negotiations.
The central difference between the US and the EU is that most European countries, rhetorically at least, believe that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be based on international law and UN resolutions, while the US seeks to negate these to ensure that any solution is based on Israeli-manufactured facts on the ground.
But despite this different political stand, the EU has, for the most part, fallen in line behind Washington - supporting and facilitating the US controlled negotiation process.
This deferral to the US as the sole superpower is not confined to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Europe has more broadly failed to meaningfully challenge US power or to seek greater parity in its alliance with the US - perhaps most notably displayed in its obedient following of Washington into the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Time to mutiny?
It is not only Europe's weakness, however, that has enabled the US to chart the parameters of Western relations with the region. Arabs are also to blame for maintaining the illusion that the key to peace is to be found in Washington's hands.
Arab officials often complain that Europe has failed to fulfill Arab expectations and left the region vulnerable to the US, but European officials, for their part, suggest that Arab submission to the US has undermined Europe's efforts to boost its role.
Both parties appear reluctant to loosen the US' grip on international relations.
It is important to note that European positions vary - with Britain, Germany, and to some extent, France, serving as the main European enforcers of US foreign policy. However, the fact that the letter was signed by former officials from these countries - including Chris Patten, a former British member of the European Commission, Helmut Schmidt, a former German chancellor, and Hubert Védrine, a former French foreign minister - reveals the extent of European frustration with Washington's full backing of Israel.
Israel, which was quick to condemn the letter, has always argued that Europe's "hostility" towards it impacts its leverage in the peace process, while the US has similarly employed the argument that its 'special relationship' with Israel better equips it to encourage Israeli compliance. But this argument is only partially true. Israel must be influenced by Europe, for it cannot sustain any standing in the world with US support alone.
Continuous Israeli lobbying in Europe and Israel's sensitivity towards popular European campaigns in solidarity with the Palestinians have repeatedly revealed that Israel is using the 'leverage' argument in a bid to blackmail Europe and undercut international pressures.
It is difficult to gauge the impact of the letter, but its timing suggests that the signatories believe that growing popular European campaigns against Israel's actions warrant an EU shift from words to deeds. It is time for Europe to regain its role, for Palestinians do not stand to be the only losers from continued European subordination to Washington.
Now that the US has abandoned its efforts to achieve a settlement freeze as a prelude to negotiations, Europe must put an end to the US monopoly of peace diplomacy. Arab states and the Palestinians must also stand up to support this mutiny by Europe's grandees, as the Guardian calls them, and should start by removing some of their eggs from Washington's basket.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.
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