Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Europe, US Parting Ways Over Peace Process
In what appears to be a growing divide between US and European approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the European Union this week expressed support for the Palestinian position that Israeli concessions made since the Camp David talks should serve as the starting point for future negotiations.
In contrast, caretaker Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former US President Bill Clinton and current President George W. Bush have all rejected the idea that new Israeli leader Ariel Sharon is bound by Clinton's bridging proposals or Barak's offers over recent months.
An official EU declaration on last week's Israeli election stated, "The European Union understands that much ground has already been covered in open and frank negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authorityâ€¦ The European Union is convinced that the progress made on all major issues during the last negotiations should form the basis for future talks on the permanent status."
This statement echoes other EU positions taken recently that appear meant to demonstrate clear support for the Palestinian cause and bitter criticism of Israel and Sharon. But it is a position at sharp odds with the official US and Israeli policies.
Barak spelled out in letters sent to Bush, PLO chief Yasser Arafat, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson (who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency) last week that Israel considers the ideas raised in the final-status negotiations held during his tenure as null and void, because of the agreed upon principle that "nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed."
The Bush administration has also let it be known that it no longer sees the Clinton bridging proposals, based upon negotiations held at Camp David in July and in other locations until December, as a binding US initiative. Even Clinton himself expressed before leaving office that his proposals should exit with him.
Sharon has dispatched emissaries to the EU to explain his diplomatic plan, as well as his position that the new government will not view the ideas raised at Camp David or Taba - but never worked into a written document - as binding in any way.
One EU official said Monday that Sharon could face a cold shoulder from the EU if he does not continue with the peace process. The Europeans are "going to be impatient awaiting progress in the peace process," he said, adding that the EU is "deeply concerned" about the deteriorating economic situation in the PA born of the closure on the territories and Israel's unwillingness over the last few months to transfer VAT taxes to the PA.
Asked what Sharon could do to improve his image in Europe, the official said, "There would be great relief in Europe to lifting the closure and halting the economic strangulation." In a generous show of their underlying sympathies since November, the EU has given some $52.5 million in emergency aid to the PA to pay salaries, with another $55.3 m. already allocated. This comes at a time when Arab League states are refusing to release over $250 million in collected donations to the Palestinians because they do not trust Arafat with their money.
In conversations with high-ranking US and European diplomats over the weekend, Sharon said that he does not want to punish the Palestinian population that is not involved in the violence, but wants to see a reduction of violence before lifting the economic measures. He also said the decision for an easing of the economic situation is completely up to Arafat.
But even before taking up leadership as prime minister, Sharon is already suffering from international disapproval. While the election of Barak in May 1999 was followed by a number of high-level, high-profile congratulatory visits from EU officials, no similar visits are scheduled in the case of Sharon's election.
And the United Nations appears to share EU sentiments and has increased its criticism and pressure on Israel and its new leadership. In reference to the economic closures imposed on PA areas by Israel, UN special Mideast envoy Terje Larsen said, "I think this is probably the most acute crisis now facing the international community. There is an absolutely acute need of assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
"Living conditions areâ€¦ deteriorating," he insisted. "We have a situation where we have 38 percent unemployment and over 30 percent of the population are under the poverty level, earning less than $2 a dayâ€¦ This also fuels anger and hatred. People are losing hope in the peace process and [it] also fuels the situation where the security situation, in my opinion, will continue to deteriorate." He also noted the PA was near the point of not being able to pay its employees.
Larsen said these economic hardships come as a result of the confrontations, mobility restrictions and border closures that have occurred since the end of September. But Larsen somehow ignored Palestinian responsibility for these events, and, instead placed the blame on Israel for the after-effects of the Palestinian-initiated uprising.
"Specifically to Prime Minister Barak and Prime Minister-elect Sharon, I have said that Israel's closure policy has been colossally counterproductive," he said. "It damages Israel's legitimate security interests, and it is particularly damaging to the fabric of the Palestinian economy and society."
Asked about charges of corruption within the PA that have led Israel and Arab states to withhold the allocation of funds to the PA, Larsen said that "good governance and transparency" will be necessary if the PA is going to raise more funds.
In a meeting in Cairo at the start of the uprising, the Arab states met and agreed to donate $1 billion to the Palestinians in support of the renewed intifada. They have since frozen payment of the funds on account of Arafat's unwillingness to share information on the transfer and allocation of funds he receives, especially considering Arafat's long history of corruption and embezzlement of funds. Israel, too, has suspended the transfer of taxes and custom revenues to the PA.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.