Americans and Europeans Parting Ways on Intifada
ICEJ NEWS - 04/23/2001
The widely divergent approaches of American and European leaders to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been on display in recent days, with a visiting US Congressman blaming PLO chief Yasser Arafat for on-going violence, while a Belgian diplomat has come down hard on Israel.
US Representative Jim Kolbe, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees American foreign aid, led a congressional delegation to the region last week. On Thursday, Kolbe held a meeting with Arafat in Ramallah and told him that he had made a "terrible mistake" in turning down what he was offered in peace talks with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Later, in an interview with THE JERUSALEM POST, Kolbe said, "I do primarily place the blame on the Palestinians for the intifada that began last summer. [Arafat] turned down a generous offer at Camp David, and thought that he could pressure Israel. It is my view that he is fairly desperate now to get back to the negotiating table." When asked if he said this explicitly to Arafat, Kolbe replied: "We said absolutely that he rejected a more than generous offer, and that it was a terrible mistake." Kolbe said that the Palestinian response was that they do not feel that any firm offer was put on the table at Camp David.
Kolbe said that Arafat raised the possibility of simultaneously starting diplomatic negotiations without preconditions, and issuing a joint declaration with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon on ending the violence. Sharon later met with Kolbe and rejected the idea, saying that Israel wants to see "actions and not declarations." Officials in Sharon's office have said that Arafat brought up this idea with Kolbe to try to come up with something constructive in order to get an invitation to see President George W. Bush at the White House. A senior aide to Arafat insisted, however, that the idea of making simultaneous TV appearances to call for an end to the violence came from Kolbe, and Arafat simply responded "Why not?"
Meanwhile, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel is bringing a different viewpoint on his current regional "study" tour in advance of Belgium taking over the rotating presidency of the European Union from Sweden in July. Belgium has emerged as the most vociferous European critic of Israel's actions in its conflict with the Palestinians, and in February Michel angered Israeli officials by reportedly threatening to recall Belgium's ambassador and recommend the EU impose economic sanctions against Israel because of its response to the intifada. Thus many Israeli officials were understandably edgy ahead of his visit.
Michel met on Sunday with Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and was slated to visit the Old City and Temple Mount with Israel officials this morning before moving on to Ramallah for talks with Arafat. In his meeting with Sharon, Michel raised the idea of greater EU involvement in the peace process, an idea which Sharon said would be possible if the EU would take a more balanced policy. According to one Sharon aide, the prime minister said that the policies of the EU are "not very balanced," and that if the EU wants to be an "honest broker" it cannot always rebuke Israel.
At a press conference with Peres yesterday, Michel said that he heard some "very fine arguments" on issues that are sensitive to his constituents and the European community. One source who sat in on the talks between Michel and Peres said that they debated for some time Israel's refusal to transfer revenue to the Palestinians, with Michel saying that the European Community is having trouble understanding how Israel is withholding money that is "rightfully" the Palestinians'. Peres told Michel in response that "Israel will not fund terror against ourselves," and that money transferred to the PA goes to support Arafat's Force 17, which is initiating terror against Israel.
Peres also told Michel that Europe has an important role to play in pressuring Arafat to end the violence: "We gave over six cites and 400 villages, Yitzhak Rabin gave his life, and we [Labor] lost the elections. And we did not receive anything in return." The official said that Michel did not raise threats of taking sanctions against Israel, or in downgrading Israel's partnership ties with the European community.
On Israeli commentator suggested today that Michel is anxious to address Europe's frustration over American domination of international affairs, by stepping into a Middle East role fitting the EU's desire for superpower status.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.