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Musa A Keilani: Not more than lip service
January 24, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

King Abdullah-II’s meeting at the White House with US President Barack Obama was one of the most warm summits between the two leaders and reaffirmed the close bilateral relationship. The focus of the meeting was largely the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace that has been revived with Jordan taking the initiative that brought together negotiators from the two sides for three meetings in Amman. While there was no breakthrough during the meetings, the two sides now appear to understand better the positions of the other.

Israel’s rejection of the Palestinian proposal that the 1967 lines be the basis for negotiations does not make sense. Isn’t the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 war the central piece in any peace talks? Does Israel believe that it could set aside for itself the parts of the West Bank it wants for itself even before beginning the negotiations? Isn’t that setting a precondition that belies Israel’s claims that it is ready to launch unconditional negotiations?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to simply accept Israel’s conditions that make a mockery of the very concept of negotiations, and when Abbas refuses to do so he is accused of not wanting negotiations with Israel.

Netanyahu’s assertion that he is willing to go to Ramallah any time for talks with Abbas “without preconditions” might fool some people in the international scene, but not those who are familiar with the realities on the ground in Palestine today.

The only way to advance the elusive quest for peace in Palestine is to bring pressure to bear upon Israel to accept the inevitability that the Holy Land will remain insecure and unstable as long as the Palestinians are denied their right to set up an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians are willing to make territorial compromises to accommodate most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but Israel wants the cake and to eat it too.

How to bring about that kind of pressure on Israel is the key question here. The focus immediately shifts to the Europeans since it is clear that the United States is no position to apply pressure on its “strategic partner” in the Middle East.

Of late, we have taken note of a key shift in the position of the European Union countries. A series of reports prepared by EU delegations to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel have been critical of the Jewish state, whether in the context of the 1.24 million Arab Israelis or the Palestinians of the occupied territories.

Israel immediately went on the offensive, rejecting the criticism and even insulting the EU countries by saying that they risked to make themselves “irrelevant” if they sought to pressure it. Israeli ministers sounded as if their country were the sole superpower and all others are subservient to it.

The latest EU report is very refreshing since it reflects not only a clear understanding of the realities but also outlines a series of measures aimed at pressuring Israel. EU member states signalled the shift in approach in December when European members of the UN Security Council — Britain, Germany, France and Portugal — issued a strong condemnation of Israel’s construction in the West Bank and attacks by the 720,000 settlers on Palestinians.

Again Israel went on the offensive, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggesting that Israel had a better democracy than some of the EU member countries, including the United Kingdom.

The latest EU report includes recommendations meant to strengthen the PNA’s control over Arab East Jerusalem and press Israel to change its policy in the West Bank. It calls for increased Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) representation and activities in Arab East Jerusalem.

Growing Israeli construction of settlements in occupied Arab East Jerusalem, the report says, pre-empts the two-state solution since, without dividing Jerusalem, which shall serve as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, it would be impossible to secure durable peace.

It suggests the preparation of a “blacklist” of settlers considered violent with a view to banning them from entering the EU, and advises senior EU figures visiting Arab East Jerusalem to refrain from being accompanied by Israeli government representatives or security personnel.

The report encourages European tourism companies to refrain from dealing with Israeli businesses located in Arab East Jerusalem and to raise EU public awareness of Israeli products originating from the settlements or from Arab East Jerusalem.

No doubt the Europeans are well aware of the implications of the suggestions. The document should encourage the EU to follow it up seeking an end to Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories.

Parallel to such reports, senior EU officials have also been increasingly vocal in criticising Israel. British cabinet member Nick Clegg was the latest to slam Israel’s settlements by calling them “deliberate vandalism” of efforts to establish a Palestinian state. And Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had the audacity to call Clegg irresponsible and ill-informed.

Surely, the EU member countries have come to understand that Israel is now showing its real colours and policies which dictate that it pay only lip service to its international relations and pounce at the slightest sign of anyone criticising it, let alone challenging it. The rest is up to the Europeans themselves, but they should not allow themselves to be taken for one more Israeli ride.
The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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