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EU Statement:

Palestinians Want More Than Words

By Khalid Amayreh, December 15, 2009


A watered-down, though still strongly worded policy statement issued by EU foreign ministers this week has drawn ambivalent reactions from both Israel and the Palestinians, with the latter urging the EU to act on the document and not allow it to sink into irrelevance.

Adopted by European foreign ministers in Brussels on 8 December, the document reasserts the two-state solution, urging Israel to allow for the creation of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its future capital.

While begrudgingly recognising the "eventuality" of a Palestinian state of some sort, Israel insists that it will be subject to stringent limitations that the Palestinians say would drain it of any substance.

Reaffirming European non-recognition of the annexation by Israel of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, the ministers agreed that genuine peace between the two sides required that the status of the city be resolved through negotiations. They rejected the mantra that East Jerusalem is Israel's "united and undivided capital".

"The EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties," read the ministers' statement.

The statement also urged Israel to halt settlement building and end discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip reacted cautiously, if positively, to the EU statement. In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad even sounded a euphoric note.

"I believe it is a good day for international law, for international legitimacy, for justice, for our own people to begin to have a sense of hope about the future."

Speaking to reporters, Fayyad voiced the hope that "this path is going to take us to freedom and allow us to be able to live like other people around the world, as a free people with dignity in a country of our own, on the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem."

Fayyad, who enjoys strong Western backing due to his reputation for fighting corruption and promoting transparent governance, described the EU stance as an "important juncture" towards realising Palestinian statehood.

He applauded the EU's assertion that a final resolution of the conflict would have to be based on UN Security Council resolutions, the Arab Initiative and the land- for-peace formula.

Other Palestinian politicians showed more caution.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former director- general of the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and member of Fatah's revolutionary council, described the statement as significant only "if acted on and translated into tangible policy".

"It is a watered-down statement, much less than what we would like to see. But it is ten times better than earlier European positions, characterised by vacillation, ambiguity and indecisiveness."

Abdullah pointed out that Europe appeared increasingly willing to adopt distinctive and independent policies vis--vis the Palestinian question. This, he said, constituted a departure from earlier European subservience to Washington.

"The other thing is that the Obama administration seems to have refrained from exerting pressure on the EU to adopt a more pro-Israeli stand. This happened despite strong Israeli pressure on the US to do so."

The veteran Palestinian diplomat nonetheless cautioned that transforming the EU policy statement into a tangible political reality will depend on what the Palestinian-Arab side does as much as on the EU's own actions.

"We have to make tremendous efforts to get the EU, both as a bloc and also as individual states, to translate this important statement into a manual for action. Israel is not going to give a damn about statements and declarations not backed by action. Hence the urgent need for an immediate, pro-active implementation of this policy in the EU's relations with Israel."

One Fatah official, Tayib Abdel-Rahim, castigated French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for taking a "vague position" with regard to the borders of any future Palestinian position.

Abdel-Rahim was quoted by the local Maan news agency as saying that Kouchner's position in Brussels was incompatible with France's longstanding policy supporting the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

Infuriated by the pro-Israeli French stance, PA chief negotiator Saeb Ureikat called on Arab states to take a stand against Paris for its opposition to unconditional EU recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Israel, which had waged an extensive diplomatic campaign against the Swedish draft both in Brussels and Washington, insisted any "damage" caused by the EU statement would be limited and contained.

An unnamed senior Israeli official praised East European states which helped "moderate and weaken" the original Swedish draft.

"The EU's only saving grace is that some of its members are responsible and moderate nations that didn't support the Swedish draft, which looked like something taken from the Fatah platform at the Bethlehem conference."

The same official was quoted as saying that "a group of [moderate] nations saved the EU from itself, since any other decision would have severely harmed relations between Jerusalem and Brussels, and would have prevented the EU from becoming an important partner in the peace process."

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement deploring the EU's policy statement, saying that Israel regretted that the EU chose to adopt a text that, although containing nothing new, did not contribute to the renewal of negotiations.

Lieberman, shunned in much of the world due to his racist attitudes, expressed partial satisfaction that the EU didn't adopt the original Swedish proposal which called for EU recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

"In light of the extreme draft originally presented by the Swedish presidency at the start of discussions Israel does welcome the fact that at the end of the process the voice of the responsible and reasonable EU states prevailed, balancing and improving the text."






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