Quartet envoys are expected to meet in Brussels at the end of the week amid increasing concern in Jerusalem that the EU hopes to avert a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN in September by, as one senior Israeli official said on Wednesday, “giving something” significant to the Palestinians.
According to the official, the concern was that the EU is pushing for the adoption of US President Barack Obama’s formula of restarting negotiations using the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps as a baseline, but without pressing the Palestinians to elaborate on security arrangements of any future accord with Israel.
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The official also said the Palestinians wouldn’t be pressed to acknowledge Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as a baseline for negotiations.
Many in Europe feel that something significant must be given to the Palestinians to get them to back down from their bid to get the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestinian statehood, the official said.
This is apparently what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been referring to in recent days when, in private conversations with foreign leaders, he has said the Palestinians were being treated by some in Europe as a “spoiled child.”
Netanyahu repeated this phrase – first used on Sunday during a meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov – in a meeting on Wednesday with visiting Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez.
Netanyahu’s point, according to one government official at the meeting, is that the world is habituating the Palestinians to believe that they can gain concessions without giving anything in return.
The Europeans appear willing to give the Palestinians what they have wanted as the baseline for talks, without even having assurances that this will be enough to keep them from taking the recognition issue to the UN, let alone without demanding any flexibility from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue of refugees or Israel as a Jewish state, the official said.
Israel’s frustration with the EU, or at least with part of the EU, was highlighted this week when Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who was hosting the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers, held an informal dinner on Sunday night on the Middle East with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to which he invited representatives from France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Russia, the US, Indonesia, the Arab League and the PA – but not Israel.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, in a blog posting about the dinner, made it clear that Israel was a large part of the discussion.
Bildt wrote that it was evident that “large parts of the Arab world”
have now “given up virtually all hope of progress” with the present
He also wrote that a Quartet meeting at the ministerial level “to
express the policy that not only Europe, but also President Obama,
stands for would undoubtedly be an important step forward.”
What aggravated Jerusalem was that at a dinner dealing with the Middle
East, at which Israel, as one official said, “was the main course,” no
Israeli representative was in attendance.
Meanwhile, White House Chief Middle East Adviser Dennis Ross said at the
President’s Conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday that the greatest risk
at a time of sweeping change in the Middle East was to think that this
was the time to sit still and “do nothing.”
Ross said that while he understood the impulse to “stand pat” and avoid
taking risks, certain realities – such as demographic trends that will
present Israel with the dilemma of being either a Jewish or a democratic
state – could not be “wished away.”
Ross’s comments seemed a gentle criticism of voices in the Israeli
government saying that at a time when everything is changing in the
Middle East, this is not the time for Israel to take far-reaching risks,
not knowing what will be tomorrow in countries such as Syria, Egypt and
Obama, in his speech on the Middle East at the State Department last month, made a very similar statement.
Ross, who has been in the country for a week trying to find a formula to
enable a restarting of Israeli-Palestinian talks, said that while there
“are more pitfalls on the path to peace” than he could detail, this did
not mean that tackling the challenges was impossible.
Ross stressed in his speech that while Obama said an agreement should be
based on the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, his
formula would enable the parties to take into account “changes on the
ground” when drawing up final borders.
Ross said that Obama’s approach was “prefaced on the belief that if the
Palestinians know the general territorial outline of their future state
and Israelis know that their basis security needs can be met, that will
provide the foundation for negotiations to succeed.”
According to Ross, Obama understands that for Israel to take risks for
peace, it must feel secure and able to defend itself, by itself, against
all combination of threats.
Ross, who pointed out that he has worked in five US administrations,
said the “current support for, and cooperation with Israel” on security
issues “is simply unprecedented. And that is a fact.”
A fact that was not sufficiently noticed, he said.