While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may no longer be seen as the “only problem in the region,” it is still – even with the turmoil roiling the area – “a major impediment in addressing other issues that threaten regional stability,” the head of NATO said Wednesday.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary-general of the alliance, told the Herzliya Conference that “the lack of a solution to the Israel- Palestinian conflict continues to undermine the stability of the region.”
Rasmussen stressed that NATO was neither involved in the Middle East diplomatic process, nor seeking a role. However, he said that NATO would consider possible involvement if three conditions were met: a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace being reached; both parties requesting NATO help in implementing the agreement; and the UN endorsing NATO involvement.
“Of course, at the moment, these three ifs are far from being met,” he said.
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Rasmussen met earlier in the day for over an hour with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and discussed expanding cooperation between Israel and NATO in a wide range of fields. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office would not say whether the possibility of US-led NATO forces along the Jordan Valley in the event of a peace accord was discussed.
While this was something that both former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly agreed upon in the past, Netanyahu said on a number of occasions, even before the tumultuous events in Egypt, that there would have to be some kind of Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, and that a thirdparty force would not be sufficient.
The events in Egypt, government officials have said in recent days, have only reinforced in Netanyahu’s mind the need for an Israeli presence along the Jordan River.
Rasmussen also met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that the recent events in the region obligated rethinking long-standing security conceptions, and necessitated thinking “out of the box.”
According to a statement issued by Lieberman’s office, he told the NATO secretarygeneral that the events proved that the West, especially NATO, had only one reliable ally in the Middle East: Israel. He said now was the time to strengthen the cooperation between Israel and the alliance.
During his speech, Rasmussen said that “a new and different challenge is emerging across the region, the need to address the demands of Arab societies for democratic reforms. Just a couple of weeks ago, few would have suggested such a development, and events are still unfolding.”
Rasmussen urged all parties in Egypt to “engage without delay in a dialogue to ensure a peaceful, democratic and speedy transition, with full respect of human rights.”
He also made a point, however, of saying that for 30 years, Egypt had “played a key moderating role in the region, and it is imperative for all of us that it should remain a force for peace and stability.”
In a related development, senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said it seemed clear that things were stabilizing more and more in Egypt, and that the country was not going to lurch immediately in a completely opposite direction.
With people beginning to go back to work, while others remained in Tahrir Square, one official said Egypt was entering a phase of “abnormal normality.”
The official also said there was a “high probability” that Egypt – looking out for its own interests – would continue keeping the peace, and its relationship, with Israel.