Ashton coming to Israel after Iran decision

EU foreign policy chief to discuss Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process; EU appoints special envoy to ME.

By
January 23, 2012 15:14
3 minute read.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R). (photo credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters)

 
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EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is set to arrive in Israel on Tuesday for talks, just a day after the EU decided to ratchet up sanctions against Iran – and a day before Israeli and Palestinian officials are expected to meet for a fifth time in Amman.

The EU’s decision Monday to embargo Iranian oil and freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, are expected to be the focus of Ashton’s discussion with Israeli leaders.

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The Amman talks on Wednesday are expected to go a long way toward determining whether this channel of direct communications will continue. The Palestinians have said that January 26 is the deadline by which Israel – according to a framework laid out by the Quartet in September – must present its comprehensive proposals on border and security issues.

Israel has said the deadline for presenting those proposals was not until early March.

It is not clear whether the Palestinians will continue the Jordan talks after January 26, but one Israeli diplomatic source said the Palestinians were under international pressure to do so.

Diplomatic sources said the Ashton visit was arranged about a week ago.

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Ashton is scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon and meet first with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then with President Shimon Peres.

From Jerusalem, she will travel to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

On Wednesday she will spend most of the day in Gaza, meet in Jerusalem in the evening with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and later with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

She is also expected to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, though the venue has still not been determined.

Israeli officials said Jerusalem had “no problem” with Ashton visiting Gaza, as long as she did not meet with Hamas officials – something she is not expected to do.

The EU’s position is that it will not engage with Hamas until it rejects terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

During her visit, Ashton is expected to be called upon to condemn the words of leading PA cleric Mohammed Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, who last week at a Fatah rally recited a passage from Muslim scripture calling for the killing of Jews.

Netanyahu, who on Sunday called on the attorney-general to investigate Hussein for incitement, said at a Likud faction meeting Monday that these words were pernicious on two counts. First, because they were reminiscent of the words of another mufti, Haj Amin Husseini, whom cooperated with the Nazis and whom Netanyahu said “was one of the architects of the Final Solution”; and second, because these words were uttered by someone who is “supposed to support the building of peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors.”

The prime minister characterized incitement as an “obstacle” to peace.

“I expect senior PA officials to condemn this act,” he said. “Those who want peace should not allow such incitement and calls to murder Jews.”

In a related development, the EU announced Monday the appointment of German diplomat Andreas Reinicke as its special envoy to the Middle East.

According to a statement, his task will be to “contribute to achieving the EU’s policy objectives in the region, including a comprehensive peace, a two-state solution and a settlement of the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli- Lebanese conflicts.” He will also act as the EU envoy to the Quartet, made up of the US, EU, Russia and UN.

Marc Otte of Belgium, the former EU Middle East envoy, left his post almost a year ago. Since then the EU’s representative in the Quartet has been Helga Schmid. Reinicke, currently Germany’s ambassador to Syria, is a diplomat with some 25- years of experience, most of it dealing with the Middle East.

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