EU worried over Bibi's peace plans

Arabs fear right-wing gov't will end 2-state vision; Netanyahu aide: They worried about Begin's policies.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, BRENDA GAZZAR AND HERB KEINON
February 23, 2009 13:20
EU worried over Bibi's peace plans

bibi pretty boy sarkozy 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu may still be a long way from forming a government coalition, but some European leaders and many influential voices in the Arab world are already full of gloom-and-doom predictions. The EU's 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels Monday, and the Middle East diplomatic process and prospects of a Netanyahu government figured large in the discussions. For instance, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he was worried Netanyahu's talks with other right-wing parties to form a coalition could halt peace talks with Palestinians. Sweden is scheduled to assume the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said he expects a rough start once a new Israeli government takes office, warning that the chances of a two-state peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians were narrowing now that Netanyahu was likely to form a government. "We can have a bit of a rough start, but we need to move ahead with the peace process," he said. There is concern in Europe that a narrow right-wing government headed by Netanyahu may seek to scuttle a two-state vision, but Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said, it was "not possible" for Netanyahu to ditch the idea of giving the Palestinians their own state. While the foreign ministers did not issue a statement on the Middle East diplomatic process following their meeting, the Czech presidency - apparently wanting to send a clear message - issued a statement condemning settlement construction plans near Adam. Those plans are to build homes for the 45 families set to be removed from the illegal Migron outpost. According to the statement, the settlement construction in the vicinity of Adam would "constitute a new settlement bloc." The EU, the statement read, "urgently calls on Israel to reconsider the settlement's planned construction, which would be in violation of international law; run counter to the road map; and is against commitments made by Israel to the Palestinians and the international community last year in Annapolis." Netanyahu's advisers said they were confident that once the EU foreign ministers understood his "economic peace" diplomatic plan, they would realize that it was the most realistic approach to advancing the peace process. To that end, the Likud leader will meet EU parliament head Hans-Gert Pöttering on Tuesday. Pottering visited the Gaza Strip on Monday. Former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, who serves as a foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, said he recalled the same mistrust of Menachem Begin in Europe when he became prime minister in 1977, but European leaders realized they had misjudged him when he made peace with Egypt. He predicted that the same would happen to Netanyahu on his second tour of duty. "I would have preferred if the 27 EU foreign ministers had dealt with more pressing problems like the nuclearization of Iran, but I guess their priorities are different," Shoval said. "It is ludicrous to talk about restarting a peace process that never got off the ground," he added. "How much can you step on the gas pedal when your car isn't going anywhere? We will continue talks with the PA, but we will also raise new ideas to advance the peace process." Shoval said Livni had not succeeded in reaching a deal on any issue with Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei because moderate Palestinians couldn't make compromises and survive politically. He said international understanding was growing for the need to focus initially on solving problems with the Palestinian economy and governance, as Netanyahu proposes. "We won't obstruct the peace process, we will rewind it," Shoval said. Meanwhile, the prospects of a Netanyahu-led government is sounding alarm bells for Arabs around the world. "Netanyahu's positions torpedo the peace process," read a Monday headline from the Jordanian Al-Dustour newspaper. "Netanyahu Comes, and We Can't Stop Chasing the Mirage" was the headline of a Sunday article from the Arab-American newspaper Watan. "Netanyahu, a daunting task," read the headline of a column Monday in the pan-Arab Web site al-Arab On-line. "They are not optimistic concerning the prospects of Netanyahu," said Gamal Abdel Gawad, head of the international relations unit at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "He's seen in Egypt and in the Arab world in general as the Israeli official that killed the Oslo process," he said. "He ended the momentum that was there when the [peace] process began in 1993. Until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, things were going okay. When he was elected in 1996, everything was put on hold." But an Arab League official said the 22-member organization did not foresee "any real differences" between a future Netanyahu administration and previous administrations. "No Israeli government has put a freeze on settlements," the Cairo-based spokesman Abdel Alim al-Abyad told The Jerusalem Post. "We have never been optimistic about previous governments. Our view is that they continue to procrastinate and place obstacles on the road to peace. "We are concerned with action," he went on. "We want any Israeli government to respond first to the Arab peace initiative, and to respond officially and formally, and to stop settlement building." Al-Dustour's editorial declared that "an atmosphere of pessimism has prevailed over the whole region after the victory of the extremist, Zionist Right." This is due to the views of Netanyahu, who "completely ignored the peace process" during his campaign and "insists that the West Bank and Gaza [are] an integral part of the national homeland of Israel." In addition, the article stated, Netanyahu rejects a cease-fire agreement with Hamas as well as lifting the siege and opening the crossings, and insists on the need for "continued aggression against the Gaza Strip to eradicate the Palestinian resistance." The editorial called for unity among Palestinian and Arab ranks and a collective Arab position to be able to "rein in this terrorist blackmailing" and to counter the plans and proposals of the "extremist, Zionist Right." The Watan article predicted that a new Netanyahu government would not offer Palestinians and Arab states the peace process, "nor security, nor regional stability, and is worse than the government headed by Olmert," in which the peace process had already been heading toward an abyss. "Palestinians specifically, and Arabs generally, should not fall into the illusion that there is a possibility to reach a political settlement with the government," the article stated. Netanyahu "does not want peace" and rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of a two-state solution, the return of refugees and an Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem, it stated. Lebanon's Daily Star predicted in a Saturday editorial that Netanyahu's regime would aim to implement their "wildest plans, unchecked settlement expansion, murder, collective punishment and other various crimes. "If he and his partners get their way, Israel, long incorrectly praised in the West as the region's 'only democracy,' will soon begin to show the world an uglier face," the article said. "Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel, many of whose families have lived in what they consider the Holy Land since the time of Christ, will be required to either pledge their loyalty to the 'Jewish state' or leave. Risky wars will probably be waged on Gaza and Lebanon, but these conflicts -just like the preceding ones - will not go as planned, and the Israeli military will lose even more of its vaunted status."


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