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(photo credit: AP)
Israel dismissed reports Thursday that Spain, France and Italy are preparing a new Middle East peace initiative, saying that at the most, they were discussing "some Spanish ideas."
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced the plan at a summit in Spain with President Jacques Chirac of France. "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means to a large extent peace on the international scene," Zapatero told a news conference.
"We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes," Zapatero said.
Referring to the errant artillery shells in Beit Hanun and Wednesday's fatal rocket attack in Sderot, Zapatero said the violence "has reached a level of deterioration that requires determined, urgent action by the international community."
He said that the peace plan will be presented to an EU summit next month, and that he hoped to win the backing of Britain and Germany.
Chirac said France was "going to act jointly with the Spanish and Italian governments, with the cooperation of the EU" to initiate "moral and political reforms in the Middle East."
But Italian President Romano Prodi, who held a telephone conference call with his colleagues, released a communique that seemed to distance Rome from the initiative, and hinted that it would have to go through regular EU framework and channels.
Zapatero said the plan had five elements: an immediate cease-fire; formation by the Palestinians of a national unity government that could gain international recognition; an exchange of prisoners - including the three IDF soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the war in Lebanon and fighting in Gaza this summer; talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas; and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire.
Eventually, a major international conference on Middle East peace should be held, he added, without saying if such a meeting should take place in Spain.
Spain hosted the Madrid Conference in 1991 that laid the groundwork for the Oslo Accords.
Middle East peace, Zapatero said, "is one of the factors that can contribute most to cornering fanaticism and terrorism."
But Israeli officials were unimpressed. "At the most what is being discussed are some Spanish ideas," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
"These ideas were not coordinated with the European Union, nor with us."
The spokesman said Israel's position remained that negotiations needed to be directly between the parties to the conflict.
Zapatero, who was photographed with a kaffiyeh at a Socialist rally in Spain in the summer, is not perceived in Jerusalem as a balanced interlocutor. And his foreign minister, former EU special envoy Miguel Moratinos, is widely viewed in diplomatic circles in Israel as someone who is constantly trying to raise Spain's profile and to carve out a large role for Madrid in the Middle East process.
Last month, Moratinos said the road map was fatally stalled and that Europe should take the initiative to come up with a new plan.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that while the Spanish initiative was "not serious," it did reflect a trend in Europe to put forward new initiatives to break the current logjam.
In a related matter, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for an international force to be sent to Gaza and the West Bank, similar to the UNIFIL force operating in Lebanon.
While the resolution, like another one adopted by the parliament on Thursday that slammed Israel for its military operations in Gaza, is seen as largely declarative, it too reflects growing calls in Europe to transfer the UNIFIL model in Lebanon to Gaza and the West bank.
AP contributed to this report.
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