EU conference 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
European Union foreign ministers, who for months and even years have bewailed
the humanitarian situation in Gaza and often complained bitterly when Israel did
not allow them access to the Strip, have put off a Gaza visit until September
because of internal EU bureaucratic and political squabbles.
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on a trip to Italy in late June when the Gaza
flotilla incident was very much still high on the international agenda, invited
his Italian counterpart to put together a group of five or six European foreign
ministers to visit the Strip. This invitation marked a significant departure
from the previous Israeli policy of refusing to allow visits of foreign
politicians to Gaza.
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But rather than jump on the offer and put together a
delegation forthwith, the invitation – according to both Israeli and European
diplomats – created a power play inside the EU.
First of all, the EU’s
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in a struggle to consolidate her
authority over EU foreign affairs, decided to preempt the ministers and came
here herself earlier this month, and paid a visit to Gaza. This move, according
to diplomatic officials, was designed so she could get to Gaza before the EU
foreign ministers and assert her authority on the matter before a meeting of EU
foreign ministers held on Tuesday.
Second, Lieberman’s original
invitation, which was for the foreign ministers to visit Gaza and also Sderot
and the Ashdod port to get a first hand impression of how goods and materials
were getting in, was intended for only a handful of ministers, including the
foreign ministers of Italy, Spain, France, Britain and Germany.
problem, one European diplomat said, was that other EU foreign ministers wanted
to visit as well. As a result, the trip – originally scheduled for the last week
of July – has been pushed off until the first two weeks of September. The
European diplomat said that the invitation led to disagreements among the
foreign ministers regarding who should go, and that now it would be opened to
all EU foreign ministers. But, as a result, such a visit takes considerably more
time to organize.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, on a twoday
visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said after meeting with Lieberman
on Wednesday that the EU ministers would go to Gaza in September with some
“concrete ideas” regarding a “strategic economic plan for Gaza” and how to deal
with Israel’s security needs.
His comments came at a press conference
where he was asked about Lieberman’s so called “second disengagement” from Gaza;
a plan whereby Israel would eventually cut off all its ties to Gaza, meaning
that it would no longer provide electricity and water. Instead, the EU, under
this plan, would be asked to help build a power plant, a water desalination
plant and a sewage treatment plant to make Gaza
Moratinos did not reject the idea out of hand and said
that a practical plan had to be drawn up.
Lieberman said his plan was
aimed at improving the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, while at the same
time not strengthening Hamas.
Lieberman said that it was not enough for
the EU to make declarations regarding Gaza, but rather it should take part in
projects that would improve the Strip’s economic situation.
“To help the
economic situation it is important to resolve the two biggest problems: water
and electricity,” Lieberman said.
He said the issue of access and
movement also had to be addressed, and added bluntly that Israel had a “bad
experience” with EU monitors at the Rafah crossing beginning in 2005. “After
some threats from Hamas they up and went overnight, and we were stuck with arms
smuggling and Hamas,” he said.
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