Q&A with EU envoy to Israel

Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal answers readers' questions about Iran, PLC elections and relations with Israel.

eu envoy 298 courtesy (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
eu envoy 298 courtesy
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
GENERAL Q: How are the "peacekeeping" roles in the former Yugoslavia and Israel similar? Or, what exactly, is your role in being ambassador to Israel? David Delich, Tucson, Arizona A: Hello David. My role as the ambassador of the EU Commission to Israel means that I am involved in the various aspects of bilateral relations between the European Union and the Government of Israel. The European Union is Israel's leading trade partner and also a key political partner. So my role includes, for example, being involved in talks between the sides to upgrade Israel's relations with the EU under the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan that we agreed upon at the end of 2004. It also means helping to manage the various EU programs in which Israel is entitled to participate. One of my main roles is to explain EU policies to the Israeli public, which is why I spend a lot of my time meeting people and speaking to audiences and to the media. The European Union does not have a peacekeeping role inside Israel. It is however involved in the Middle East Peace Process as part of the International Quartet, together with the USA, Russia and the UN. One of the various ways that it is trying to contribute to a more peaceful and stable region is by monitoring the Palestinian management of the Rafah crossing terminal. Another way is by helping the Palestinian Authority to establish sustainable and effective policing arrangements. There are EU police missions in the western Balkans as well as a military force (EUFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina which replaced the UN force there. However the situation in the two regions is quite different. Q: Do you expect Israel and the Palestinian Authority joining the EU in the next 30 years? Falk Luke, Berlin, Germany A: It would be foolish of me to try to predict what will happen over the next thirty years. For the meantime however, since neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority are situated geographically in Europe, they are not candidates to join the EU. Nor have they asked to join. Nevertheless, they, like the EU's other immediate neighbors, can strive for a much greater level of integration with the EU under the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) - even without formal membership. Q: When will the EU release the report it commissioned "Manifestations of anti-Semitism in the European Union" undertaken by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)? Paul Rubinstein, Melbourne, Australia A: The EUMC issued its report on 'Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the EU 2002-2003' in March 2004. At the same time it issued another report called 'Perceptions of Anti-Semitism in the European Union - Voices from Members of the European Jewish communities.' You can download both of these publications from the EUMC's website at http://eumc.eu.int THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM Q: Your Excellency, I hope you are aware of the negative statements Iran's new President has made concerning Israel and, especially how intransigent Iran has become in respect to its nuclear activities. What is the EU planning in order to stop Iran? Kofi Nyantakyi, Accra, Ghana A: The comments made by Iranian President Ahmedinejad, on October 26, calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, were encountered in the European Union by a wave of shock, protest and condemnation. The Union's heads of state and government, meeting the following day in the UK, responded by stating, among other things, that such comments will cause concern about Iran's role in the region, and its future intentions. They added that the fact that these comments were made on the same day as a horrific attack on Israeli civilians in Hadera should reinforce the lesson that incitement to violence, and the terrorism that it breeds, are totally unacceptable As you may have heard Kofi, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Great Britain, together with the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In their latest statement of January 12 they said that, "We believe the time has now come for the [UN] Security Council to become involved to reinforce the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Resolutions. We will, therefore, be calling for an Extraordinary IAEA Board meeting with a view for it to take the necessary action to that end." You can find the entire statement in the What's New section of our Delegation's website www.eu-del.org.il Q: If diplomacy fails with Iran, do you think Israel would have the right to launch an attack against Iranian nuclear installations? Would the EU blame Israel if it takes action? Joe Cohen, Minneapolis, Minnesota A: As you can see from the answer above Joe, the EU's position is that the UN Security Council is the appropriate body to deal with this issue. Q: There is little doubt that any sort of diplomacy will fail between the Free World and Iran. Under what circumstances would the European Union be willing to actively engage in a military operation against the Iranian nuclear sites? Yoel Nitzarim, Skokie, Illinois A: All I can say at this point, Yoel, is that the EU will play its full role in implementing any resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council in this regard. THE PEACE PROCESS Q: Many supporters of Israel blame the EU for failing to state publicly that the right of return on which Palestinian policy is based simply cannot and will not happen. If the EU supports a two state solution, why will it not state that a right of return is simply incompatible with a two-state solution? Thom Seaton, Berkeley, California A: The position of the European Union is that there should be a just, viable, realistic and agreed solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. Under Phase III of the road map, an international conference should be launched with the support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status solution, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. The EU will, I am sure, recognize any agreement on the question of refugees, agreed upon by the parties. Q: As a major player in the Middle East peace process, what will the EU do to increase the number of Arab League member states that recognize Israel? Barry Dredze, Winfield, Illinois A: In fact Barry, since 1995 the EU has been actively encouraging closer contacts between Israel and its Arab neighbors by means of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process. This is the only forum, outside the UN, where Israeli ministers and officials meet representatives from Arab countries that have yet to recognize Israel. A breakthrough in the peace process, which is strongly supported by the EU, is also likely to contribute towards breakthroughs in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Q: Do you think that the security fence, the E1 expansion project, and other forms of infrastructure expansion in Jerusalem will help Israel solidify its control over the city? What do you think the impact of these projects will have on the prospects for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors? Debbie Schwartz, Montreal, Canada A: The EU believes that Israel should cease all activities in the Palestinian Territories that are contrary to international law, including settlement building, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the construction of the separation barrier beyond the Green Line. These threaten to make any solution based on the co-existence of two viable states physically impossible. Israeli activities in and around East Jerusalem cause particular concern, especially with regard to reaching a final settlement agreement on Jerusalem. Q: Many Israelis have absolutely no trust in the EU. This has as much to do with Europe's behavior towards its Jews over the past 1000 years, as its attitude towards Israel's struggle for survival in face of Arab/Islamic threats to "finish off what Hitler started". Israelis also see how European nations favor the Palestinian cause over Israel's cause. In view of this, how can Europe gain Israel's trust for it to take a role in the Arab/Israel conflict? Trudy Gefen, Tel Aviv, Israel A: In fact Trudy, the EU has always strongly supported Israel's right to security within recognized borders although it has called on Israel to abstain from measures that are not in accordance with international law. Moreover the EU unreservedly condemns terrorism. At the same time we support the eventual establishment, under the Roadmap, of a viable, democratic, peaceful Palestinian state living alongside Israel. But I want to stress that support for the establishment of such a Palestinian state does not mean lack of support for Israel. This is not a zero sum game. The EU is a friend of Israel, a friend of the Palestinians and a friend of peace. Finally, a poll we took back in 2003 found that about half of all Israelis supported the idea of EU involvement in the peace process. I imagine that today that number is even higher. Q: The Roadmap calls for the PA to stop all anti-Israel armed events. Given Hamas, et.al policy, this does not appear even remotely possible. Please inform us in detail what is your alternative plan for the condition where such a permanent ceasefire cannot be accomplished? Gary Dalin, Venice, California A: The plan endorsed by the EU and indeed by the entire international community, including the United States, is the Roadmap. The Roadmap offers the best chance we have to bring about a two-state solution to the conflict and since both the PA and Israel have accepted it, we are still hopeful that they will implement its various stages. The EU continues to call on both parties to carry out their responsibilities under the Roadmap. We are not considering any alternative plans. Q: In the Arab-European Dialogue the Arab nations have consistently tied all trade and oil agreements to the necessity of a European anti-Israel stance. European nations and the EU have consistently and happily paid that price. Why should Israel pay attention to an EU that has been paid to work against its interests? David Guy, Rehovot, Israel A: This is a very harsh accusation Guy. It is also not rooted in reality. In fact, the "association agreements" that the EU has signed with its Mediterranean Partners, which include both the Arab countries bordering the Mediterranean and Israel, state that the political dialogue between them should stress peace, security and regional development. Your representation of Europe's stance as "anti-Israeli" is also false. Europe is pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace. If the EU was "anti-Israeli" as you suggest, why would it have stated, as far back as 1994 that Israel should enjoy "special status in its relations with the European Union on the basis of reciprocity and common interests," and why would the EU and Israel today be engaged in upgrading their relations? Q: Hamas is a terrorist organization. Do you agree with that statement? Herb Friedman, Pembroke Pines, Florida A: Hamas was included in the EU's list of terrorist organizations in September 2003. THE EU AND THE PA Q: With all the Palestinian terrorism, chaos, government corruption, and sheer lack of effort to reform of any kind, how can the EU justify the unconditional aide it gives to the PA? I know that recently some funds have been held back, but it's generally pretty unconditional. Steven Berkowitz, New York, New York A: First of all Steven, it is useful to bear in mind that the EU's support for the PA has helped ensure the existence of a negotiating partner for Israel. EU support for the PA should therefore be seen as an Israeli interest, not just as a Palestinian interest. The Government of Israel understands this and is not asking the EU to suspend its aid to the PA. Moreover it is inaccurate to describe the EU's assistance as unconditional. Reform conditions have been attached to EU assistance to the PA from the outset. The international community at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in Rome in December 2003 recognized that , "EU budgetary support and its conditions as well as US support, has over the past years been successful in advancing key reform measures such as financial accountability". According to the International Monetary Fund, the conditions linked to EU assistance to the PA have contributed to placing, "the Palestinian Authority to a level of fiscal responsibility, control, and transparency which rivals the most fiscally advanced countries in the region." One indication of the progress that has been made is that Israel itself now pays the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA into the same account that was set up by the EU. As the major donor to the Public Financial Management Reform Trust Fund managed by the World Bank, the European Commission is involved in setting the benchmarks for the PA to be achieved prior to the disbursement of installments from the Trust Fund. However, much remains to be done and the Commission will pursue its approach of 'benchmarked' assistance also in the future. As you rightly mentioned, whenever the PA does not meet the benchmarks, the EU halts its payments. The EU has also tied other conditions to its budgetary support for the PA such as the adoption and entry into force of the Basic Law and the Law on the Independence of the Judiciary. Finally, in a paper published by the European Commission last October called "EU-Palestinian cooperation beyond disengagement - towards a two-state solution" we also stated that EU assistance in new areas, such as the reform of the judiciary and the reform of public administration, should be linked to firm commitments and demonstrable progress. Q: Good day, Ambassador, Given a high level of support for Hamas in the upcoming Palestinian elections & their ensuing participation in a PA government, while retaining their arms & their intent to attack & ultimately destroy Israel, what will the EU policy toward the Palestinians be? Will the EU expect Israel to conduct negotiations with such a government? Ivo Vesely, Prague, The Czech Republic A: Hello to you Vesely. I certainly don't want to predict what EU policy towards the PA will be following today's PLC elections before the outcome of those elections is known. All I can say therefore is that we will continue to offer our support to all those who seek peace by peaceful means. This means in particular - whatever the composition of the new Palestinian government - full respect of the principles in the Interim Association Agreement and Neighborhood Policy Action Plan that the EU has agreed with the Palestinian Authority. These principles include a commitment to the Roadmap - which affirms the goal of a two states solution - as well as respect of human rights and the rule of law. Q: Recently, Hamas significantly ceased militant operations against Israeli civilians and is pursuing a political victory in the Palestinian areas. Hamas is not just a militant group but a social welfare organization. Do you think it is fair that Hamas is undermined by Israel in regard to the Palestinian elections? Khaim Kalontarov, New York, New York A: The EU has stated that the question of who participates in the elections is a Palestinian affair. Within the security constraints, it will also be important that Israel does all it can to allow free movement for voters and candidates in the Palestinian territories up to and including polling day. Other than that, I think that the answer I gave above is applicable to this question too. Q: What preconditions do aid and assistance from the EU come with? Are there any that relate to withholding aid in response to suicide attacks and other violent behavior? What incentive is the EU giving the PA to denounce terrorism and disarm terrorist groups? David Zanger, Madison, Wisconsin A: I have already mentioned some of the preconditions that have been set for EU aid to the PA. Regarding violence carried out by militant Palestinian factions, the EU has reiterated that all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, should renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist, and disarm. The EU has also welcomed the PA's statements condemning violence and urging groups who have engaged in terrorism to abandon this course and engage in the democratic process. It has urged the PA to take firm action against those committing acts of violence or intimidation and assume full control of security in the areas under its authority. The EU is fully committed to supporting Palestinian reforms and strengthening the Palestinian security forces and civil policing capacity, including through the EUPOL- COPPS police mission and working with the US Security Coordinator. However, like the USA and Israel, the EU does not suspend payments to the PA following every incident of violence. Q: What was the point of opening the Rafah crossing when it only makes Israel more vulnerable to terrorists that want Israel wiped off the map? Sheryl Zeitler A: The point of keeping the Rafah crossing open following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, was to allow the Palestinian residents of Gaza to be able to cross between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the only real exit presently available to them. Such movement is fundamental to improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza and essential for promoting economic development. We are convinced that a Gaza Strip that is even more impoverished than at present is not in Israel's best interest. As part of an agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority called the "Agreement on Movement and Access" the EU was invited to play a "third party role" at the Rafah crossing. The EU accepted this invitation and set up the European Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point. Its role is to monitor, mentor and evaluate the PA police, security and customs officials who do all the work at the Rafah terminal. Written into the agreement are arrangements for the Israeli security authorities to receive information on the identity of persons entering Gaza and to intervene when they believe that there is a security risk. There is now a general assessment that this arrangement is working well.