J'lem: PA, Egypt are working together to stymie Israeli-EU ties

EU official says effort won't affect current relationship.

fayad 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
fayad 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority and Egypt seem to have coordinated their lobbying efforts to curb this country's ties with Europe, Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. They made the comment after PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad spoke against an upgrade of ties between Israel and Europe while visiting the Palestinian village of Bil'in earlier in the day. Fayad said his position was meant to protect "the future of peace and the two-state solution on the 1967 borders." According to EU sources, European officials have heard this message from both the Egyptians and Palestinians, but were not deterred. Such efforts "do not change the current discussions [to upgrade the relationship] that are taking place," said Amadeu Altafj, a spokesman for the EU Commission. He added that a number of member states had expressed a willingness to increase cooperation with Israel. Israel has been looking to improve its political, economic and cultural relations with the EU, even though it has the highest cooperation level of any non-EU member state. Europe is Israel's largest trading partner. EU assurances that its relationship with Israel is barreling forward did not stop Israeli officials in Jerusalem from blasting the Palestinian lobbying efforts. "These Palestinian statements and actions create questions in our mind regarding the true intent of the peace process," one official said. The Palestinians are spending time and energy to damage bilateral relations even as Israel is cooperating with the international community to carry out "a large range of projects and development programs" in PA areas, the official said. In advance of a June 16 EU Council meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg (in the margins of which the ministerial EU-Israel Association Council will also be convened), Fayad wrote a letter on the matter to EU heads of state and other top officials. According to the text of the letter, posted on the Alternative Information Center Web Site, Fayad voiced his concern that political and economic Israeli-EU ties could be improved at that meeting. He said he had deep reservations about such an upgrade "while Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations, including certain of its commitments to the EU." He specifically mentioned settlement construction and the West Bank security barrier as reasons for the EU not to better ties with Israel. Instead of rewarding Israel for bad behavior, the EU should be pushing the peace process forward, he said. "Now is the time for the EU to convey to its friend, Israel, that the key to strengthening its ties with the EU is to demonstrate, by way of action, that it indeed shares and embraces the goals and values of Europeans," Fayad wrote. Even before his letter, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner wrote an opinion piece in the May 5 edition of Yediot Aharonot in which she noted how the status of the EU's relationship with Israel was linked to the peace process. "The scope and timing of such a special status will reflect the evolution of the post -Annapolis process," she wrote. At the same time, however, she speculated that the special relationship the Israel and the EU currently enjoyed could be marked by a special joint summit of heads of state and government. Israel's relationship with the 27-member European Union is not Fayad's only target. In April, Fayad sent a letter to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development protesting against Israel's bid for membership to that global economic body. The OECD has passed on the letter to its member states, an OECD spokesman, Nicholas Bray, told the Post on Tuesday. "The secretary-general has responded saying that he is consulting OECD member countries concerning a possible response to the letter," Bray said. On May 22, the inter-governmental OECD received a letter from Fayad via their Paris office dated April 27, he said. "In this letter, it points out that Israel is in breach of various requirements of the United Nations and other bodies concerning its treatment of the Palestinian population," Bray said. He noted that only the member states themselves could decide how much weight, if any, to give the letter. OECD, a mostly European body that includes the United States, Canada and Japan, is looking to expand its membership base beyond 30 countries. It has invited Israel, Chile, Estonia, Russia and Slovenia to open membership talks. While the membership criteria are mostly economic, the decision is also based on shared fundamental values, Bray said. Among these is a "commitment to pluralist democracy based on the rule of law," he said. An invitation to negotiate membership does not presume acceptance, but Bray said that he is not aware that any membership bid had been turned down once negotiations had begun. In the case of some countries, however, negotiations have taken years. In response to the letter, Israel accused the Palestinians of undermining the peace process by working to curb Israel's ties with Europe. The matter came up during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meeting in Jerusalem Monday with the Palestinian delegation led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. "We expressed our serious concerns at the behavior of Salaam Fayad, who sent a series of letters asking OECD countries to freeze that membership process," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev. "We find this behavior totally out of context and character with the good working relations that exist between the government of the PA and the government of Israel. Such behavior does no one any good and only serves to undermine confidence in the peace process," Regev said. On Monday, at a Jerusalem press conference, members of a visiting EU Parliamentary Working Group on the Middle East spoke out globally against increased Israeli-European ties within any framework. "We strongly feel that until [Israeli] signs of good faith translate into tangible improvements on the ground, the time is not yet right to upgrade EU-Israel relations," said one of the group's vice-chairs, Veronique de Keyser. Human rights problems that arise as a result of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians weighed heavily on the group's decision to make this statement, said de Keyser.