Moratinos to visit, reduced EU involvement felt in J'lem

A marked decrease in European activity in the Middle East.

Even as Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos was scheduled to arrive Tuesday for a 36-hour visit, diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said there was a marked decrease in European activity in the Middle East, with EU statesmen concentrating instead on their own internal crisis.
One diplomatic official said the fact that Moratinos, a man known for his interest in Middle East diplomacy and whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, was coming on such a short visit indicated the degree to which the Middle East had been pushed to the side in Brussels because of the EU’s economic crisis.
“Because of all the other issues the Europeans have to deal with, including, first and foremost, saving the euro, there is not now either the ability or the desire to deal with our issues,” the official said, adding that the reprieve from EU pressure would only be temporary.
Nevertheless, the official said that compared to the end of last year, when the Swedish presidency pushed forward a proposal to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and Moratinos and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner floated the idea of EU recognition of a Palestinian state even before an agreement was signed, the Europeans had been uncharacteristically inactive over the last few months.
“There are no initiatives, there is no momentum,” the official said.
The one thing the Europeans are pushing at this time, he said, is a June meeting in Barcelona of the Union for the Mediterranean. This organization has as its members all the EU countries and the 21 countries on the Mediterranean rim, including Israel.
The Barcelona conference will be a follow-up to the organization’s maiden conference, which was organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and held in Paris in July 2008. Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert attended that meeting, along with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other Arab leaders.
Spanish diplomatic officials said Moratinos would likely be discussing this meeting in talks he will hold during his visit in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and afterward when he travels from Israel to Syria, and then on to Lebanon.
The conference, according to these officials, is meant to renew commitment to the European-Mediterranean framework and serve as an “impetus and stimulant” to the incipient Israeli-Palestinian indirect peace talks.
Moratinos is scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon and go straight toBen-Gurion University of the Negev to receive an honorary doctorate andtake part in a conference. He is scheduled to meet with Deputy ForeignMinister Danny Ayalon in Beersheba, and the next morning with DefenseMinister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem.
Moratinos will then go to Ramallah and meet Palestinian AuthorityPresident Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, and returnto Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu andPresident Shimon Peres.
He will then travel to Damascus, before heading on to Beirut.