EU envoy slams Israeli failure to ease checkpoints

European Union Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal accused Israeli security officials of failing to make the necessary mental switch.

cibrian-uzal 298.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
cibrian-uzal 298.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
European Union Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal criticized Israel on Monday for failing to ease security restrictions in the West Bank. Speaking at a briefing for journalists in Jerusalem, the EU diplomat accused Israeli security officials of failing to make the necessary mental switch. "The Israeli authorities must take the enhanced Palestinian performance in the security field into account," he said. "Israel is still thinking in terms of 2001-2. It must take on board the new political and security realities in the West Bank and soften its policy concerning roadblocks and searches, and ease access and movement restrictions." He said the Palestinian Authority security forces were making determined efforts to restore law and order but that these measures were not being met with corresponding Israeli gestures. The ambassador admitted he was still not sure about Palestinian security capabilities but said the trend was in the right direction and if it continued, the government of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad would be able to provide a high level of security in West Bank cities. A Palestinian security brigade was being trained in Jordan, he said, and by the summer it should be deployed in the West Bank. "Israel has contingency plans when things go wrong," Cibrian-Uzal said," but they should also have contingency plans when things go right." The EU is not directly involved in training Palestinian security forces, but provides financial support and training to the PA police via the EUPOL COPPS (Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support) program. The EU has drawn up a three-year plan to assist the PA police and by June there should be 800 officers fully trained and equipped to enforce public order. But the EU remains reluctant to commit to a stepped up security role in the region. EU monitors played an important role at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai but left after the terminal closed down when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June. The monitoring team has been downsized but remains on standby to resume its mission if an agreement is reached to reopen the crossing. Still, the EU is showing little enthusiasm to get sucked into the Gaza quagmire as part of a multi-national peacekeeping force. Cibrian-Uzal said that while the EU in principle supported peacekeeping missions around the world, this must be at the invitation of the relevant parties and the "proper environment" must be in place. "If Hamas remains in power in Gaza and doesn't allow the proper environment to develop," the diplomat said, "this may be a problem." This month the EU launched its PEGASE mechanism for channeling funds to support the three-year reform plan drawn up by Fayad. PEGASE replaces the previous Temporary International Mechanism and the emphasis has shifted from providing emergency economic assistance to funding sustainable development projects in areas such as water, energy and waste disposal; governance and social development; and economic and private sector development. The EU says it monitors the distribution of donor funds to make sure money does not end up in terrorist hands.