Europe’s Mideast at­tempt

Diplo­mats make push to re­vive Is­rael-Pales­tinian peace process

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man So­bel­man is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — With Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu’s new gov­ern­ment in place, top diplo­mats are be­gin­ning to con­verge on the re­gion to en­gage Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers to de­ter­mine what, if any­thing, could push the long-stalled peace process for­ward.

Years of Amer­i­can bro­ker­age have failed to coax the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans into a two-state so­lu­tion agree­ment. With the col­lapse more than a year ago of the most re­cent U.S.-led ef­fort and Wash­ing­ton’s ap­par­ent dis­in­cli­na­tion to in­vest en­ergy with Ne­tanyahu and its be­ing dis­tracted else­where, oth­ers in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — par­tic­u­larly Europe — are in­creas­ingly seek­ing an ac­tive role in re­solv­ing the diplo­matic quag­mire and mov­ing to­ward estab­lish­ment of a Pales­tinian state.

Last week, Euro­pean Union High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fed­er­ica Mogherini vis­ited the re­gion, as did the for­eign min­is­ter of Nor­way. Next up are the for­eign min­is­ters of Ger­many, Canada and New Zealand, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from Slo­vakia, the Czech Repub­lic and Poland, and the pres­i­dent of Cyprus.

The lat­est to an­nounce an up­com­ing visit is French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius, who will travel to Is­rael, the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries and Egypt this month.

Why the diplo­matic air­lift? Here’s where things stand:

Frus­trated by years on the bi­lat­eral tread­mill while Is­rael con­tin­ues to al­low new con­struc­tion in set­tle­ments on the West Bank, the Pales­tini­ans have turned to in­ter­na­tional bod­ies such as the United Na­tions and the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court for lever­age. For its part, Is­rael de­mands that the Pales­tini­ans cease uni­lat­eral moves be­fore it would con­sider re­sum­ing the peace talks.

Ne­tanyahu’s new gov­ern­ment, in­stalled May 14, ap­pears to be even more hawk­ish than the pre­vi­ous one. Most of the cur­rent min­is­ters sup­port set­tle­ments, op­pose ter­ri­to­rial com­pro­mise with the Pales­tini­ans and are out­spo­ken crit­ics of a two-state so­lu­tion. Ne­tanyahu does not rule out a de­mil­i­ta­rized Pales­tinian state. But he con­tends that re­gional tur­bu­lence as well as the Pales­tini­ans’ in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic of­fen­sive — in­clud­ing de­mands for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Is­rael on sus­pi­cion of war crimes — ren­der this op­tion im­pos­si­ble at this point.

Em­pa­thy with the Pales­tini­ans and im­pa­tience with Is­rael’s West Bank poli­cies have deep­ened crit­i­cism against Is­rael across Europe, where more coun­tries are rec­og­niz­ing Pales­tinian state­hood.

Re­cently, the for­eign min­is­ters of 16 Euro­pean na­tions sent a let­ter to the EU’s Mogherini urg­ing her to move to la­bel goods orig­i­nat­ing in West Bank set­tle­ments, il­le­gal un­der in­ter­na­tional law. The EU is un­der pres­sure from many of its mem­bers to take steps to re­strict busi­ness and co­op­er­a­tion with the Is­raeli set­tle­ments.

Calls for var­i­ous boy­cotts are on the in­crease. Is­rael re­jects th­ese as at­tempts to un­der­mine its in­ter­na­tional stand­ing with other na­tions. Be­sides po­ten­tial eco­nomic harm, Is­rael is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about aca­demic boy­cotts. In a meet­ing with the heads of Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Reuven Rivlin called threats to shun Is­rael’s aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions a “first-rate strate­gic threat.”

In meet­ings with Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers, Mogherini ap­peared to be gaug­ing Ne­tanyahu’s com­mit­ment to a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion with the Pales­tini­ans and whether the Pales­tini­ans might back down from their diplo­matic moves and re­turn to bi­lat­eral talks.

Ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli me­dia, Ne­tanyahu pro­posed to Mogherini that Is­rael begin drawing the bor­ders of set­tle­ment blocks it seeks to re­tain and an­nex in a fu­ture agree­ment with the Pales­tini­ans, some­thing Is­rael has con­sis­tently re­fused to do in the past. The Pales­tini­ans promptly dis­missed the pro­posal as a non­starter, say­ing all set­tle­ments are il­le­gal, but Ne­tanyahu’s move in­di­cates Is­rael is aware of the need to counter mount­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure. A sep­a­rate state­ment from Ne­tanyahu on Thurs­day gen­er­ally back­ing parts of the Arab peace ini­tia­tive, af­ter long years of si­lence, also seemed to sug­gest an aware­ness.

While Is­rael was tem­po­rar­ily pre­oc­cu­pied with the threat of get­ting suspended from FIFA, the in­ter­na­tional soc­cer or­ga­ni­za­tion, it re­ceived a re­minder of the next big chal­lenge in the in­ter­na­tional arena: a loom­ing French pro­posal for a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil reso- lu­tion fix­ing a timetable for ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans.

On Thurs­day, Fabius an­nounced plans to travel to the re­gion and meet with Is­raeli, Pales­tinian and Egyptian lead­ers to re­vive the peace process and gain sup­port for his coun­try’s diplo­matic ini­tia­tive. France re­port­edly in­tends to sub­mit the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion some time af­ter June 30, the dead­line for con­clud­ing nu­clear talks be­tween six world pow­ers and Iran.

The pro­posal calls for two states along pre-1967 bor­ders with mu­tu­ally agreed land swaps and for Jerusalem to be the cap­i­tal of both. A sim­i­lar Se­cu­rity Coun­cil bid this year failed.

Re­port­edly, France in­tends to rec­og­nize Pales­tinian state­hood if the ne­go­ti­a­tions do not bear fruit dur­ing an 18-month pe­riod.

Is­rael has re­peat­edly re­jected what it calls at­tempts by for­eign gov­ern­ments to dic­tate the out­come of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Pales­tini­ans, stress­ing that any so­lu­tion will be the re­sult of di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions only.

Is­raelis aren’t alone in be­ing leery of the in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in get­ting in­volved. At a news con­fer­ence in Jerusalem on Wed­nes­day, U.S. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.) vowed to “push back” if the U.N. tried to take over the peace process and said France would not be al­lowed to use the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to pre­de­ter­mine the out­come of the process.

Dan Balilty Pool Photo

IS­RAELI Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu with EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fed­er­ica Mogherini. Diplo­mats from Ger­many, Canada, New Zealand, Slo­vakia, Poland, France and other na­tions are also plan­ning vis­its.

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