GANTZ GOVERN­MENT MAY OF­FER BET­TER HOPE FOR PEACE, EU OF­FI­CIAL SAYS

▶ Dis­miss­ing the Blue and White party leader as no dif­fer­ent to Ne­tanyahu is not help­ful, says Su­sanna Ter­stal

The National - News - - NEWS - KHALED YA­COUB OWEIS Su­sanna Ter­stal

A se­nior Euro­pean of­fi­cial said the next Is­raeli prime min­is­ter may take less hard­line po­si­tions on the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans.

Su­sanna Ter­stal, the EU spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Mid­dle East peace process, cau­tioned against as­sum­ing that if Benny Gantz be­comes Is­rael’s next leader, he would have the same poli­cies as Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s, un­der­min­ing a twostate so­lu­tion.

“I do not think the poli­cies of Blue and White are per se very dif­fer­ent from Likud,” Ms Ter­stal told The Na­tional in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view dur­ing a visit to Abu Dhabi.

“But dif­fer­ent peo­ple bring dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties to the table and, of course, we hope a new govern­ment in Is­rael will bring re­newed en­gage­ment on some of the very dif­fi­cult top­ics.”

Mr Ne­tanyahu and Mr Gantz cam­paigned in last month’s Is­raeli elec­tion on sim­i­lar plat­forms, cen­tred on keep­ing oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory and fur­ther­ing Jewish set­tle­ments and an­nex­a­tion. The re­sult sep­a­rated the two by an ul­tra-slim mar­gin in the 120-seat par­lia­ment.

Pales­tinian par­ties raised their share sig­nif­i­cantly but they are yet to take part in a rul­ing Is­raeli coali­tion.

On the cam­paign trail, dif­fer­ences be­tween Mr Ne­tanyahu and Mr Gantz were mainly on do­mes­tic is­sues.

Mr Gantz fo­cused on what he re­gards as the need to im­pose jus­tice on Mr Ne­tanyahu, who faces cor­rup­tion charges, to pre­serve Is­raeli democ­racy.

In her sec­ond year in the job, Ms Ter­stal, who is from the Nether­lands, said she was un­der no il­lu­sions about the com­plex po­lit­i­cal pic­ture in Is­rael and that “in the last few years we have seen in­creased set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity and more out­posts and set­tle­ments be­ing le­galised by the Is­raeli govern­ment”.

Her mis­sion is to “do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to work on a so­lu­tion with the Is­raeli govern­ment”.

Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin last week gave Mr Gantz 28 days to put to­gether an ad­min­is­tra­tion. It was the first time in more than 10 years some­one other than Mr Ne­tanyahu re­ceived such an in­vi­ta­tion.

An in­con­clu­sive elec­tion in April led to an­other poll last month. If Mr Gantz also fails, Is­rael could be forced into a third bal­lot.

“There are a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties on the table but they are all hard to at­tain,” Ms Ter­stal said of Mr Gantz’s chances.

She said dis­miss­ing Mr Gantz as no dif­fer­ent from Mr Ne­tanyahu “un­der­mines the pos­si­bil­ity of look­ing for ways for­ward on the two-state so­lu­tion”. The prospect of two states, which United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 242 of 1974 called for, di­min­ished not long af­ter the in­cep­tion of the peace process at se­cret talks in Nor­way in 1993.

Is­rael in­creas­ingly took uni­lat­eral ac­tion to skew the to­pog­ra­phy and de­mog­ra­phy of Pales­tine, in breach of the ac­cords and against in­ter­na­tional law – most un­equiv­o­cally un­der Mr Ne­tanyahu.

The Pales­tini­ans, mean­while, un­der­mined them­selves from within. Gaza rulers Ha­mas, backed by Iran and Qatar, as well as the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity in the West Bank have de facto reap­pointed them­selves since the Pales­tinian civil war be­tween 2006 and 2007.

“The Pales­tini­ans are in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion and the di­vi­sion be­tween the West Bank and Gaza is not only un­for­tu­nate but re­ally some­thing that has to be solved first and fore­most by the Pales­tini­ans them­selves,” Ms Ter­stal said.

An an­nounce­ment by PA Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas last month of his in­ten­sion to hold elec­tions could plug “a large demo­cratic deficit be­tween the Pales­tinian lead­ers and their peo­ple”, she said, if the poll was agreed with Ha­mas and con­ducted across the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, in­clud­ing East Jerusalem.

Ms Ter­stal said democ­racy, cou­pled with the end of the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion in a peace deal that guar­an­tees se­cu­rity for the two sides, could rekin­dle hope among Pales­tini­ans, es­pe­cially the young.

The EU is a large fi­nan­cial backer of the PA, de­spite the ram­pant cor­rup­tion plagu­ing it and its crack­down on dis­sent.

The bloc, of­ten di­vided on for­eign pol­icy, has tried with­out suc­cess to con­vince Is­rael to lift bans on EU-funded de­vel­op­ment projects in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries.

The EU, US, Rus­sia and the UN formed the “Mid­dle East Quar­tet” in 2002 to set­tle the con­flict.

A de­layed US plan for peace led by Jared Kush­ner, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­viser and son-in-law, could at last be un­veiled if a new Is­raeli govern­ment is formed.

In June, Mr Kush­ner or­gan­ised an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence in Bahrain to mar­ket an eco­nomic com­po­nent of the plan.

The con­fer­ence united the PA and Ha­mas in that they both ridiculed Mr Kush­ner for ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity of the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion.

While rep­re­sent­ing the EU in Bahrain, Ms Ter­stal said she no­ticed that many of the po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment projects Mr Kush­ner touted were the EU’s brain­child, en­vi­sioned to help sup­port the two-state so­lu­tion by strength­en­ing Pales­tinian govern­ment and the econ­omy. She said that de­spite Mr Kush­ner’s fo­cus on busi­ness, he ap­pears to re­alise that a work­ing Pales­tinian econ­omy can­not be re­alised with­out peace.

“Why would a busi­ness­man in any coun­try in­vest when they are not sure their prod­ucts or the things they need can come into Pales­tine?” Ms Ter­stal said. The US has not yet shared the po­lit­i­cal core of its peace plan with the EU, she said.

“The EU is very will­ing to co-op­er­ate but the US knows what the Euro­pean pa­ram­e­ters are,” she said. “In­ter­na­tional law is the ba­sis for solv­ing the con­flict.”

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