x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Israel rejects EU deadline proposal

The European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana says a date should be set for a two-state solution.

The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana inspects the damage caused during Israel's 22-day Gaza offensive.
The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana inspects the damage caused during Israel's 22-day Gaza offensive.

RAMALLAH // Israel yesterday rejected a proposal by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, that the international community should set a deadline for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and prepare its own proposal for a solution in the meantime. "Peace must be built, not imposed," Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, told Israel Radio by way of response. "I don't think this is the position of the European Union. This is simply personal: Javier Solana is about to retire, by the end of the year he will quit his position and his replacement is meant to come." Mr Solana had suggested in a lecture in London on Saturday that should Palestinian-Israeli talks fail to reach a conclusion by an internationally set deadline, then "a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table". Furthermore, he added, "a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution" and accept a Palestinian state as a full member of the United Nations. Mr Solana's statement has provoked a stir because it puts him at odds with the traditional international stance that an agreement to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should come about as a result of internationally mediated bilateral talks. That remains the position of the Quartet, of which the EU, along with the UN, Russia and the US, is a member. Since the 1991 Madrid negotiations, Palestinian officials have accepted that formula. But the failure of 18 years of negotiations has caused more and more Palestinians to complain that without a neutral mediator, bilateral talks only favour Israel as the stronger party. In Israel, the idea of an internationally-imposed solution is one that is fiercely opposed across the political spectrum. Primarily, said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst, this is because to put the resolution of the conflict in the hands of the United Nations is to "deprive Israel of its negotiating advantage". The UN has passed several resolutions that presumably would provide the framework for an internationally imposed resolution of the conflict, including UN Security Council Resolution 181, asserting the two-states-for-two-peoples formula, UNSC Resolution 242 rejecting Israel's occupation of land seized in 1967 as illegal as well as General Assembly Resolution 194, which asserts the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Indeed, international intervention would probably produce an outcome almost identical to the PLO's position, which since 1988 has based its version of a two-state solution solely on international resolutions. "Palestinians would love to have international intervention to impose a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a Gaza-based Palestinian analyst. "It would put all the pressure on the Israeli government." It is not clear how serious Mr Solana was with his proposal given the far-reaching consequences imposing a solution could have for international policy on the conflict and the notoriously circumscribed powers of any centralised EU foreign policy initiative. Nor is it clear what kind of traction the idea can gain. The key to that would be the response from Washington, which is unlikely to endorse such an idea, at least for now. But US reaction may well depend on how Israel responds to US demands for a settlement freeze in the days and weeks to come. "It is possible that the suggestion will be dead by tomorrow," said Mr Alpher. "The most crucial question is, will the Obama administration be the least bit interested in [Mr Solana's] suggestion? I doubt it, but if Washington becomes frustrated with the Israeli government and its refusal to freeze settlement construction, and given the Obama administration's affinity for international initiatives, it's not beyond the realm of imagination that an idea like this could pick up some steam." Yet despite Mr Lieberman's protestations that this is simply the parting shot of a man close to retirement notwithstanding, Mr Solana's suggestion may also be seen in the light of greater international exasperation with Israel. In particular, the Israeli government's refusal to bow to American pressure to end its settlement construction in occupied territory in order to facilitate the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, combined with Washington's refusal to back down over the issue, may be encouraging European countries and other international actors to be more outspoken in their criticism of Israel. "I think there is less international patience with Israel," said Mr Abusada. "The EU has always supported Palestinian rights, but is in a better position now to apply pressure, with the new US administration and a right-wing Israeli government that refuses to seriously engage the world to reach a solution." okarmi@thenational.ae