EU Middle East policy decision due next week

 

THE FINAL text of an EU statement on the Middle East is unlikely to be signed off until foreign ministers meet next week because of “sensitivities” over a Swedish proposal to divide Jerusalem in any peace deal, diplomatic sources said.

The statement – expected on Tuesday – is being billed as the most significant expression of EU policy on the stalled peace process since foreign ministers discussed the matter last June.

In an effort to leave space for US initiatives, EU foreign ministers largely held back from commenting on the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians in the intervening months.

The proposal to establish East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital in a two-state solution was set out in a negotiating paper prepared by Sweden’s six-month presidency of the EU. While diplomats say radical policy change at EU level is not on the agenda, the explicit reference in the Swedish document to East Jerusalem marks a subtle change from the EU’s often-stated position that the city should become the “shared capital” of the two states.

The Israeli response was seen to reflect fear that all member states would adopt the reference as a means of stepping up pressure on the government of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

However, ambassadors to the EU’s political and security committee failed to agree on the text on Wednesday and are scheduled to discuss it again today.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, Jewish settlers vowed to continue their campaign of civil disobedience aimed at thwarting a 10-month construction freeze imposed by the government, after a meeting yesterday with Mr Netanyahu.

The prime minister called the meeting in an effort to defuse tension after four consecutive days of confrontations, with residents attempting to block government inspectors entering West Bank settlements. Six people have been arrested, including a local mayor.

The prime minister promised the settlers the restrictions were temporary, and would be lifted at the end of the 10-month moratorium. He urged them to obey the law and explained that he had been forced to order the construction freeze due to strong international pressure to make a gesture in order to coax the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.