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A Wider Europe in Israel

German Foreign Minister Fischer irritated his EU colleagues recently by calling for a new road map for Middle East peace with NATO in center-stage. On Monday, he visited Israel to talk about EU-Israeli relations.


Israel and other EU border states could one day have a stake in the bloc's internal market.

Accusations of anti-Semitism were meant to take a backseat at an Israeli conference on the EU's "Wider Europe" program, a welcome change less than a month after the latest row over European anti-Semitism.

But they're likely to remain on the agenda.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his Spanish and Belgian colleagues arrived in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, for a conference on upgrading the EU's relations to the countries that will border the enlarged Union.

The "Wider Europe" program is meant to encourage the EU's neighbors to cooperate politically and economically with the Union. The Eastern European and Mediterranean countries that implement political, economic and legislative reforms agreed on with the EU will be able to reap rewards, such as stakes in the EU's internal market and, ultimately, the "free exchange of persons, goods, services and capital."

In Herzliya, Fischer said he hoped the Israeli government would rethink the positioning of a fence meant to protect Israel from suicide bombers. Construction of the fence has been internationally criticized as it would run deep into Palestinian territory in some areas, separating children and schools, farmers and fields, patients and hospitals.

Fischer is expected to expand on his call for a new plan for Middle East peace that would give NATO a central role along with the EU and the Arab states. "In order to succeed, the European Union and the U.S. should, in view of this major challenge to our common security, pool their capabilities, assets and projects to form a new transatlantic initiative for the Middle East," Fischer said at an international security conference in Munich a week ago.

On Monday, Fischer said Palestinian President Yasser Arafat should not be pushed aside as demanded by Israel since Palestinians should be able to choose their leaders themselves.

Going solo

Fischer in Israel

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer during a visit to Tel Aviv, in April 2003.

Apparently, Fischer failed to consult his European colleagues before making the proposal for a new road map. French President Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin complained at the German-French summit last week that Fischer hadn't given them an opportunity to put forward a joint initiative. Both the French and the Spanish were annoyed that the German encroached on a subject -- EU-Mediterranean policies -- that has traditionally been their domain, Der Spiegel newsmagazine reported in its Monday issue.

The Herzliya conference also plans to address misunderstandings between Europe and Israel, which have been particularly numerous in the past half year.

The European Union has criticized the security fence, and relations have also been troubled by allegations of European anti-Semitism for months. The conflicts over anti-Semitism started in November, after an EU poll was published that said some 60 percent of Europeans believed Israeli was the greatest threat to world peace. Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accused Europe of inherent anti-Semitism.

Criticism from Israeli ambassador

Fischer is also scheduled to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Sirvan Shalom during his brief visit to the country. On Tuesday, he will be back in Berlin, where Fischer and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will receive Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Israel's ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, on Saturday criticized the ensuing visit. Qureia is a "failed premier," Stein said in an interview with German news agency DPA, and he had done nothing to fight terror. "Qureia has not dared to confront (Palestinian President) Arafat's strategy of chaos," Stein said. "He ought to do his work at home first."

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