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Europe

Europe's Role in Middle East Waning

As part of the Middle East Quartet, Germany and the EU have a vested interest in the Israeli elections. German Middle East expert Günter Meyer, however, says that the influence on Israel's policies is waning.

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What do the elections mean for the future of the Middle East?

From the European perspective, which election outcome would most benefit the peace process?

The only party which has clearly set itself the goal of pushing forward with the peace process is the Yachad Party ("togetherness"). It calls for the Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in 1967 and a return to the Oslo Peace Process. If that were to take place, it would make peace with the Palestinians a real possibility. But this political goal is not representative of the majority in the election. At the most five representatives from Yachad will be elected.

If he wins, Ehud Olmert has promised to establish the permanent boundaries of Israel by the year 2010. Is that a strategy Germany and Europe could accept or do you foresee difficulties with his plans?

The EU and Germany could support the basic goal of establishing permanent borders, but only if the national boundaries respect international law. However, that has not been the case up to now: The partially erected security fence – or Apartheid Wall as the Palestinians call it – cuts out large chunks of occupied territory and attributes them to Israel. Also the intended Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem, the large Jewish settlements and the occupation of the eastern Jordan Valley are all clear breaches of international law. Finally, the one-sided definition of national borders – that is without incorporating Palestinians in the negotiations – is completely unacceptable. The result would be a forced, non-sustainable Palestinian state and there would be no chance of peace in the Middle East.

How much political influence do Germany and the EU have at the moment as part of the Middle East Quartet?

German and European influence on Israel's politics is close to nothing. On the Palestinian side, however, Europe's economic and humanitarian support is absolutely essential if we want to avoid further chaos and destabilization in the territories.

How has Germany 's role in the Middle East changed since the government under Chancellor Angela Merkel came into power?

The new government has shifted its political priorities unequivocally in favor of Israel. By doing so it has lost in the eyes of the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world its trustworthiness as an impartial negotiator in the conflict.

Is there a danger that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will be neglected because other countries such as Iran and Iraq have moved to the forefront of the international focus?

This is no longer a potential risk. It already reflects the current reality. The fact that the construction of the security fence and the expansion of Israeli enclaves in the occupied territories continue to be ignored by international politics and the public is the best proof of this new shift in focus.

German Middle East expert Günter Meyer is a professor at the University of Mainz's Geographical Institute, and the head of the Center for Research on the Arab World. Additionally, he is a director of the German Middle East Studies Association for Contemporary Research and Documentation (DAVO).

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