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Europe

Israel Fears Strong EU

A confidential report from the Israeli Foreign Ministry has predicted relations with the European Union could further deteriorate in future, hitting Israel economically and diplomatically.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom (right) eyes Solana with suspicion


The report points to the "possibility of a deterioration in relations," one of the report's authors told the EUobserver Web site on Wednesday.

According to Israeli press reports, the document, a ten-year forecast prepared by Israel's foreign ministry, states that Israel and the EU find themselves on a collision course which would cause serious economic and diplomatic damage to the country. "Such a collision course holds the risk of Israel losing international legitimacy and could lead to its isolation in the manner of South Africa," the report read.

"It is a prognosis of the general outline of the international environment in the future... it is us looking into the crystal ball", the report's author said. "Everyone is aware of the importance of the relations with Europe."

There are said to be no recommendations in the report.

Strong EU weakens US

Mauer zwischen Israel und Palästina bei Jerusalem

A partial view of Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Abu Dis on the outskirts of Jerusalem

The EU and Israel have been at loggerheads for months over the implementation of a Middle East peace plan and the construction of Israel's security barrier. Israel also regards Europe as a bulwark of pro-Palestinian sentiment and has long complained of what it sees as growing anti-Semitism in Europe.

The report does send a strong signal to the Israeli government however, that, faced with an EU which is ever more prominent on the international scene, relations with Europe have to improve. The report also warns that influence over world politics by the US, Israel's most important ally, could diminish as the EU's role grows, German daily Berliner Zeitung reported on Thursday.

However, efforts are on to strengthen ties. The EU and Israel recently concluded negotiations on a new bilateral agreement paving the way for deeper relations between the two sides. EU officials believe "everything besides EU membership" for Israel could be possible, according to Berliner Zeitung.

But diplomats described some aspects of negotiations as tense.

Israel was the last of the eight countries involved in this round of 'European Neighbourhood' talks to conclude negotiations.

EU plan for Palestinian state

Though Europe is Israel's major trading partner, they have very definite differences of opinion over Mideast peacemaking. Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers criticized Israel's use of force in Northern Gaza.

"Regarding the Middle East peace process and our relations
with Israel and the Palestinians, there is no doubt that
the role of the EU has increased," Christina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, told Reuters news agency.

The EU says Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip in 2005 must be followed by major troop withdrawals
in the West Bank, and pave the way for Palestinian
statehood.

The European Union is also set to draw up a plan to ensure the viability of a Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders, according to reports.

In a bid to step up the EU's engagement in the region, the plan is set to focus on reconstruction as well as ensuring security is brought to the territories.

It will also underline the need for holding free and fair elections.

Nahost Friedensplan wird verteilt

Moratinos (second from left) during the presentation of the "road map" for peace in Ramallah in April 2003

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is a former EU envoy to the Middle East, said that it is hoped the plan would be adopted in November at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, according to reports.

The move follows deep unease in Europe over the lack of progress in implementing the EU, US, UN and Russia backed "road map" for peace and a response to Israel's plans to withdraw from Gaza.

"We want to show the will to start moving and commit ourselves to the situation in the Middle East," Moratinos told a press conference.


Little progress

Diplomats insist that the road map is still on the table, but little progress has been made ahead of the US presidential elections.

EU diplomats also insist that the move does not represent the EU stepping away from the so-called Middle East Quartet and is compatible with the road map.

Ariel Sharon

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

However, with a vote on Premier Ariel Sharon's plans to withdraw from Gaza in 2005 set to come before the Knesset in two weeks time, the EU is keen to make sure no power vacuum ensues.

The new plan by the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, is expected to deal with four major areas; security, facilitating elections, economic development and reforms.

In the security area, the EU is said to be considering a police mission on the ground to help train Palestinian security services in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, in co-ordination with the Egyptian government.

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