Israel faces growing international pressure to change Gaza Strip policy

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz 21 February 2008

Ran Koriel, Israel’s European Union ambassador, recently warned the Foreign Ministry of a change in EU policy on Hamas, amid mounting international pressure on Israel over its handling of the situation in the Gaza Strip.

The government has recently been getting strong signals that both the U.S. and Europe are deeply frustrated by lack of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Envoys of the Quartet on the Middle East convened in Berlin on February 11 to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). David Welch, top Middle East aide to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Mark Otte, the European Union peace envoy; UN Middle East envoy Robery Serry; and Russian envoy to the Middle East Sergei Yakovlev took part in the meeting.

In the last week, a number of Israeli ambassadors in European capitals sent classified telegrams about the meeting’s contents, some of which reached Haaretz.

Serry criticized Israel at the outset of the meeting. “We are deeply concerned over the situation in Gaza, especially from the humanitarian perspective,” he said. “We must find a fast solution to this situation.”

He said that due to Israel’s siege, “even the UN’s teams have difficulty entering and leaving Gaza to give aid.”

Welch, who joined the criticism of Israel’s conduct in the Gaza Strip, said the United States was not comfortable with Israel’s approach to Gaza, and presented the American goals regarding the Israelis and Palestinians. “First we must not allow the suicide bombing in Dimona and shooting on Sderot to affect the negotiations,” he said.

“It is also important to us that neither the Palestinians in Gaza nor the Israelis in Sderot are hurt. Also, we must continue to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.”

Welch added that the Quartet must demand that Israel open the border passes with the Gaza Strip.

Otte was even more blunt. “Not only is nothing improving on the ground, but Israel’s behavior is getting worse, and it’s failing to carry out its obligations on the road map,” he said.

“There seem to be no significant progress in the peace process,” he said.

He noted that Israel had decided to extend by six months the order to shut down PA institutions in East Jerusalem. “We must consider a change of policy in everything regarding Gaza,” he said.

Yakovlev said that Russia believes the Palestinians must once again set up a national unity government, which Israel strongly objects to. Without a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, “the Gaza Strip will be a time bomb that will kill the Annapolis process,” he said.

Israel had been expecting a demarche from the EU making clear Brussels’ disapproval of its actions in the Gaza Strip. A concentrated diplomatic offensive by Israel’s ambassadors in Europe managed to stall the initiative for the moment. “However,” said a source in Jerusalem, “Israel is living on borrowed time regarding international legitimacy for what is going on in Gaza.”

Israel and the United States recently managed to thwart Switzerland’s initiative for an international gathering to propose a plan to open the border passes to the Gaza Strip. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner demanded of Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the past two weeks to open the border passes in the Strip.

Barak was forced to give in and allow a partial opening of the passes so that cement could be brought into Gaza. Barak heard similar demands during his visit to Turkey about a week ago. He agreed to Turkey’s request to enable Turkish humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza on a one-time basis.

In addition to these troubling reports, Ran Koriel sent a sharp telegram to the Foreign Ministry warning of an overall European policy change toward Israel and the PA, which could even lead to a recognition of Hamas.

“Despite the suspension [of the demarche], note the growing discomfort in Europe over the situation in the Gaza Strip,” wrote Koriel.

He said that in recent weeks he received reports that the French government was reexamining its attitude toward Hamas. Senior EU officials had been heard denouncing Israel’s actions in Gaza, and a number of decisions on the issue had been passed in various European parliaments.

“This activity is in keeping with the European culture espousing concern for humanitarian issues,” Koriel wrote. “It is even graver in view of the feeling in Europe that Israel and the Palestinians are not succeeding in changing the situation on the ground and not progressing in the peace

February 21, 2008 | 4 Comments »

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  1. Otte was even more blunt. “Not only is nothing improving on the ground, but Israel’s behavior is getting worse, and it’s failing to carry out its obligations on the road map,” he said.

    How about the behavior of the palestinians? Israel’s actions, after all, are in response to rocket attacks from Gaza. Israel is obligated to defend its own citizens, not to concern themselves with the comfort of its enemies

    “This activity is in keeping with the European culture espousing concern for humanitarian issues,”

    Bullshit! This is about Europe’s time honored tradition of appeasing evil and throwing the Jewish people to the wolves to protect its own interests, or so they think its in their interest to curry favor with the muslim world. What about the humanitarian concerns for the citizens of Sderot?

    Why can’t for once Israel’s leaders tell Europe to go fuck themselves?

  2. Now let me see… We should start the negotiations with a dose of reality.

    How about, “They want to kill us.” Now let’s negotiate from there…