Israel wants closer co-operation with EU

02.12.08 @ 17:41

  1. By Valentina Pop
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BRUSSELS - Israel wants to strengthen its relations with the EU and change what it calls Europe's "outdated" perception of the Jewish state in the hearts and minds of Europeans, the country's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told MEPs on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned the EU against this move, citing lack of progress in the Middle East peace process.

  • Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said she accepted criticism from the MEPs as long as it reflected realities, not outdated perceptions. (Photo: EUobserver)

Ms Livni tried to "bridge the gap" between what she called a European perception of her state and what Israel "really" was.

She rejected criticism from several MEPs concerned about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying that her government was no longer actively pursuing this policy and that these were "minor activities" that Israeli officials were trying to contain.

"We are not trying to use or abuse the period of time in which we negotiate in order to have more land, or to get more land from the Palestinians," Ms Livni told MEPs, while asking for patience if a peace deal with the Palestinians was not reached by the end of the month, as pledged a year ago in Annapolis, during a US-brokered agreement.

Dozens of Jewish settlers rioted Tuesday in Hebron, clashing with the Israeli troops who guard them but who may also evict them from a disputed building they have occupied, agencies have reported.

Several MEPs warned that such actions of Israeli settlers went "against Israel" and the peace process and urged Ms Livni to do more to stop them.

"For us, the extension of settlers and colonists in the West Bank is not acceptable and does not allow negotiations to take place," said Belgian Socialist Veronique De Keyser.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also argued on Tuesday that the continued presence of settlers in the occupied territories meant that the EU should not upgrade its relation with Israel.

"We asked for a meeting with representatives of those countries to express our deep concerns ahead of of the debate on the strengthening of relations with Israel," he said, speaking to journalists after he met with diplomats from EU countries on Monday.

"I told them that since Israel has violated all its commitments, including on human rights issues, EU countries should wait before upgrading the level of Israeli representation with the EU," he said.

Ms Livni defended her government's actions and said all security measures were imposed because of the "illegitimate" Hamas government in the Gaza strip, which had no other goal than to destroy Israel and did not care about the humanitarian crisis of the Palestinians.

"Do do you think that I, as a human being, want them to suffer? I don't want to, but put yourself in my position, what are the options?" she said, when asked about civilian casualties following Israeli strikes the country claims are necessary to counter attacks from the Gaza strip.

"I don't have the miracle situation for how to delegitimise a regime, how to fight terror, without any impact on the population. It is not a surgical operation, it is war," she said.

She also told the MEPs that there are numerous voices in Israel calling on her to suspend negotiations with the Palestinians as long as there are ongoing attacks, but that she firmly believed the Annapolis peace process had to stay on track.

Ms Livni also met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to discuss including Israel in key EU projects. Israel is already involved in the EU's high-tech research programmes but also wants a role in customs, the environment, health and other areas.

In addition, the foreign minister also met with NATO officials gathered in Brussels for their ministerial meeting and signed an agreement aimed at strengthening and expanding military co-operation with the Atlantic alliance, including in the fight against militant extremism.

French paper raises concerns in Israel

Meanwhile, an internal paper drafted by the French EU presidency ahead of a foreign ministers meeting next week raised concerns in Israel, local daily Ha'aretz reported, after seeing the draft. The document called for increased pressure on Israel to re-open Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.

"A key part of building the Palestinian state involves resolving the status of Jerusalem, as the future capital of two states," the paper read. Therefore, "the EU will work actively towards the re-opening of the Palestinian institutions, including the Orient House."

Israeli forces closed Orient House, which once served as the Palestinian Authority's de facto Foreign Ministry, with the government citing the bombing of Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant as justification. Since then, successive Israeli governments have refused to re-open it as it symbolised Palestinian claims to sovereignty of East Jerusalem, Ha'aretz explained.

The document praised the Palestinian Authority for having greatly improved security in the West Bank, and concluded that Israel must transfer additional large swathes of this territory to Palestinian security control. "During the coming period, Palestinian security presence should be expanded beyond cities," it said.