Craven Europe throws away chance of Middle East peace role

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The Independent Online

America's policies in the Middle East have collapsed in ruins. The Oslo "peace process" is turning into an exploding civil war between Jew and Muslim. Both Palestinians and Israelis agree that the conflict is going to get much, much worse. Only the Europeans, say the Arabs, might be able to staunch the bloodshed. But Europe last week threw away an opportunity to save the peace in the Middle East.

America's policies in the Middle East have collapsed in ruins. The Oslo "peace process" is turning into an exploding civil war between Jew and Muslim. Both Palestinians and Israelis agree that the conflict is going to get much, much worse. Only the Europeans, say the Arabs, might be able to staunch the bloodshed. But Europe last week threw away an opportunity to save the peace in the Middle East.

European foreign ministers meeting in Marseilles earnestly refused to condemn the Israelis for excessive use of force, insisted that they still believed in the now bankrupt Oslo agreement and - to the delight of Israel - announced that the US remained the country with the "fundamental role" in Middle East peacemaking. At no point did the EU question why so many of the dead - well over 90 per cent - were Palestinians.

And when a German citizen, Harald Fischer, 68, was killed by an Israeli missile, the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, humbly accepted Israel's condolences and announced that the Israelis were to begin a "profound investigation" into the incident. No matter that Israel's foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, later denied that any such high-level inquiry was taking place. When a French-speaking reporter held out a microphone to pick up Mr Fischer's words, a German official switched off his tape-recorder. This was only for Germans to hear, he was told. Germany, Finland and Holland are the three EU nations most fearful of Israel.

For those of us who travel between Gaza and Europe, between Ramallah and the US, it was if the world had gone a bit mad. The Europeans - we who give the lion's share of funding to the doomed Oslo "peace process", we who bombed Belgrade to end the Serb occupation of Kosovo and welcome eastern Europe into the Community - cannot utter a whimper about the injustice being perpetrated in the Middle East. Partly, of course, this is because we do not wish to know. It is also because we refuse to acknowledge that the US - far from being the neutral "honest broker" in the Middle East - has now virtually merged its political policies, arms sales and financial power with that of Israel.

Why, for example, has it never been reported in the West that the Israelis used Beit Jalla - the Palestinian town in which the German was killed - as the first real-time target for their brand-new Gil anti-tank missile? It is manufactured by the Israeli company Raphael - "Gil" means "Spike" - which has just signed new $200m (£140m) contracts with Lockheed Martin, the American arms manufacturer, as part of an $800m deal to sell 50 US F16I fighter aircraft to Israel. This does not include another accord for the Americans to supply Israel with 35 Blackhawk military helicopters.

We are even led to believe that the Oslo "agreement" was working, that only the Palestinians rejected it. Yet of the half dozen major accords agreed under Oslo, not one was respected. The 1995 Taba agreement, for instance, promised three Israeli withdrawals to be completed by October, 1997. Final status talks were to be finished by October 1999. But intermediary accords revised these conditions. In January, 1997, a few settlers were given 20 per cent of Hebron, despite Israel's commitment to leave all West Bank towns. By October 1998, Israel had not carried out the Taba accords. At Wye River, the Israelis divided the second redeployment promised at Taba into two phases - and then failed to complete the second. At Sharm el-Sheikh, the Israelis cut Wye River's two phased withdrawal into three but only 7 per cent of Israeli-occupied territory was transferred to joint Israeli- Palestinian control.

And all this time, Jewish settlement building has continued. The Israelis now claim in private that Arafat destroyed the Camp David talks even though Israel promised to close down all but but a few illegal settlements. Yet if that is true (and the Palestinians say it is not) why has Israel earmarked $242m for further settlement construction in next year's Israeli budget?

These are not questions that were asked in the refined atmosphere of Marseilles. Of course, the Palestinian leadership is corrupt and cruel (not least to its own people). Of course, the Palestinians have produced their share of wicked car bombers. And yes, an increasing number of armed Palestinians are now attacking Israelis. But double standards - European as well as American - have killed off the peace in the Middle East. No wonder Nabil Shaath, one of the few eloquent Palestinian ministers, asked at Marseilles why the EU should make an "equivalence" between "stone-throwing protesters and an occupation army which fires live bullets."

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