'Euromed' summit turned into a charade by absent leaders

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The Independent Online

The Syrians refuse to come. So, therefore, do the Lebanese. And yesterday - aware that Europe's Middle East "peace process" was about as dead as the Oslo version - even President Jacques Chirac of France, who had intended to open the Marseilles summit, backed down on the pretext that it had been reduced to ministerial level.

The Syrians refuse to come. So, therefore, do the Lebanese. And yesterday - aware that Europe's Middle East "peace process" was about as dead as the Oslo version - even President Jacques Chirac of France, who had intended to open the Marseilles summit, backed down on the pretext that it had been reduced to ministerial level.

So the start of the "Euromed" summit of foreign ministers - 15 from the EU and 12 of their opposite numbers from the Arab world, Israel and Turkey - seemed certain to turn into a shouting match.

If the collapse of the 1993 Oslo accords led to the latest war in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, that war has in effect killed off what the EU calls the Barcelona Process, the hopelessly over-ambitious plan to provide "stability and prosperity" to Mediterranean countries.

Launched five years ago in a haze of euphoria that followed Oslo, the Europeans chose to pin their hopes to the deal and allow the Americans to dictate the "peace" rather than to support UN resolutions that demanded an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

So the foreign affairs ministers Shlomo Ben-Ami of Israel and Nabil Shaath of Palestine - instead of hand-holding their way to peace with even more EU money to support them - are likely to use the Euromed forum to rehearse their mutual antagonism.

The signing of a charter for peace and security was to be the outcome of the summit; but since no Arab will sign anything with an Israel whose soldiers are shooting Palestinians, the charter has been dumped.

The French are resisting attempts by Arab foreign ministers to read an advance copy of the final text of the conference, which, no doubt, will be called the "Marseilles declaration". And the Europeans are anxious not to allow the first meeting to collapse into a diplomatic version of the Israeli-Palestinian war. Some hope. Arab nations want Israel condemned and, since the delegates will probably have to sit in the same room, EU foreign ministers can expect to hear some harsh language from the Israelis.

Euromed was meant to encourage a Mediterranean free-trade zone, in which the EU would have greater access to Mediterranean countries than the Mediterranean nations would to Europe. An EU grant of 4.7bn euros should also have been distributed among southern and eastern Mediterranean countries. But only 26 per cent has been handed out in four years and the EU remains blithely unwilling to attach guarantees of human rights improvements to their generosity.

Thus will the Europeans observe Arab nations, some of whose citizens have called for a holy war against Israel, sitting down with a country that has already called the leadership of one Arab delegation, the Palestinians, "terrorists".

The EU may prefer to watch the Turks vent their fury on the French for endorsing, in the Assembly and the Senate, their recognition of the Armenian Holocaust of 1915 in which the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians. Old blood is likely to be less dangerous, it seems, than fresh blood.

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