Israel alarmed by EU bid to reopen Orient House as part of peace plan
Europe's proposed steps for advancing Palestinian and Syrian tracks likely to clash with Israel's.
Israeli officials are deeply concerned over an internal European Union document outlining the EU's plans for advancing an Israeli-Palestinian deal in 2009. Inter alia, it calls for increased pressure on Israel to reopen Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, including Orient House, which formerly served as the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in the city.
The document, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, was written by the French Foreign Ministry, as France currently occupies the EU's rotating presidency.
It is slated to be discussed next week at a meeting of the EU's foreign ministers, and Israel is trying to get various elements changed before then.
Titled "The EU Action Strategy for Peace in the Middle East: The Way Forward," the document proposes various steps the EU should take in 2009 on both the Palestinian and the Syrian tracks, with emphasis on the former. However, its proposals are liable to result in a clash with whatever new government Israelis elect in February, whether headed by Tzipi Livni or Benjamin Netanyahu.
The EU, it states, must encourage the newly elected American government to be actively engaged in Israeli-Palestinian talks.
In addition, the document states, the international community must closely monitor implementation of the first stage of the road map peace plan, which requires Israel to freeze settlement construction and remove West Bank roadblocks, and the PA to fight terror.
Regarding the so-called core issues of the conflict - borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees - the document proposes three main lines of action.
"A key part of building the Palestinian state involves resolving the status of Jerusalem, as the future capital of two states," it declares. Therefore, "the EU will work actively towards the re-opening of the Palestinian institutions, including the Orient House."
Orient House, which once served as the PA's de facto Foreign Ministry, was closed in August 2001 following the deadly terror attack on Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant. Since then, successive Israeli governments have refused to reopen it, as it symbolized Palestinian claims to sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
On security, the document expresses EU willingness to play a role in Israeli-Palestinian security arrangements, mainly by sending policemen, soldiers or civilians to help train Palestinian security forces or to supervise implementation of a final-status agreement.
Regarding the refugees, the document says an "agreed, just, fair and realistic" solution must be found, adding that the EU would be willing to help establish and operate an international mechanism to compensate and rehabilitate Palestinian refugees.
The document praises the PA for having greatly improved security in the West Bank, and therefore concludes 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 says.
In addition, it notes, the EU "expects a complete freeze of all settlement activities including natural growth, including in East Jerusalem ... The EU will continue to send clear messages to Israel and examine practical ways to exert more influence on these issues, including on goods from settlements."