Friday, November 17, 2006

Israel totally rejects new European "peace initiative"

Spanish FM: Nothing in peace plan 'Israel can reject'
By Akiva Eldar and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos sought Friday to reassure Israel over a new Mideast peace initiative proposed the day before by Spain, France and Italy, saying that there was nothing in the plan "that Israel can reject." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday that Israel rejected the new peace initiative out of hand. She told Moratinos that it was unacceptable for an initiative concerning Israel to be launched without coordination with Jerusalem. Livni also told Moratinos that if the sponsors of the initiative were so inclined, they should seek to hold dialogue with Israel on any new plan. But Moratinos told Haaretz on Friday he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart about the initiative, in what he described was a "good conversation," and had "tried to convince her that it's not an anti-Israeli plan." He said that, "at the end of the conversation it was fine," and promised to provide Livni with "all the details." Introducing the plan Thursday during a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Spanish Prime Minister Spanish Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said it had five components, including an immediate cease-fire that would be monitored by an international presence in Gaza. Moratinos said that he had been anticipating a poor reception, but remained confident that the plan would be taken seriously. "We assume our responsibilities," he said. "I knew that in the beginning there will be a negative reaction but I have full confidence that the initiative will go through." The Spanish foreign minister acknowledged that there was still work to be done on the proposal, but said that the three countries had been driven by a desire to change the stalemate in the region. "It is not a final initiative, we will have to adapt. But we have a sense of urgency that something has to be done, and this stagnation and frustration which are affecting the lives of Israelis and Palestinians are [getting] worse." He also said that his own country has an interest in events in the Middle East, not least because they have a direct impact on Spain and its citizens. "We have police and civil guard [in Lebanon], two Spanish citizens were kidnapped in Gaza, because there is a big disaster," he said. "It's affecting my economy and security in terms of the whole situation. I have interests that are affecting my country, and so, what do I have to do, just wait and see?"According to Moratinos, European Union and American officials at the highest levels have been made aware of the initiative."We discussed with [EU foreign policy chief Javier] Solana and I discussed it this morning with the Americans, but the Americans have the Quartet," Moratinos said, referring to the foursome of the U.S., United Nations, Russia and the EU, who play a joint role in efforts to end the conflict." But we already discussed the general idea with [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice a long time ago. And so we want the Americans to lead the initiative, but we have to forward some ideas. If they have better ideas, I am ready to accept them."
Hamas: Israel doesn't want peace
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that Israel's rejection of the initiative was "proof that Israel doesn't want any form of stability or quiet in the region."
Haniyeh also said the initiative contained "good points" that should be studied further.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Friday that, "the initiative presented by Spain is uncalled for, and if it's accepted, it would prevent Israel from operating against terrorist infrastructure in Gaza."
"The Spanish initiative would indeed stop Qassams from being fired, but under the false calm Hamas will continue to expand and stockpile rockets, weapons and explosives," Hanegbi added.
"As far as we know, even the European Union is not interested in the idea," said a senior Israeli official, casting doubt on whether the plan would draw interest. Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Rudeineh said Thursday that his government welcomed the initiative, particularly its emphasis on international intervention. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is close to Abbas, said any international peace initiative was welcome, but he stopped short of a warm endorsement of the new one. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel, we don't need a new initiative. What we need is a mechanism for implementation and timelines," he said. Also Thursday, Livni encouraged commencing a political process with moderate elements within the Palestinian Authority. She said Israel must continue fighting the war on terror, but simultaneously send out a message for negotiations to those in the territories that do not support terror. "Our interests are not in war, but in a process that can bring forth a peaceful life," she said.
Zapatero: Cannot remain impassive
Speaking at the Thursday news conference in which he announced the new initiative, Zapatero told reporters that the Middle East conflict had a global impact and the international community could not remain idle as violence raged between Israel and the Palestinians. "Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means to a large extent peace on the international scene," he said. Middle East peace, Zapatero said, "is one of the factors that can contribute most to cornering fanaticism and terrorism." The peace plan will be presented to an EU summit next month, Zapatero said, adding he hopes to win the backing of Britain and Germany as well. "We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes," Zapatero said."When I arrived, Zapatero said to me 'we have the same vision of problems and concerns over the Middle East and particularly Palestine. We should take a common initiative'," Chirac told businessmen and professors. "Our three countries have the sensitivity, the same interests and the same morals and maybe we can play a part in working out a solution to the Palestinian problem and putting it into action," he said. After a meeting on Franco-Spanish relations, Chirac said Zapatero had put the Middle East on the agenda of the bilateral talks in the Catalan town of Girona, near the French border. Speaking in Rome on Thursday, Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi said details of the initiative would be announced in the coming days. "I think the European countries present in the area, have an obligation to look for a way to get out of this situation and prepare - to prepare - a peace process," Prodi told reporters. There are hopes in Europe for a greater voice in world affairs, particularly after midterm U.S. elections in which voters punished President George W. Bush and gave control of Congress to the Democrats. Many people in Europe hope the results will usher in a more humble U.S. foreign policy, in which Washington seeks the advice and input of its European allies, rather than dictating policy to them. Zapatero cited the IDF shelling that killed 19 people last week in a Gaza town and the killing Wednesday of an Israeli woman in a Palestinian rocket attack in Sderot. The violence, he said, "has reached a level of deterioration that requires determined, urgent action by the international community." Eventually, a major international conference on Middle East peace should be held, he added, but did not specify if such a meeting should take place in Spain. Spain hosted a landmark peace conference in 1991 that laid the groundwork for the Oslo accords, which in turn led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Europe's efforts to help broker a peace deal have hit some speed bumps recently, and the continent could face problems this time as well. Many in Israel view European leaders as pro-Palestinian and are wary of their motives. Last month, Moratinos said that the road map plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was fatally stalled and that Europe should take the initiative to come up with a new plan. Israeli and Palestinian officials were quick to reject his comments as overly pessimistic. Both sides insisted that the road map was not dead, just in serious need of a mechanism for implementation. The U.S.-backed road map, devised in 2003, called for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, but it never got off the ground because neither side lived up to even their initial commitments under the blueprint.

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