Randa Takieddine
Dar Al-Hayat
September 29, 2010 - 12:00am

Benjamin Netanyahu did not, and will not heed the calls of his friends and allies to freeze settlement building and suspend the decision to re-allow the construction of settlements after September 26.

But in truth, no one in the Arab world had any illusions that Netanyahu will respond to the calls of the U.S. administration or the European Union (EU), specifically the calls of his friend French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who urged him to extend the freeze on settlements.

Nevertheless, the Israeli position was not surprising, since this is the classical and permanent position taken by Israel. Meanwhile, the entire world put pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the direct negotiations with Netanyahu, without any guarantees.

Mahmoud Abbas says that President Obama has good intentions, and that he really wants to reach peace. However, Nicolas Sarkozy criticized the American approach which, since the Camp David negotiations, has made it a rule that all talks are exclusively sponsored by the United States, instead of widening participation by admitting the Quartet and the EU as sponsors.

The French president is right in saying that the EU is the primary financial contributor to both Israel and the Palestinian territories, and in saying that he does not want [for the EU] to have the sole role of a funder without playing any [political] roles. The French and European insistence on playing a role in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians is thus legitimate and is required, but is so far rejected by the Israelis. This is in spite of the friendship between Sarkozy and Netanyahu, and is probably motivated by the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister is fully aware that the interests of France and in the EU lie with the Arabs. Consequently, the policies of [EU] countries cannot be biased in favor of Israel as is the policy of the United States.

Notwithstanding the welcomed role of France and the EU in the peace process, one must recall that the EU, despite its financial contribution and economic ties with Israel, has never put pressure on the latter by means of these ties. Israel has violated numerous European resolutions, closed border crossings into the Palestinian territories, imposed harsh policies against the Palestinian people, and taken many measures to Judaize the city of Jerusalem which Sarkozy said - before the Knesset - must be the capital of both states. However, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials did not heed anything they were told by France, its president or by the European Union.

The question then is what were the outcomes of the mission of the Quartet's envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair? Nothing, except that money was spent on his security and on improving his image. Or what did the EU envoy Marc Otte exactly do? Who knows him? Who has even heard of him? Also, why did France appoint a special envoy for Economic Affairs (Valerie Hoffenberg)? What is the critical task that she is doing by bringing Palestinian and Israeli children to visit France? Does that change anything in the Palestinians' view of the Israeli practices? All these appointments and missions did not produce tangible results. What is required instead is actual pressure through the European funding in order to obtain concessions from the Israel side.

President Sarkozy deserves some credit for expressing his deep regret for Netanyahu's irresponsiveness to his calls for a halt to settlement activity. At least, his candor stems from a firm stance regarding the continuation of settlement building! But as long as there is no accountability for, or actual pressures on Israel through funding, no one will get it to offer any concessions. No one in the West, whether it is the U.S. or the EU, is willing to put economic pressure on the Israeli government. And as long as this is the case, it is the Palestinian Authority that will be asked to offer concessions until it is weakened, and the radical factions are further emboldened. In fact, this may very well be Israel's desire, which following the brutal 2006 war on Lebanon, has made Hezbollah the dominant force in Lebanon, just like its blockade and brutal war in Gaza have made Hamas the dominant force there.

There is no doubt that Israel’s policy in the region is consistent with regional Iranian policies in that they both encourage radicalism and extremism in the region, and even in Europe. French President Sarkozy’s fears of further extremism and terrorism in Europe as a result of failing to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict are legitimate. And although his demands for a role in the negotiations must be met, this by itself is not enough!


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