Solana: EU has role in Mideast peace talks, whether Israel likes it or not

By Aluf Benn

Haaretz

July 24, 2004

The European Union will be involved in any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whether Israel likes it or not, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said during a visit to Israel yesterday.

Both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom warned Solana that following Europe's support for a United Nations General Assembly resolution against the separation fence on Wednesday, the EU will be unable to play a significant role in resolving the conflict, because it is not impartial.

"Israel has an interest in integrating the international community, especially Europe, in a [peace] process with the Palestinians," Sharon told Solana, according to a statement issued by his office. "But without a radical change in the European position, especially in relation to Israel's security and its need to defend itself, that will be difficult to do."

Shalom was even blunter, delivering his message at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv, with Solana standing alongside. "I find myself challenged to convince the Israeli people that the European Union is a [diplomatic] partner we can trust," he said.

But Solana did not seem alarmed. "We will be involved whether you want us or not," the EU foreign policy chief told Shalom.

Solana defended the EU's support for the resolution, which called on Israel to comply with the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The ICJ said that Israel should dismantle the fence throughout the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians.

"The United Nations and international institutions such as the International Court of Justice are in our view important components in the campaign to attain peace and security around the world," Solana said. "A majority of 150 states supported the court's decision. We know what you think about the UN, but you can't stop us from honoring the decisions of the ICJ or the General Assembly. We will continue to support the UN in the future."

Solana noted that the EU opposed the route chosen for the separation fence. "We told you from square one that we oppose the construction of the wall in occupied Palestinian territory. I know that the fence has saved many lives, but it would also have saved these lives had it been built inside [the pre-1967 armistice line]. It must be recalled that many Palestinians have died."

Solana emphasized that Israel has a right to self-defense. No European country denies this, he said. Nonetheless, he added, Israel must honor international law.

"We respect the right of every country to construct a fence on its own territory," he said, but a route "through occupied territory" is not compatible with international law.

Both Solana and Shalom tried during the conference to project an image of friendship for the cameras, including by referring to one another by their first names. But the cordiality for the media was a transparent attempt to cover up a terse private meeting.

Sharon also attacked the Europeans for backing the UN resolution. The Hague court's advisory opinion, he stated yesterday, "totally ignores the rampage of terror in Israel." In Sharon's view, the "meaning of the Hague Court and UN decisions is to furnish a green light to Palestinian terror."