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Israel could become pariah state warns report { October 14 2004 }

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Israel could become pariah state, warns report

Thursday October 14, 2004

Israel is set on a collision course with the EU and could turn into a pariah state, on a par with South Africa during the apartheid years, if the conflict with the Palestinians is not resolved, Israel's foreign ministry has warned.

In a confidential 10-year forecast obtained by the Associated Press, the ministry's Centre for Political Research said the EU is pushing to become a major global player in the next decade, and that as a result the US, Israel's main ally, could lose international influence. If the 25-member EU overcomes internal divisions and speaks in one voice, its global influence would grow considerably, and be more in line with its powerful economy, analysts wrote. Europe is Israel's major trading partner.

Up to now, Europe has divided on major foreign policy issues, such as the war in Iraq. A more united and influential Europe would likely demand greater Israeli compliance with international conventions and could try to limit Israel's freedom of action in its conflict with the Palestinians, the document said. Israel might also have to pay a price for growing competition between the EU and the US. Israel-EU relations have long been shaky, and Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom has repeatedly warned that Israel has to work to strengthen ties with Europe. However, Israel also accuses the Europeans of pro-Palestinian bias, and complains of a growing wave of anti-Semitism in parts of Europe.

EU officials in Brussels said that while the EU and Israel have sound relations in the areas of trade and scientific research, they have very definite differences of opinion over the Palestinians.

"Regarding the Middle East peace process and our relations with Israel and the Palestinians, there is no doubt that the role of the EU has increased," said Christina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The EU says Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 must be followed by major troop withdrawals in the West Bank, and pave the way for Palestinian statehood. "None of this is exactly what the Israelis want to hear, but we have to say it," Ms Gallach said.

She added that the Israeli government wants to broaden the relationship with Europe without giving the EU a bigger role in resolving the Middle East conflict.

The EU's ambassador to Israel, Giancarlo Chevallard wrote on the legation's website that when it comes to the conflict, Israel "tends to keep Europe at arms length and prefers to place all its eggs in the American basket."

According to the Foreign Ministry document, which was written in August, Israel could become increasingly isolated in the coming years if Europe becomes more influential.

"In extreme circumstances, this could put Israel on a collision course with the European Union. Such a collision course holds the risk of Israel losing international legitimacy and could lead to its isolation, in the manner of South Africa," according to the document.

Even if the EU fails to become a major international player, Israel will still become increasingly isolated if it fails to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, according to the document. The best possible outcome - that the Middle East conflict moves toward solution - would still not put Israel and the European Union on good terms, the document said. "In almost every scenario, there is the potential for friction in Israel-EU relations," the analysts wrote.

Ron Prosor, the director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, said Israel is investing a great deal in improving ties with the EU, especially in economic areas.

"The situation is not easy, but there is an investment here, especially in Europe, that is important to us all," Prosor told Israel's Army Radio.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he will limit the number of Muslim worshippers to 50,000 at Islam's third holiest shrine, the Haram as-Sharaf or the Temple of the Mount as it is known to Jews, because of safety concerns.

Israeli police and archaeologists have said a corner of the sacred hilltop should be roped off to prevent it from collapsing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts tomorrow and draws large crowds to pray at the shrine.

Authorities have said an eastern retaining wall of the compound was weakened by an earthquake in February and it is shifting.

However, Muslim officials are refusing to meet Israel's demands, which include roping off part of the site and have quoted engineers from Jordan and Egypt as saying the shrine is safe. The chief Muslim cleric of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, has accused Israel of exaggerating the danger in order to gain greater control of the site.

Israel captured the site in the 1967 war and retains overall control of the site while Muslims run it. The site is plagued by controversy and it has been claimed the second intifada was started when Sharon, then opposition leader, visited it in 2000. In other developments today, Israeli tanks and bulldozers pulled back from the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya today, after tearing up roads, flattening strawberry greenhouses and knocking down walls of dozens of houses in what residents said was the most devastating raid in four years of fighting.

The two-day foray into Beit Lahiya was part of a major Israeli military offensive in the northern Gaza Strip, now in its third week. As part of the latest fighting, five Palestinian militants and an elderly civilian were killed in three separate missile strikes, starting yesterday evening.

Israel says the campaign is aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns. Palestinians say much of the destruction is wanton.

Since the September 29 start of the campaign, triggered by a deadly Palestinian rocket attack on an Israeli town, 105 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire, including dozens of militants and 18 children and teens under the age of 16.

Despite the heavy army presence in northern Gaza, Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets and mortars at Israeli border areas and Jewish settlements in Gaza. Israeli military commentators wrote today that while an offensive might appease Israeli public opinion, it would not stop rocket fire.

Sharon told parliament's defence and foreign affairs committee in a closed-door meeting that the offensive would continue as long as Israelis were being harmed, Israel Radio said.

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