The European Union on December 8 adopted a resolution that for the first time explicitly calls for Jerusalem to become the future capital of both a Palestinian state and Israel. Backing away only slightly from a more controversial Swedish proposal to officially call for the division of Jerusalem, the EU declared: "If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states."
The original proposal drafted by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a well-known pro-Palestinian activist whose country currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, had called for the creation of a "State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital." Israeli officials, angry over EU efforts to prejudge the outcome of issues reserved for permanent status negotiations, persuaded French diplomats to remove the offending text, as well as other references to a Palestinian state that would comprise "the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza."
Israel has always maintained that Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital, regardless of any future peace settlement with the Palestinians. This has been the declared policy of all Israeli governments, both left and right.
The EU statement, which comes just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, will be viewed by many as a European attempt to pre-empt any possible resumption of Middle East peace talks by helping the Palestinians improve their negotiating position vis-à-vis Israel.
Although the 27-member EU has limited clout as a diplomatic player in the Arab-Israel conflict, the EU is the biggest donor of financial assistance to Palestinian Authority, which has been accused of diverting the money to promote terror against Israel. The EU statement, which is predictably one-sided, could end up disincentivizing a new round of negotiations: the Palestinians may well be emboldened by the EU's tacit acceptance of their key positions and be led to believe that if they hold out longer, the EU will support them on other core issues as well.
The EU resolution overwhelmingly supports Palestinian statehood. For example, paragraph 3 of the EU text states:
"The EU stands ready to further develop its bilateral relations with the Palestinian Authority reflecting shared interests, including in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Recalling the Berlin declaration, the Council also reiterates its support for negotiations leading to Palestinian statehood, all efforts and steps to that end and its readiness, when appropriate, to recognise a Palestinian state. It will continue to assist Palestinian statebuilding, including through its CSDP [EU Common Security and Defense Policy] missions and within the Quartet. The EU fully supports the implementation of the Palestinian Authority's Government Plan 'Palestine, Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State' as an important contribution to this end and will work for enhanced international support for this plan."
The EU resolution also puts the onus exclusively on Israel to revive the peace process. For example, paragraph 6 states:
"The [European] Council reiterates that settlements, the separation barrier where built on occupied land, demolition of homes and evictions are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The Council urges the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities, in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and including natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001."
And the EU resolution presupposes the future status of Jerusalem. Paragraph 8 states:
"The Council is deeply concerned about the situation in East Jerusalem. In view of recent incidents, it calls on all parties to refrain from provocative actions. The European Council recalls that it has never recognised the annexation of East Jerusalem. If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. The Council calls for the reopening of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem in accordance with the Roadmap. It also calls on the Israeli government to cease all discriminatory treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem."
At the same time, the EU statement says nothing about the Palestinian refusal to recognize and respect Israel as a Jewish state; nor does it request Palestinians to accept Israel's offer to return to the negotiating table.
Not surprisingly, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has hailed the EU statement, saying it marks an important stage on the road to Palestinians establishing an independent state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the EU statement will help to demarcate the borders of a future Palestinian state. "The statement is very important and essential, we can rely on it during our diplomatic movement to gain a massive European consensus and support over the demarcation of a future Palestinian state in the Security Council," Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio.
Israeli officials believe the Palestinians are orchestrating a diplomatic campaign with Europe to coerce Israel into accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state. Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin and other top defense officials say the Palestinian Authority is working with the EU to force Israel into a settlement "from above."
In the meantime, EU-Israeli relations are likely to remain tense. Ireland, for example, is fuming over Netanyahu's refusal to allow Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, a vocal critic of Israel, from entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Netanyahu says high-profile diplomats will be banned from entering Gaza because he believes such visits grant legitimacy to Hamas, which seized the coastal strip by force in 2007.
Sweden is also angry with Israel. In August 2009, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published an article that called for an investigation into claims that Israeli soldiers harvested organs from dead Palestinians. Bildt has refused to condemn the article, saying Sweden has a "free press." Instead, he cancelled a visit to Israel, which was scheduled for September.
Bildt is now furious that Israel was able to persuade France to block his effort to create a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. He said Israel should desist from trying to divide the EU, which he insists is a "cohesive and clear force" on global issues, including the Middle East.
Bildt comments were in response to those made by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that Bildt wanted to present the EU declaration as his achievement before Sweden's six-month EU presidency ends on December 31. "Sweden, which is completing its term as holder of the EU rotating presidency without any achievements or any significant returns, tried toward the end of its term to steal the show and steal the vote. That didn't succeed," Lieberman told Israel Radio.
In any case, Israel can expect more trouble coming from the EU in the months ahead. On January 1, 2010, Spain, which has one of the most anti-Israel governments in Europe, takes over the EU presidency. Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, an outspoken critic of Israel, has already promised to make the Palestinian issue a center-piece of Spain's six-month presidency.