to increase pressure on Sharon as European sanctions move closer
By Stephen Castle, in Brussels
11 April 2002
International pressure on Israel's premier, Ariel Sharon, increased
sharply yesterday as America, the European Union, Russia and the
United Nations issued a call for an "immediate" end to
the Israeli offensive in Palestinian territory.
The message, which will be delivered in person by Colin Powell,
the US Secretary of State, in the Middle East tomorrow, marks a
new effort by the leading international players to co-ordinate their
bid to influence Israeli policy. Meanwhile there is mounting pressure
inside the EU for a suspension of a trade and co-operation agreement
with Israel in protest at the continuing military offensive.
On Monday EU foreign ministers will debate whether to take the
first step in this direction by convening an early meeting of the
EU-Israel association council. Several countries, notably Britain
and Germany, have reservations about taking economic measures against
In a strongly worded resolution, the European Parliament yesterday
called on the EU to "suspend immediately" the agreement.
Israel, which sends almost a third of its exports to EU countries,
enjoys preferential trade terms under the pact. The Strasbourg assembly's
vote is not binding, but it puts political pressure on EU governments.
The call for an end to the Israeli offensive coincided with the
harshest condemnation of Israel to date from Kofi Annan, the UN
secretary general, who said he was "appalled" by the dire
humanitarian suffering caused by the offensive. Mr Annan said the
crackdown was causing a "mounting humanitarian and human rights
crisis", adding that this was unacceptable from a country "that
lays claim to democracy".
Yesterday's declaration followed a meeting of the so-called quartet
of ministers and officials from the EU, the US, the UN and Russia,
which met in Madrid ahead of General Powell's Middle East tour.
While the statement condemned Palestinian suicide bombings and called
on Yasser Arafat to do all he could to stop them, it underlined
the international consensus against the actions of Mr Sharon's government.
The declaration called for an "immediate, meaningful ceasefire
and an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities".
General Powell said the US might deploy monitors, once the position
had been stabilised, and confirmed he wanted to meet Mr Arafat this
EU diplomats argue that a ceasefire should lead to a resumption
of the political process. Two new ideas are on the table: the Saudi
initiative, which promised recognition of the state of Israel, and
Germany's blueprint, which is designed to lead to the peaceful coexistence
of Israel and its Arab neighbours.
The German plan, which will be discussed by EU ministers on Monday,
foresees a ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli troops, followed
by an early declaration of a Palestinian state, an end to Jewish
settlements in Palestinian areas and phased talks on Israel's borders
and the status of Jerusalem. The European Commission said there
was "coherence" between the statement by the "quartet"
yesterday and the German plan.