As Kerry coaxes Israel toward peace, EU gives hard shove
By some accounts, Secretary of State John Kerry was on the brink of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table as he closed his sixth trip to the region on Friday.
While Kerry was trying to coax the estranged parties back together with shuttle diplomacy, the Europeans have delivered a hard shove to Israel, publishing new guidelines that amount to sanctions on Israeli activity in the Palestinian territories.
Some say the harsher tactic is what's needed for the stronger player in the conflict. The U.S. and European Union's different approaches get to the heart of the debate on how best to bring the two sides together — and which side needs more goading.
“This traveling between one leader to another leader without applying meaningful pressure on Israel will do nothing,” says Alon Liel, a veteran Israeli diplomat. “Israel is the strong side, the occupier, and Israel has to make the gestures. You cannot enhance peace here without applying serious pressure.”
Many Israelis say the EU move comes from a misguided perception that Israel, rather than the Palestinian Authority, is to blame for the lack of tangible results since the 1993 Oslo Accords. It also reflects a failure to realize that putting pressure on Israel backfires — a mistake the Obama administration made early on, says Amir Mizroch, editor of the English edition of Israel's daily Hayom newspaper.
“The U.S. has finally come around to the understanding after a couple years of the Obama administration that if you want Israel to make peace and take the risks of making peace, you don't want to push them into a corner; you need to hug them. Give them a bear hug,” he says. “That's what Obama is doing.”
The main obstacle to resuming peace talks appears to be disagreement over where to begin negotiations.
Palestinians would like a guarantee from Israel that the 1967 borders between Israel and their territories will form the basis of negotiation, with the understanding that a final deal will incorporate mutually agreed land swaps.
Israel has steadily expanded its presence well beyond those lines since the 1967 war, annexing East Jerusalem and establishing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Today almost 600,000 Israelis live over the 1967 borders, also known as the Green Line. The controversial EU guidelines declare that Europe does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the 1967 borders, and forbid EU organizations from working with Israeli entities based in or operate in those areas.