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January 16, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 16, 2009 Despite split on cease-fire, E.U.-Israeli ties still strong PPO via Brian Hendler French President Nicholas Sarkozy (left) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (second from left) take part in a press conference Jan. 5 in Ramallah. only when Israel has disabled branded a terrorist group, for Hamas' rocket-launching breaking a cease-fire with capabilities, rocket attacks into Israel. Despite the gap between European leaders, includ- Israel's actions and Europe's ing German Chancellor An- pleas, an increasingly close gelaMerkel, told Israeli Prime political understanding is Minister Ehud Olmert by emerging between the two phone that the responsibility sides, even as massive pro- for the conflict lies "clearly Palestinian demonstrations, and exclusively" with Hamas. sometimes tinged with anti- MerkeldemandedthatHamas Semitism. sweep Europe. "immediately and perma- Israel received a much nently" stop its rocket attacks desired upgrade last month on Israel. to its official relationship Czech Foreign Minister with the European Union, Karel Schwarzenberg, repre- providing the Jewish state senting the European Union, with additional political and emphasized that Israel had a economic benefits thanks in right to de:end itself, whereas part to a charm offensive by "Hamas has excluded itself Livni, European diplomats from serious political dia- toldJTA.Thenew relationship logue.'" may have softened Europe's Robin Shepherd, a senior official rhetoric toward Israel researchfeltowattheLondon- when it began bombing Gaza based Chatham House think on Dec. 27. tank. saic he sensed a softer "During meetings in Jeru- approachby Europeanleaders salem.itwasmentionedmany to Israel. times that the message from "Israeli public diplomacy the E.U. is now coming from in advance of the assault was a good friend, and it is being wellprepared," he said."Israel taken that way," said Zvi Tal. made sure European leaders deputy Israeli ambassador knewwayinadvancethatany to the European Union in country would have the need Brussels. to stop rocket attacks." The initial E.U. rhetoric at Livni in particular has the start of the Gaza conflict spent more time engaging put the blame squarely on European leaders than her Hamas. which it has officially predecessors. Tal observed. By Dinah A. Spritzer PRAGUE (JTA) Despite public disagreements over the need for an immediate cease- fire, Israeli and European officials appear to be forging improved relations on several fronts. European envoys have been rapidly shuttling through Middle Eastern capitals these last couple of weeks, fulfilling their traditional role as the humanitarian caretaker of the Palestinians by pledging $4.6 million in emergency aid. Also, in stark contrast to the United States view that a cease-fire should only be implemented if it meets Israeli security needs. European of- ficials have been pleading for an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Europe "wants a cease-fire as quickly as possible," French President Nicolas Sarkozy de- clared Jan. 5 in the West Bank city of Ramallah after meeting Palestinian Authority Presi- dent Mahmoud Abbas. On the same day, however, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made clear to Sarkozy and other visiting European diplomats that her country's military operation will end Her rapport with Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on a Dec. 31 trip to Paris was unusually warm. with smiles and kisses even as she said there would be no cessation of bombing. She has much to smile about regarding the upgrade in relationswith the European Union. The upgrade means Israel will be at the table as an observer during E.U. political deliberations. "Especially in the area of security and defense. Israel and the E.U.will become close partners, which will be profit- able for both sides." saidAdam M0uchtar. the director of the European UnionAffairs Office for B'nai B'fith International in Brussels. At the inaugural European Union Summit with Israel in June, top European and Israeli leaders will address areas of mutual political and economic interest. Jana Hybaskova. the head of the European Parliament's Israel committee, believes the longstanding cliche of a frustrated European-Israeli diplomatic battle has come to an end. "The upgrade is a green light for rapprochement," she said. "So, of course, when the bombing started there was an understanding that Israel has certain recognizable rights for security." The European Union's more empathetic expressions of support for Israel have been undermined to some degree by the inability of the 27- country bloc to speak with one voice, a longstanding obstacle in its efforts to medi- ate conflicts in various parts of the globe. The Czechs, widely per- ceived as staunchly pro-Is- rael, took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union Jan. 1 from France. but Sarkozy is still dominating the E.U.'s Middle East peace efforts. Three separate E.U. mis- sions to the Middle East were scheduled simultane- ously, a move critics like Hybaskova say showed a serious lack of coordination. Schwarzenberg's delegation included Kouchner. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt representing the future E.U. presidency and E.U. External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. They held talks in Cairo with Egyptian diplomats, fol- lowed by meetings in Jerusa- lem with Israeli leaders. They then met-up with Sarkozy in Ramallah for the meeting with Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In addition, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. who represents the diplo- matic Quartet of the European Union. United Nations. United States and Russiathat oversees the Mideastpeace process, also has been touring the region. With so many people speak- ing for the European Union, it should not be surprising that somewhat conflicting state- ments have been offered by foreign ministers of member* nations. The Czechs. in a major diplomatic error, first issued a statement declaring that the Israeli ground attack was a "defensive, not offensive move." which Schwarzen- berg was forced to admit was released mistakenly by an inexperienced government spokesman. In place of the retracted statement, the Czechs de- clared. "Launching land operations by the Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip is not surprising; there were indi- cations that Israel had been considering this step. But even the indisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians." The statements issued from other European countries after the ground invasion were harsher. The French Foreign Min- istry described the ground invasion as a "dangerous military escalation" and Brit- ish Foreign Minister David Miliband said "the escalation of the conflictwill cause alarm and dismay." Some observers--noting the massive rallies being held by Muslims in European countries, including France. Britain and Belgium, and the fact that public opinion in Europe is far more skeptical toward Israel than it is in the United States predict that European politicians will be issuing tougher condemna- tions of Israel's military opera- tion in Gaza. "Looking at the latest re- marks. I can sense already a slight change inwhat initially was a much more supportive attitude." Tal said. In France. which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, 21,000 pro-Pal- estinian protesters marched in Paris on Jan. 3. Some demonstrators burned Israeli flags, torched cars andvandal- ized several shops. Two days later, a burning car was used to damage a synagogue in Toulouse. Protests in Antwerp turned violent, as members of the Arab European League tried to enter a Jewish neighborhood in the Belgian capital and clashed with police, breaking car windows and smashing trams and buses. On Jan. 5 in Belgium, the police arrested protesters in Brussels for car- rying Molotov cocktails. The marches by Palestinian sympathizers have featured swastikas and chants in favor of Hamas. Hezbollah and jihad, or holy war. Jewish groups have taken to the streets in peaceful support of Israel, but their numbers have been much smaller, at least partly a re- sult of their smaller overall numbers in Europe compared to Muslims. Tal. the deputy Israeli ambassador to the European Union. worries that if anti- Semitic violence in Europe escalates, it will be a seri- ous setback for the political progress Israel and Europe have made. "In that case." he said, "it would be hard to convince the average Israeli that the Euro- pean attitude has changed for the better." Organizers of British anti-war protests eye Gaza By Daphna Vardi LONDON (JTA)--When more than 1 million people marched in central London five years ago to protest against the lraq wars, it was the biggest demonstra- tion ever seen in the British capital. Now the Stop the War Coalition, the umbrella organization that arranged that demonstration and oth- ers against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has taken over the planning of protests against Israel's military action in Gaza. In the first few days of the Is- raeli aerial attacks on the Gaza Strip, Muslim organizations held daily protests near the Israeli Embassy in London. A few hundred people took part. most of them Muslims. many Palestinians. The dem- onstrators carried banners, chanted anti-Israel slogans and clashedwith police as they tried to make theirway toward the embassy compound. In advance of a rally Jan. 3, the Stop the "War Coali- tion took over, calling a news conference with politicians and several celebrities. Buses were arranged to "bring in demonstrators from other cities. Protesters were asked to bring "old shoes," with organizers saying that British Prime Minister Gor- don Brown has "joined with George Bush in stopping a unammous call by the United Ntions for Israel to stop bombing immediately." Organizers said the ideawas in the spirit of Iraqi journal- ist Muntadar al-Zaidi. "who used his shoes to protest over George Bush's war crimes." They were to be left at Downing Street to "register our disgust at Brown's action." More than 10.000 people demonstrated, and when po- lice prevented marchers from nearing the gate of Brown's office, many flung the shoes at police. The coalition was planning a Jan. 10 multi-issue gather- ing that organizers prom- ised would be "the biggest demonstration yet seen" in England "in the cause of Palestinian freedom." The coalition was estab- lished at the end of 2001 with the stated aim "to stop the war currently declared by the United States and its allies against 'terrorism.' " The war in Iraq, which was controversial in Britain. became the organization's focus for several years. Now the main focus is the war in Afghanistan. British troops are not fight- ing in Gaza. but a look at the organizations that make up the coalition reveals that many are either Muslim or far-left groups with a longtime interest in Israeli-Palestinian issues. "These demonstrations are composed of the 'usual suspects'--the far left and Muslim groups, who have very hostile attitudes towards Israel," said Robin Shepherd. a researcher With the presti- gious Royal Institute of Inter- national Affairs at Chatham House. Shepherd added that the demonstrations have notbeen very big if one takes into ac- count the number of people Giora Hirsch Pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the Israeli Embassy in London have been gather- ing daily since the beginning of the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. living in London, and espe- cially the number of Muslims in the British capital. Just as during the Iraq war. local Muslim leaders are claiming that events abroad "anger and frustrate" young members of the community, making them prone to radi- calization, Among the speakers at the Jan. 3 rally was the former mayor of London, Ken Liv- ingstone, who justified Hamas rockets fired at Israeli towns. and called on Britain and other European countries to recall their ambassadors from Israel in protest of the attacks against Gaza, Livingstone told the dem- onstrators, "Londoners are with you and with the people of Gaza."