Israel fights EU proposal to divide Jerusalem

By Anshel Pfeffer and Martin Bright, December 3, 2009
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Palestinians at a gate to the Old City: Swedes want the EU to earmark east Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital

Palestinians at a gate to the Old City: Swedes want the EU to earmark east Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital

Israel is urging EU members to defer the vote on a Swedish proposal to recognise east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, due to be tabled at next week’s meeting of foreign ministers.

The UK government, meanwhile, has distanced itself from the Swedish plan, with senior sources saying that Jerusalem is not the place to start negotiations for a peace settlement because the division of the city is “too provocative”.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, and its foreign minister, Carl Bildt, is the main force behind the measure.

The plan calls for the division of Jerusalem and recognition of the eastern part as the future capital of the Palestinian state.

“Sweden has basically declared diplomatic war on Israel,” said an Israeli diplomat. “We can see it in so many things happening in the EU during their presidency and in Bildt’s reaction, or lack of reaction, to the disgusting report in the Swedish press on Israeli soldiers organ harvesting in the territories.”

In advance of next week’s foreign ministers meeting, intense lobbying has been under way in the other capitals of EU members.

The aim is to get a majority of ministers to agree to the postponement of the vote, at least until the end of the month when Sweden’s presidency will end.

Though Israeli ministers have kept quiet about the efforts, a foreign ministry spokesman said: “Such a proposal would damage the EU’s capability to act as a mediator in the negotiations with the Palestinians. The EU should be exerting pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and the Swedish proposal will achieve the opposite result.”

The British Foreign Office said it did not comment on leaks but emphasised that discussions over the Swedish proposal were still ongoing and that the final document would need the approval of all EU members.

The British government does not appear to have been closely involved with the Swedish plan. But a Downing Street source said there was an argument for the EU to make its position on negotiations more public, adding: “There is a growing sense that it would be sensible to consider more publicly where the parameters of a deal might be. There is a huge amount of international consensus, but Jerusalem would not be the obvious place to start.”

Meanwhile, the President of the Board of Deputies, Vivian Wineman, has sent a letter to Foreign Secretary David Miliband voicing his concerns over the Swedish proposal.

“We consider that such a stance would establish the preconditions that would make subsequent negotiations immensely problematic, and would not be helpful to the peace process. We therefore request that the British Government will do its utmost to bring about the necessary changes in the EU policy document.”

The Israeli government is particularly frustrated that the measure is being promoted so soon after the cabinet’s decision to freeze settlement building in the West Bank.

“We are saying to our friends in Europe that such a measure will make the EU irrelevant to the peace process,” said a Foreign Ministry source.

“There is no way we will be interested in using them as a channel if they so blatantly take a side in what is still an issue to be decided between us and the Palestinians.”

Last updated: 5:08pm, December 3 2009