Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Spanish Peace Initiative

Spanish Minister for Defence, José Antonio Alonso, visiting Spanish UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon (at Marjayoun)

Yesterday, the Spanish Prime Minister announced his intention to unveil a new peace plan that he said had the backing of France and Italy. According to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, cited in the Jerusalem Post, the plan has
five elements: an immediate cease-fire; formation by the Palestinians of a national unity government that could gain international recognition; an exchange of prisoners - including the three IDF soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the war in Lebanon and fighting in Gaza this summer; talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas; and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire.
The Spanish initiative was rejected by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni several hours later, because Zapatero apparently made no attempt to consult with the Israeli government or alert it in advance. That this would happen was fairly obvious - countries don't like being excluded from decisions and proposals that involve them and affect their vital security interests.

There are, however, reasons other than pique at being treated like a third-rate international player for Livni’s rejection of the initiative. Livni is one of the most talented and open-minded members of the current government – she’s known to welcome academics and other policy experts from the left of the Israeli political spectrum into her office. Livni’s decision to reject the Spanish plan was neither an ego-trip nor a visceral reaction to European meddling. The Israelis are worried that the European initiative will legitimize a Hamas government dressed up as a unity government without forcing Palestinian Prime Minister Ismai‘il Haniyye to abandon his movement’s refusal to accept the existence of Israel and the Declaration of Principles signed between Israel and the PLO. Israel is also worried that a ceasefire will allow Hamas the time necessary to further upgrade its military capabilities. That’s not an unrealistic prospect given the miserable failure of UNIFIL to do anything against Hizbullah in the six years following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Israel’s military and security establishment is already warning that Hamas has succeeded in smuggling large quantities of military grade explosives into the Gaza Strip (through the border with Egypt and perhaps even through the EU “supervised” Rafah crossing). Hamas’s “crude” Qassam rockets are now regularly making their way to Ashqelon… But the import of military grade explosives will apparently allow the rocket makers to stockpile their missiles and to fire them whenever they want, something that is not possible with home-made explosives that tend to degrade fairly quickly.

I'll hopefully be able to follow this post up with a deeper analysis of Spanish motives later on...


Amos said...

It's all so typical of European foreign policy in the Middle East, which boils down to spinelessness. From the start, they have viewed Israel's insistence that Hamas officially accept the country's existence as unreasonable. I really believe that Israel cannot back down on this issue, though I feel that the pressure from the EU and the Russians is growing stronger and stronger. Failure on this front constitutes appeasement of the worst sort that is likely to bolster the rejectionist forces on the Palestinian side. Why can't the Europeans be consistent for once? This whole thing is so amateurish anyway - not consulting the Israelis for fear that they would reject it? Even if the initiative itself has some merit, the handling has been pathetic.

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