by David Harris
JERUSALEM, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Israeli leaders are breathing a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday, a day after European Union(EU) foreign ministers agreed not to accept a Swedish proposal on the future of Jerusalem.
Stockholm suggests that East Jerusalem become the capital of any future Palestinian state. However, meeting in Brussels, the EU ministers softened the wording of the policy statement.
The EU believes that there should be two capitals in Jerusalem but their demarcation should be determined by the parties through negotiations.
The European deliberations not only cause concern for Israel, which sees Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, but also leave analysts wondering what impact this policy statement will have and what role the EU sees for itself in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.
CONSISTENCY IN EU POLICY
The foreign ministers, sitting under the banner of the European Council, adopted 12 conclusions in a statement on Tuesday.
The ministers spoke of their "serious concern" regarding the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has deadlocked for a year, and urged the immediate resumption of negotiations.
The statement said the goal of those peace talks should be the creation of a democratic Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, and such an agreement should be in line with previous internationally-agreed policies on the process, including the Arab Peace Initiative which calls for a comprehensive normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories it captured in the 1967 war and currently occupies.
"The European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties," said the statement.
Freddy Eytan, a former Israeli diplomat to Paris and Brussels said the "European policy has remained constant ever since the 1981 Venice Declaration, which was the EU's first statement on the Middle East."
He said the ever-presents in European policy on the Middle East have centered on the need for Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories, adding that the EU policy can be seen in operation in the diplomatic missions of some countries.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the occupied territories mean Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem.
AN EXPANDED ROLE FOR EU
In the statement, EU ministers opted for tough language in criticizing Israeli activities in East Jerusalem, but they softened the significance somewhat with regard to Jerusalem's future status.
The recognition that Jerusalem will be the seat of two countries already exists in the European mindset. The Swedes wanted to leave no room in writing for negotiation between the parties.
Eytan said several consulates located in East Jerusalem, including that of the French, are to all intents and purposes embassies to Palestine in the waiting. The services they provide are almost entirely aimed at Palestinians.
The EU ministers said in the statement "If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states."
Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said, "the decision showed some greater subtlety and differences of opinion within Europe."
But its impact is negligible, Steinberg said. Had the Swedish proposal been accepted, the Palestinians would have felt somewhat emboldened.
Though the Europeans recognize that the United States takes the lead in the peace process, they do want to play an expanded role in the arena, according to Eytan.
"They don't just want to be donors," he said.
However, if proposals like the Swedish one keep coming to the fore, they will not be able to play a greater role, said Eytan.
Steinberg shared the same view. He said, "Europe will only be influential if it has an understanding of the complexities and it has influence over both the Palestinians and Israel."
As it stands, Europe clearly has no control or influence over Israel, even though it has made veiled threats in the past about slowing down cooperative projects.
"Made in Israel" labels are removed in some parts of Europe if it becomes clear the products are produced in the West Bank. However, this type of policy thus far has not had any real impact on Israeli policymaking.
One way the Europeans do see an increased role in building the Palestinian state. That desire was made clear in Tuesday's statement.
"The EU stands ready to further develop its bilateral relations with the Palestinian (National) Authority reflecting shared interests, including in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy."
Meanwhile, the ministers presented Israel with a carrot to encourage it towards a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
"The (European) Council reaffirms its readiness to further develop its bilateral relations with Israel ... The EU reiterates its commitment towards the security of Israel and its full integration into the region, which is best guaranteed through peace between Israel and its neighbors."
The statement praised Israel over its announcement late November of a "partial and temporary settlement freeze," describing it as the first step in the right direction, while stressing its dissatisfaction with settlements in general, the separation barrier and house demolitions.
Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts