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Israel heading for isolation, analyst says

An Israeli analyst said in a confidential document that the country is heading for pariah status as European influence grows, unless the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israel is set on a collision course with the European Union and could turn into a pariah state, like South Africa during the apartheid years, if the Mideast conflict is not resolved, Israel’s Foreign Ministry warns in a confidential 10-year forecast.

The document, put together by the ministry’s Center for Political Research, says the EU is pushing to become a major global player in the next decade, and as a result, the United States, Israel’s main ally, could lose international influence. The forecast, written for internal consumption, was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The analysts wrote that if the EU, a 25-nation alliance, overcomes internal divisions and speaks in one voice, its global influence would grow considerably, and be more in line with its powerful economy.

Growing European influence
A more influential Europe would likely demand greater Israeli compliance with international conventions and could try to limit Israel’s freedom of action in its conflict with the Palestinians, the 25-page document said. Israel might also have to pay a price for growing competition between the European Union and the United States.

Israel-EU relations have long been shaky, and Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has repeatedly warned that Israel has to work to strengthen ties with Europe. However, Israel accuses the Europeans of pro-Palestinian bias and complains of a growing wave of anti-Semitism in parts of Europe.

EU officials in Brussels said that while the EU and Israel have sound relations in trade and scientific research, they have definite differences over Mideast peacemaking.

They also said the alliance is seeking more of a say. “Regarding the Middle East peace process and our relations with Israel and the Palestinians, there is no doubt that the role of the EU has increased,” said Christina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

“We have had difficult moments (with Israel) when we responded to things like the West Bank wall and now what is happening in Gaza,” Gallach said, referring to Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank and a major military offensive in Gaza.

The EU says Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 must be followed by major troop withdrawals in the West Bank, and pave the way for Palestinian statehood. “None of this is exactly what the Israelis want to hear, but we have to say it,” Gallach said.

She said the Israeli government wants to broaden the relationship with Europe, without giving the EU a bigger role in resolving the Mideast conflict.

‘Collision course’
According to the Foreign Ministry document, which was written in August, Israel could become increasingly isolated in the coming years if Europe becomes more influential.

“In extreme circumstances, this could put Israel on a collision course with the European Union. Such a collision course holds the risk of Israel losing international legitimacy and could lead to its isolation, in the manner of South Africa,” according to the document.

“The EU could sharpen its expectation that Israel will comply with international norms ... and honor the authority of the United Nations and its agencies — an issue that has the potential of leading to friction,” the analysts wrote.

Israel has accused the United Nations of being biased against Israel.

Even if the EU fails to become a major international player, Israel will still become increasingly isolated if it fails to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, according to the document, which was also quoted in reports Wednesday by Israel Army Radio and the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Investing in the relationship
In the best possible outcome, with the Mideast conflict moving toward solution, Israel and the European Union would still not be on good terms, the document said. “In almost every scenario, there is the potential for friction in Israel-EU relations,” the analysts wrote.

Ron Prosor, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said Israel is investing a great deal in improving ties with the EU, especially in economic areas.

“The situation is not easy, but there is an investment here, especially in Europe, that is important to us all,” Prosor told Israel’s Army Radio.

Europe is Israel’s major trading partner.

However, the Foreign Ministry analysts wrote that there is no substitute for Israel’s close political alliance with the United States.

EU ambassador to Israel Giancarlo Chevallard wrote on the delegation’s Web-site that when it comes to the Mideast conflict, Israel “tends to keep Europe at arms length and prefers to place all its eggs in the American basket.”