Carnival of spin rages as Mideast leaders tour Europe

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Israeli officials are warning of a potential return to violence and Palestinian leaders of an end to the Oslo peace process, as the diplomatic battle over a planned UN vote on Palestinian statehood heats up across Europe.

As the Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president lobbied their counterparts in London, Paris and Berlin yesterday (5 May), Ran Curiel, the Israeli ambassador to Brussels, warned of an "eruption of violence" if a Palestinian state is recognised in September.

"It opens a lot of options because it goes back on all the 'acquis' of the peace process," he said, speaking to EURACTIV.

"Unfortunately one of the alternative possibilities is that the gap between the declarations and reality on the ground might not bring a state but another round of violence," he added.

In an exclusive interview, Curiel denied that Israel would initiate any fighting by militarily reoccupying urban areas of the West Bank, for example.

He also said that a Palestinian state was in Israel's national interest, a word formulation favoured by Washington which no Israeli official has used before.

But Israel has come under diplomatic pressure over the statehood bid, particularly since the signing of a unity pact between the two governing Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas.

France and Britain are both sympathetic to the statehood initiative, but Germany's Chancellor Merkel yesterday warned against unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

The EU is the world's largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, contributing €590.5 million in 2009, mostly for state-building purposes.

Mustafa Barghouti, an independent former PA presidential candidate and information minister in the last Palestinian unity government, called on the EU to support the Palestinian initiative as "the last and only way of saving the two-states option".

"Anything short of that – or any hesitation about recognising a Palestinian state by September – will mean the end of the two-state solution, the probable collapse of the PA, and the final collapse of the whole Oslo process and agreement," he told EURACTIV.

Palestinians would have to seek other options if that happened, he added.

A civil rights-style campaign for a 'one state' solution in which Jews and Arabs would share equal civic rights has gained traction among Palestinians, as hopes for a separate state have faded.

This could involve a non-violent campaign of protests in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as boycotts, divestments and solidarity actions abroad.

Later this month, pro-Palestinian campaigners plan to sail their second flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Nine activists on board the first flotilla in May 2010 were shot dead by Israeli commandos, after their boat containing humanitarian aid and construction materials was boarded in a military operation.

An Israeli embassy briefing paper claims that the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told an Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) on 13 April that she viewed the planned second flotilla as a "provocation".

"Of course we would like to see it being said publicly," Curiel told EURACTIV, "as it was [also] said by other dignitaries or officials of the EU. But in private, the reading we are hearing is similar to ours".

To read the interview with Ran Curiel in full, please click here.

Israel was established in 1948 on the British mandate of Palestine, after fighting which resulted in the flight of at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Nineteen years later, the refugee crisis was exacerbated by the invasion and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War of 1967. In its aftermath, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and built settlements across the West Bank, which now houses 500,000 Israeli Jews.  

With the Venice Declaration in 1980, the EU became the first third party to the international Israeli-Palestinian conflict to acknowledge the Palestinian right to self-determination. In 1986, the EU went further, enacting a regulation allowing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to export products to Europe under the label "Made in the West Bank and Gaza".

After the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, the EU increased its involvement in the peace process by financially supporting the nascent Palestinian Authority. However, the EU's position that any peace agreement should closely follow the original 1967 borders, allowing Palestinians to make their state capital in east Jerusalem, is strongly opposed by Israel. 

In December 2010, 26 former EU leaders, including Javier Solana and Helmut Schmidt, called for boycotts and sanctions against Israel because of its continued settlement construction.

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