LETTER FROM THE EDITOR, AUGUST 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to bring together the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume stalled peace talks has met with mixed reactions.

While some believe all and every effort made in the spirit of reconciliation is worth pursuing, others denounce Kerry’s plan as just one more sorry verse in what has become among the longest, saddest songs in human history.

At home, both sides express a desire to reach an agreement but, for the Palestinians at least, the issue of Jewish settlements remains a serious sticking point.

The Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas insists Israel must freeze settlement building before peace talks can resume. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants talks without preconditions.

Meanwhile, an interesting development occurred in the midst of the Kerry negotiations when the European Union rubber stamped previously agreed new guidelines. From January 2014, Israeli entities on occupied Palestinian lands will be blocked from receiving EU funding, reflecting a hardening of attitudes among European member states towards the occupation and Israel’s continued expansion of settlements. Also, goods produced in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories will be clearly labelled as such.

Israeli politicians did not receive the EU move warmly; many warned it could seriously undermine Mr Kerry’s peace making efforts. Prime Minister Netanyahu, reacted angrily declaring: “We will not accept any external edicts on our borders.”

EU officials said the decision, agreed by foreign ministers last December, will ensure Israeli companies and other entities based behind the “Green Line” that marks Israel’s internationally recognised borders do not receive any EU-sponsored grants, prizes or funding. Labels of origin, EU officials note, merely give consumers the right to make their own, informed decisions.

The EU moves have clearly alarmed Israel’s government, which worries they could be a prelude to a broader economic and cultural boycott. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner and the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian Authority, but carries less diplomatic clout with Israel than the US, its closest ally.

The EU rejects the notion insisting it is only upholding its obligation to back UN recognised borders and to keep its consumers informed about the origin of its products.

More than half a million Israelis now live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.

One Israeli politician last year predicted in the media that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would reach one million within four years.

At that point “the revolution will have been completed”, Yaakov Katz told a local newspaper. However, the Israeli government denies it has any agenda where the settlers are concerned.

To be clear, half a million Israeli settlers should not, in Mr Netanyahu’s opinion, ham- per the US-backed proposed peace talks but a few tins of illegally produced olives could stuff things up entirely. Absolute respect John Kerry but you have your work cut out on this one.

Pat Lancaster