Israel to ‘neutralise’ Blair over US deal on Palestine
By Philip Jacobson
LONDON: Israel’s new government is drawing up detailed plans to undermine any attempt by Tony Blair to accelerate the creation of a Palestinian state after the anticipated defeat of Saddam Hussein.
Israeli officials say that their campaign will seek to “neutralise” any pressure that Mr Blair is expected to put on Washington to resolve the increasingly bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a British priority in return for the Prime Minister’s support over a war with Iraq. Yesterday, in a response to the bus bombing that killed 15 people in Haifa last Wednesday, Israel killed the top commander of Hamas’s military wing and three other militants in a helicopter missile strike on their car in the Gaza Strip.
Ibrahim al-Maqadma, 51, was a founder of the militant Islamic group, which has vowed to launch revenge attacks and threatened to kill senior Israeli politicians. Hours after the missile strike, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s ruling council approved the nomination by its president, Yasser Arafat, of Mahmoud Abbas, a senior official, to the office of prime minister.
Last week, however, Ariel Sharon made clear at the first meeting of his new security cabinet that Israel will resist any specific commitment to the “road map” for a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement envisaged by Britain and the Bush administration.
The so-called “road map” has been drawn up by diplomats from the US, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union. It is supposed to lead to a peace settlement that would see a Palestinian state side by side with a secure Israel in three years’ time.
“Sharon believes that the road map as it stands is tainted by the influence of the European Union, which he holds in utter contempt,” said a political official.
“[Ariel Sharon] is convinced that Washington is only paying lip service to the EU’s views and can be persuaded to come round to his position if Mr Blair can only be sidelined,” he added.
Mr Sharon will seek to convince Washington that Israel - an equally loyal ally - deserves a more central role than the EU in shaping crucial contours of the “road map”. According to Israeli officials, he believes that in diplomatic circles any attack on the EU will be correctly perceived as an attack on Mr Blair.
To Israel’s relief, the Americans responded coolly to a recent visit by Lord Levy, Mr Blair’s special envoy to the Middle East, who urged the Bush administration to move ahead with publishing proposals for a settlement. —ST