New Movement Seen for Middle East Peace ; Kerry Announces Talks as E.U. Puts Pressure on Israel and Hezbollah

By Kanter, James | International Herald Tribune, July 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

New Movement Seen for Middle East Peace ; Kerry Announces Talks as E.U. Puts Pressure on Israel and Hezbollah


Kanter, James, International Herald Tribune


Major European powers are stepping up pressure to give Israel one of its long-sought demands: putting Hezbollah members on a list of participants in a terrorist organization.

After years of stalemate, the Middle East peace process became more fluid on Friday, with Secretary of State John Kerry announcing possible Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington and major European powers stepping up pressure to give Israel one of its long-sought demands: putting Hezbollah members on a list of participants in a terrorist organization.

After days of marathon diplomacy in the region, Mr. Kerry said the Israelis and Palestinians had "reached an agreement that establishes a basis for direct final status negotiations," but he added that it was "still in the process of being formalized."

"If everything goes as expected," he said, initial talks would be held "within the next week or so."

In Brussels, the discussion of blacklisting Hezbollah members came at the end of a week when the European Union slapped Israel with trade restrictions to push it to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians. The two-pronged effort shows leading member states like Britain and France making a renewed effort to navigate deep divisions within the European Union over the Middle East peace process, in which the United States has long eclipsed the Union.

Any decision on blacklisting would require unanimity among the bloc's 28 members at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Britain has been the strongest supporter of action against Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militant group and political party, in the wake of an attack in Bulgaria one year ago for which responsibility is disputed. Israel and the United States, which already brand Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, have been pressing hard for the Union to follow suit.

On Friday, E.U. officials said they were still hoping to persuade holdouts, including Ireland, the Czech Republic and Malta, to vote in favor of the sanctions partly by crafting the decision so that talks are kept open with all Lebanese political parties, including the political wing of Hezbollah, and so that aid from the Union and its member states can continue to flow unimpeded to Lebanon.

"There are still some reservations," a senior E.U. official said on condition of anonymity because talks between the Union's governments were continuing in private. But "we are moving in the end towards what could be a listing of the military movement," the official said. …

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