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European Push to Restart Israeli-Palestinian Talks

European officials are calling on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks, after more than a year of a complete freeze on negotiations. France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next month, hoping to find international consensus for a UN Security Council resolution that would outline a future Palestinian state.

This week EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks saying the current situation on the ground was “not sustainable.” Next week German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier comes to Israel.

The diplomatic flurry seems to show that Europe is nudging aside the US as the traditional broker for Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“Iran is clearly the first priority for the US, which leaves more leeway for the Europeans to get involved,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At the same time I don’t think we will see an independent European initiative that is not coordinated with the US.”

One expected initiative is a French-sponsored Security Council resolution, which reportedly says that the basis for negotiations should be the 1967 borders. That would mean that the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem would be the basis for discussions on the borders of the Palestinian state.

That formulation is stated US and European policy, but has never been part of an official UN Security Council resolution, which is binding on member states. Until now, the UN said an agreement must be based on Resolution 242. “Resolution 242 calls for “secure, defensible borders,” Robbie Sabel, a former legal advisor for Israel’s Foreign Ministry and currently a professor of law at Hebrew University. “This new terminology goes much further.”

Sabel, who said he has seen a draft on the French resolution, said it also lays down a timetable of 18-24 months for Israel to withdraw from the territories.

“The timetable is a problem,” Sabel said. “The Palestinians can then come to the UN and try to force Israel to withdraw.”

Palestinian officials said they did not want to comment on a resolution that has not been officially presented.

“We appreciate any initiative that sets a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation,” Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the PLO told The Media Line. “We would like Israel to be held accountable for the violations of international law. This resolution could be a disincentive to Israel’s policy of colonization.”

Israel has close ties with many European states, although there have been tensions over Israel’s construction in areas it acquired in 1967. Several Israeli analysts said they were not surprised by the new European push to get talks moving. The expected European full-court press was one of the reasons that Netanyahu wanted opposition leader Isaac Herzog to join his government as foreign minister.

“The Europeans see the current Israeli government as the most right-wing government in Israel’s history,” Alfred Tovias, a professor of international relations at Hebrew University told The Media Line. “They were waiting to see what kind of government Netanyahu would form and now they are really going to try to pressure Israel.”