Israel Warns Europe
Conflict May Spread Soon
By Richard Beeston - Diplomatic Editor,,28216,00.html

Israel issued a warning yesterday that the daily running street battles between Israelis and Palestinians could erupt into a regional conflict that would engulf the Middle East and stretch across the Mediterranean to Europe.
During a visit to London, Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Israeli Foreign Minister, painted a far bleaker picture of the implications of the month-long crisis gripping the Middle East than have previously been set out by Israeli leaders.
Mr Ben-Ami was a leading figure for almost a decade in the negotiations with the Palestinians, which collapsed last month. Yesterday he appealed to Tony Blair for help in persuading Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to enforce a ceasefire and resume talks before it was too late. He made similar calls to European leaders in Paris earlier in the day and today is due in Washington for talks with President Clinton, who has only weeks left in office to broker a peace agreement.
Mr Ben-Ami said that the longer the present "low intensity conflict with the Palestinians continued the bigger the risk that it would lead to a regional escalation. There are already fears of fresh fighting on the northern border with Lebanon, which could drag in Syrian forces as well. Also, the militant mood on the street across the Arab world could force moderate leaders into direct confrontation with Israel.
Mr Ben-Ami said: "This is why we say to the Europeans: You have high stakes here., It is the stability of the Mediterranean " maybe even of Europe " that is at risk.
One flashpoint that would push the street battles in the West Bank and Gaza into a virtual state of war could happen on November 15, when the Palestinian leader has threatened unilaterally to declare an independent state.
If that happened, Mr Ben-Ami said, Israel would reluctantly respond in kind with a "defensive disengagement from the Palestinian areas. The move would effectively mean that the main areas of disputed land, such as East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, would be incorporated into the Jewish state and the main Palestinian population areas sealed off by the Israeli military.
"We will be obliged to take measures of defensive disengagment in case the Palestinians declare unilaterally, Mr Ben-Ami told The Times. "A unilateral declaration means you signal the end of the peace process " nothing binds us any more.
While insisting that he remains an optimistic and committed to a negotiated settlement, he said the peace movement in Israel was in danger of collapse unless a breakthrough was achieved soon.
The centre-left coalition of Ehud Barak, the Prime Minister, is holding on to power by a thread, and the right-wing opposition would return to power if elections were held today.
"The Palestinians, response to this wave of violence is threatening to shatter the peace camp in Israel, he said. "We spent a lifetime trying to build a modus vivendi with the Palestinians. We see the work of our lives collapsing before our eyes. The threat is that this will be the day of the hawks " the Palestinian hawks and the Israeli hawks.
Although all sides to the conflict agreed on the provisions of a ceasefire last month at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, the deal failed to halt the violence. The search for a solution has been complicated by next week,s American presidential elections, which will seriously weaken President Clinton,s influence in the region. In part that is why Mr Ben-Ami made his appeal for help yesterday to Britain and other European leaders.

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