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Ministers to discuss impact of Israeli election

By Andrew Gardner  -  24.01.2013 / 05:53 CET
Vote puts Netanyahu in a weakened position.
European Union foreign ministers will discuss the Middle East next week (31 January) in the knowledge that Israeli voters have weakened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and parties advocating a hard line on issues ranging from settlements to Iran's nuclear programme. 

The votes from elections held on Tuesday (22 January) have yet to be fully tallied, but preliminary figures suggest that a new centrist force under a former television personality, Yair Lapid, will be a kingmaker in coalition talks. Netanyahu, whose Likud Party won the election, will have the first opportunity to form a government. Assessing the impact of the election on the Middle East peace process is likely to absorb much of the attention of foreign ministers at their meeting.

No new steps are expected, but the EU is likely to reiterate its condemnation of recent Israeli plans to build settlements on occupied territory.

The perception continues to grow among diplomats that the international community – rather than the Israelis and Palestinians – need to set the parameters for peace talks.

Israeli media have reported in recent days that France and the UK, with the support of Germany, are drafting a proposal to re-start peace talks. This would set out principles for a future peace accord, bring in neighbouring countries, and set a timetable for talks in 2013. The reports suggest that the plan could soon be referred to the EU, which is a member of the quartet of powers charged with overseeing the Middle East peace process.

The British foreign ministry said yesterday (23 January) that UK “has repeatedly stressed the urgent need for the US, with the strong support of the EU, to lead a major push to revitalise the peace process”.

A spokeswoman for the European External Action Service said that “there is no secret initiative on the Middle East peace process”.
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The conflict in Syria is also on the draft agenda for the foreign ministers' meeting. The possibility of referring Bashar Assad, Syria's president, to the International Criminal Court to answer charges of war crimes may be raised.

On 14 January, 26 EU member states signed a letter sent by Switzerland to the UN Security Council calling for Assad's indictment. However, Sweden opposes the move, arguing that referral would reduce the incentive for Assad to halt the violence. Referral to the ICC would require Russia's and China's assent.

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