NEWS

Ray of light in Mideast

One day after the Israeli Cabinet approved the «road map» for peace in the Middle East, committing Israel for the first time to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Israeli foreign minister and his Palestinian counterpart will meet at a conference of EU and Mediterranean ministers on Crete today. The foreign ministers or other representatives of 35 nations (the 15 EU countries, 10 EU candidates and the Mediterranean countries of Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Syria) will be discussing trade and economic relations, the problem of international terrorism, people smuggling and human rights. But the agenda is surely to be dominated by what appeared to be a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process. The EU is one of the architects of the «road map,» along with the United States, the United Nations and Russia. The EU welcomed Israel’s decision, which set the stage for the two-day meeting in a hotel complex at Hersonissos, near Iraklion, on Crete, that begins today. «This is good news,» said Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis. Greece currently holds the EU presidency. Officials at the conference said the EU will urge Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Palestinian counterpart, Nabil Shaath, to stay the course and fully implement the plan, The Associated Press reported from Iraklion. «We’ll be looking at body language, maybe even a handshake between the two,» said a Western diplomat quoted by Reuters. «This will be a first chance to see the atmosphere between the two sides,» the diplomat added. Security in Hersonissos is strict, with a frigate patrolling off-shore and air defense batteries in place. In an op-ed piece in Kathimerini English Edition today, Greece’s foreign minister, George Papandreou, and Chris Patten, the commissioner for external relations, writing before yesterday’s Israeli decision, set out the targets of the EuroMed meeting. «The presentation of the Road Map toward peace in the Middle East… provides a realistic opportunity to collectively help achieve the objective of two states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side. Only then can we achieve the full potential of co-operation in the Mediterranean region, taking full advantage of its rich history and great diversity.»