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By Gianni de Michelis

Gianni de Michelis is a former foreign minister of Italy.

-- If it is to contribute in any serious way to avoiding open and devastating conflict in the Middle East, Europe must at last exercise some political courage and imagination.
By courage I mean exerting pressure where Europe has the most influence -- on the Palestinian National Authority -- to cleanly sever ties with those who have chosen terrorism, even if it means ''going beyond Arafat.''

By imagination, I mean offering incentives for peace that speak to the hearts and minds of both Palestinians and Israelis, not only to the leaders.

One example of imagination is the recent proposal by Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to involve Europe in the economic development of the Palestinian entity. The aim is to help close the economic gap that could well undermine peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians under any future peace agreement.

But if Europe wants to retain its authority and credibility as a mediator in the Middle East next to the United States, it cannot limit itself only to helping the Palestinians.

It is for this reason that I believe the moment is right to relaunch a plan, first proposed when I was Italy's minister of foreign affairs, to hold out to to Israel the possibility of entering the European Union as a ''prize'' at the end of the road to peace.

When I first offered this proposal at the end of the Gulf War in spring of 1991 at the European Council of Ministers, my partners argued that Israel's geographic location was problematic -- though this was before Turkey came under consideration. And they worried about the cost of extending EU agricultural policies to Israeli farming. But the idea had strong support in Israel.

Today, the next generation in Israel needs assurance that any ''jump into the dark'' of accepting a Palestinian state and making peace with neighboring Arab countries will not leave its future exposed, especially as the demographic pressure of the Arab world mounts against Israel. The population in the occupied territories alone is growing twice as fast as Israel's population.

As we now know from the experience of the last decade, with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the crumbling of Oslo, in the end it is largely Israeli public opinion that will determine whether or not there is peace in the Middle East. And, as is manifestly clear today from the depths of this crisis, it is certainly in Europe's interest to use its real power -- the prospect of economic integration -- to bring permanent peace to those who share our Mediterranean shores.

(c) 2002, European Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 4/9/02)