9th Jul 2020

New EU foreign chief takes firm stand on Israeli settlements

  • Mogherini, who took up her post on 1 November, is to visit Israel and the West Bank on Friday (Photo: Council of European Union)

The EU’s new foreign policy chief has urged Israel to “reverse” its latest settlement expansion in her first statement on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Federica Mogherini, who is to visit Israel and the West Bank on Friday (7 November) in her first official trip outside the EU, complained on Wednesday that previous pleas on settlements: “have remained unheard”.

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She called the Israeli decision, to approve 500 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo area in East Jerusalem: “yet another highly detrimental step which undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and seriously calls into question Israel's commitment to a peaceful ... settlement”.

“I call on the Israeli authorities to reverse it and put an end to [their] settlement policy”.

Mogherini’s communique comes amid increasing European pressure on Israel’s right-wing government.

Last month, Sweden became the first sitting EU country to recognise Palestine within its 1967 borders. The British and Irish parliaments also passed non-binding resolutions urging their governments to do the same.

France and Spain are now preparing to follow suit.

Spanish MPs had planned to vote on Tuesday, but a Spanish diplomat told EUobserver on Thursday that the plenary session was rescheduled, with no new date yet in place.

In France, Elisabeth Guigou, an MP from the ruling Socialist party and the chairman of the Assemblee Nationale’s foreign affairs committee, has drafted a resolution to be voted in the coming weeks.

The text of the non-binding motion, published by AFP, says Israel’s “illegal colonisation” of Palestine “threatens the two-state solution” and describes the status quo as “untenable” and “dangerous”.

It “invites the French government to recognise the Palestinian state as an instrument for securing a definitive solution to the conflict”.

The extension of the Ramat Shlomo settlement, which houses mainly ultra-orthodox Jews, will make it abut the Beit Hanina Palestinian area in East Jerusalem, risking clashes between the two communities.

Israel has for the past few weeks battled Palestinian stone-throwers in urban Jerusalem and in the Old City’s holy sites.

The Israeli authorities say European support for the Palestine is emboldening radicals and making Palestinian diplomats less likely to make concessions.

But for her part, Leila Shahid, Palestine’s ambassador to the EU, told this website on Thursday that Israeli settlement expansion and calls by Israeli ministers to build a new Jewish temple on the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque “explains the wave of violence” by Palestinian youths.

EU diplomacy steps up a gear

She praised Mogherini’s decision to make her first symbolic trip to the region, saying it shows “she [Mogherini] thinks the Arab-Israeli conflict is at the heart of European diplomacy” on stabilising the Middle East.

Shahid added that Palestine is currently in “intensive negotiations” with the US “to persuade the American administration that we cannot continue with business as usual”.

The US talks are to pave the way for a UN vote on recognition which has, in the past, fallen foul of the US, which holds a veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Shahid said recognition of Palestine is a “legal, political, and non-violent way” of protecting her country and of reminding Israel “of its obligations as an occupying power” under the Geneva Conventions.

She noted that in the past 20 years of on-off peace talks “instead of seeing things improve, we have seen an ever-hardening and more aggressive settlement policy" from the Israeli side.

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