24th Mar 2018

EU diplomats unsure how to handle Netanyahu

  • Hebron, West Bank, in occupied Palestine: What then, if not a two-state solution? (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

EU diplomats are hoping Israel’s PM didn’t mean what he just said on the two-state solution. But if he did, they have few ideas how to change his mind.

The EU foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, and British PM David Cameron were among the first to congratulate Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday (18 March) on winning a fourth term in office.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Settler graffiti in Hebron (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

It’s not the result the EU wanted.

Netanyahu on Monday answered “correct” when asked by the NRG news agency if he rejects the idea of a Palestinian state. He indicated he will build more settlements and, on Tuesday, stirred racist feeling by referring to “Arab voters” being bussed to ballot stations “in droves” to vote against him.

His victory saw an immediate backlash by Palestine.

Saeb Erekat, its chief two-state negotiator, said EU and US impunity for Netanyahu’s past “settlements, racism, apartheid” helped him to win and pledged to pursue Israel cases in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, urged Erekat’s Palestine Authority (PA) to sever ties with Israel.

The EU statements put a more cheerful face on the situation.

Cameron said only: “As one of Israel’s firmest friends, the UK looks forward to working with the new government”.

Mogherini said: “The EU is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a mutually beneficial relationship as well as on the re-launch of the peace process … I’m confident that we can work together”.

Her statement didn't use the phrase “two-state solution”. But her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, told EUobserver: “The EU position hasn’t changed regarding the two-state solution [as the model for peace], and that's well known”.

She added that, despite Netanyahu’s statements, “the new government has yet to define its position”.

Campaign speeches aside, Israel's position will become clear in the next three to six weeks, when Netanyahu negotiates a government programme with his new coalition partners.

One senior EU source told EUobserver member states are keen for him and for the Israeli public to quickly forget the NRG remarks.

“We would hopefully see his comment as desperate last-minute electioneering”, the source said.

He noted that if Netanyahu is serious it would amount to a “fundamental breach” of the “bedrock of our international community approach” to the conflict, and that “from [my country’s] perspective, that should trigger the EU to use the leverage it has on Israel, but the EU remains deeply divided on using that leverage”.

The potential for full leverage, in terms of trade restrictions (the EU and Israel do €30bn/yr of business) and diplomatic isolation (EU and/or UN recognition of Palestinian statehood) is considerable.

The realistic next step would be to publish a non-binding EU code for retail labels on settler imports.

Other EU contacts say neither option is likely, not least because it wouldn’t make a difference unless the US also applies pressure, a development no one expects.

“I think there’ll be more focus on a diplomatic push, not on small issues, like labelling of settler goods, which wouldn’t change the mind of a very confident PM who just received a strong mandate”, a second EU source said.

He noted the EU might endorse a multilateral model, involving Arab countries, instead of the Israel-Palestine model, for future two-state talks.

“This regional approach to re-engage the peace process hasn’t been clearly fleshed out yet, but there’s a need for a regional framework because the purely bilateral framework hasn’t worked … the majority of Israelis don’t see Abbas [the PA president] as a partner, so a regional framework could be one way to address this”.

A third source, from an EU country which holds a UN Security Council veto, said Europe might gamble on the US abstaining on a new resolution.

Referring to a joint British-French-German text, drafted in December but never put to a vote, which speaks of resumption of two-state talks with a two-year deadline for conclusion, the EU source said: “We’ve already sketched out a political horizon, which has been absent for some time, and which offers reassurance to the Palestinians and Israelis that there is some sense in going back to a process [two-state talks] which lacks credibility on both sides”.

Whether Netanyahu will wait until his rhetoric blows over or whether he plans, in earnest, to pursue a one-state or other model, remains to be seen.

But his comments in the small hours of Wednesday morning, as the vote-count sealed his victory, were already different to those of 48 hours before.

“Real security, economy, and social welfare, which we are committed to, this is what's important to … everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike”, he said.

"All of you are important to me”.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. EU wants 'Paris' climate strategy within 13 months
  2. Workload of EU court remains high
  3. Spain's supreme court charges Catalan separatist leaders
  4. EU calls for 'permanent' exemption from US tariffs
  5. Summit backs guidelines for future EU-UK talks
  6. Macron support drops as public sector workers go on strike
  7. EU leaders condemn Turkey for illegal actions in Aegean Sea
  8. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. Nordic states discuss targeted Russia sanctions
  2. Commission sticks to its line on Barroso case
  3. Germany and France promise new Russia sanctions
  4. EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'
  5. Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK
  6. EU leaders roll over Brexit talks amid Trump and Russia fears
  7. Europe needs corporate tax reform - a digital tax isn't it
  8. EU data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections