Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Israeli diplomats soften EU policy on settlements

  • Israeli settlers in West Bank: growing by 16,000 a year (Photo: ISM-NC)

Forceful Israeli diplomacy led to changes in an EU statement on “unequivocally and explicitly” differentiating between Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The final version, agreed by foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (18 January), focuses on the letter of EU-Israel accords.

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“The EU expresses its commitment to ensure that ... all agreements between the state of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967,” it says.

An earlier draft, circulated by the EU foreign service, amounted to a more far-reaching policy declaration.

“​The EU will continue to unequivocally and explicitly make the distinction between Israel and all territories occupied by Israel in 1967,” the draft said.

Israeli diplomats, according to reports in Israeli media, had targeted the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Greece in the run-up to Monday to try to soften or delay the statement.

Greece vetoed the draft text on Friday, saying it was “unbalanced” against Israel.

EU sources said Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania joined the Greek complaint. But the Czech Republic and Germany stayed silent, while the Netherlands, also known as a friend of Israel, supported the draft.

The Israeli concern is that the more forceful and wide-ranging the wording, the more likely the EU, or individual states, will be to take additional anti-settler steps in future by reference to the Council conclusions.

The EU, already last year, published a code for retailers on how to label settler exports.

EU diplomats based in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, have, in the past, suggested other measures, such as a visa ban on known violent settlers.

The final version of the EU conclusions also softens criticism of Israel's plan to crack down on foreign-funded NGOs.

The final text speaks of “the importance of unhindered work of civil society” in Israel and Palestine. The earlier version spoke of “attempts to stifle civil society.”

In an another concession to Israel, the final text heaps blame on Hamas for rocket attacks, while making little mention of reciprocal Israeli fire.

Further action?

But the final text, as in the original, still says EU countries “will consider further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution” from settlement expansion.

It still links Palestinian knife and car attacks on Israelis to the lack of a “political horizon” for peace talks.

It also urges Israel, whose security forces killed 155 Palestinians in the past four months, to adhere to “necessity and proportionality in the use of force,” despite Israel’s recent fury at Swedish criticism of the Palestinian death toll.

The EU foreign relations chief, Federica Mogherini, described the final text as “a good basis for our common position and our engagement with the Middle East Peace Process.”

The Irish foreign minister, Charles Flanagan, whose country had, reportedly, pushed for stronger criticism of Israel, said: “Ireland firmly believes in a two-state solution and that’s not compatible with continued expansion of settlements.”

He described life in Israeli-besieged Gaza, which he recently visited, as “horrific.”

Iran hopes

The ministers spent most of Monday discussing the situation in the wider Middle East and north Africa.

They voiced hope the unity government deal in Libya will be respected and said Iran’s implementation of the nuclear non-proliferation deal bodes well for the Syria conflict.

The EU is keen, as part of a UN-led process, to launch talks between the Syrian government, moderate opposition forces, and regional powers.

Mogherini said Iran’s nuclear compliance means one of the most important regional actors can now play a bigger role in the talks.

She also said she’s planning to visit Iran in spring to promote EU business and political ties.

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