Thursday

28th Jan 2021

EU confused on Israel, as annexation looms

  • Settler graffiti in Israeli-occupied Hebron in Palestine's West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

"You can divide a municipality, but you can't divide a mayor in two," an EU official said, in another European muddle on Israel at a difficult time.

"Everybody's waiting for the German EU presidency to see what steps we [Europe] might take," an EU diplomat also told EUobserver, referring to a brewing storm on Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.

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  • Two EU states already broke ranks on East Jerusalem annexation (Photo: RonnyPohl)

The joke, about bisecting mayors, referred to Haim Bibas, who is in charge of an Israeli town called Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut.

The quip came from an official in the Committee of the Regions (CoR), a minor EU institution, after CoR let Bibas join one of its clubs, the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly.

A Palestinian NGO, Al Haq, complained because part of Bibas' town lies over the Green Line, on what the EU and UN says is Palestinian land.

And Bibas was making matters worse, Al Haq noted, because his municipality "recently adopted additional settlement plans".

According to European Commission guidelines, from 2012, only those parts of Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut in Israel proper are meant to benefit from EU trade and other perks.

Bibas declined to comment when contacted by EUobserver.

But he said the EU guidelines were "insulting ... [to] the sovereignty of the State of Israel," in an op-ed back in the day.

COR said it would respect the EU rules, if it understood them.

"If the EEAS [EU External Action Service] says he [Bibas] is a settler, we won't have him as a member [of the mayors' club]", another CoR official told this website.

But when asked by EUobserver, the EU foreign service said: "There is nothing we can say on this issue, since it falls entirely under CoR [competence]".

Much ado

It might sound like much ado about nothing.

But the muddle is one of many in the EU's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict at a critical moment.

The EU also has guidelines on retail labels of "settler-made" products, for instance, but it has no idea if they are being implemented.

Meanwhile, Hungary, a staunch Israeli ally, systematically sabotages EU statements on Israeli misbehaviour.

On the world stage, a pro-Israeli EU splinter group votes against the common line in UN bodies.

And the Czech Republic and Hungary, a few years ago, even sided with US president Donald Trump against the EU, when Trump endorsed Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem and its Muslim jewels, such as the al-Aqsa mosque.

The EU confusion, from Bibas to al-Aqsa, comes at a crunch time because Israel recently pledged to also annex one third of the West Bank.

That would crush, once and for all, Palestinian peoples' aspiration for a homeland.

And US secretary of state Mike Pompeo aims to sell the deal in video-talks with EU foreign ministers and foreign relations chief Josep Borrell on 15 June, diplomatic sources told this website.

The EU foreign service could not confirm that Pompeo would dial in, as of Sunday.

But whether he does or not, the US has already given Israel an amber light to go ahead.

Amber light

The light was amber, not green, because Pompeo, in May, also asked Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go slow.

And that meant Israel might delay the West Bank bombshell until autumn, when it could boost Trump's re-election bid.

For their part, some hawkish EU states, led by Luxembourg, have urged Borrell to table potential sanctions as a prophylactic against Israel's plan.

But when asked by EUobserver if Borrell was doing that, his spokesman said both he and EU capitals were, instead, doing "diplomatic outreach", in order "to prevent the Israeli government from proceeding with the announced intention of annexation".

Previously-discussed EU anti-settler sanctions, from 2014, ranged from recognition of Palestinian statehood, to visa bans, and financial penalties.

But in any case, EU states were likely to make their moves only after Israel actually went ahead, an EU source said, even if that risked a fait accompli.

And Borrell's 15 June talks, with or without Pompeo, might not make much difference because, in the end, the EU reaction will be coordinated out of Berlin, not Brussels, an EU diplomat said.

"Everybody's waiting for the German EU presidency," they said, as German chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to take up the European sceptre, for six months, on 1 July.

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