12th May 2021

Israel threatens to end EU diplomatic role

  • The EU insists on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Israel is deeply unhappy with comments made by EU officials regarding its government and the Palestinian peace process and has threatened to end the bloc's mediation role in the region.

"Israel is asking Europe to lower the tone and conduct a discreet dialogue," deputy director for Europe at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Rafi Barak, told European ambassadors in Israel this week reports Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

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"However, if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process, and both sides will lose," he said.

EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner is causing the Israeli government particular concern after the EU froze plans to upgrade the bloc's ties with the country at the beginning of the year.

Talks to upgrade the current association agreement that defines relations between the EU and Israel began in December 2008, but were suspended in January over Israel's 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip that killed over 1,400 Palestinians.

Last Thursday, Ms Ferrero-Waldner told journalists in Brussels that the upgrade in bilateral ties would continue to be postponed until the "new Israeli government shows a clear commitment to pursue peace negotiations with the Palestinians."

But Mr Barak said it was unclear what gave Ms Ferrero-Waldner the authority to make the statement on delaying closer ties as EU member state governments had not made a formal decision on the matter.

"We want the European Union to be a partner [in the diplomatic process], but it is important to hold a mature and discreet dialogue and not to resort to public declarations," Barak told the European ambassadors in a series of telephone conversations.

The Israeli military recently conducted an internal investigation into claims of human rights abuses during the short war and concluded it had not broken international law, although human rights organisations were quick to point out flaws in the investigation.

Brussels has campaigned for a two-state solution to the decades-old problem and opposes continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Tensions at home

While EU member states have not always shared a unified position on the Israeli-Palestine question, recently it appears differences in opinion have opened up between the EU institutions.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg acknowledged that there were conflicting opinions between the Czech EU presidency and the European Commission.

But he said the situation had "escalated quite unnecessarily", referring to a recent spat between outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Ms Ferrero-Waldner.

Mr Topolanek recently said that comments made by Ms Ferrero-Waldner stating EU relations with Israel would only improve if Israel promised to continue peace talks as an example of the "European Commission's arrogance", reports the Prague Daily Monitor.

"Yes, the talks on the action plan [with Israel] have been stalled, but the decision is up to the Council. She overstepped her powers," said Mr Topolanek.

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