Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned European Commission President José
Manuel Barroso on Wednesday hoping to convince the EU not to formally publicize
on Friday new guidelines on settlements. Israel believes the regulations would
have negative ramifications on both the peace process and its ties with the
Israeli officials said that Netanyahu attacked the new measures and
repeated his position that there were more burning issues in the Middle East –
such as the Syrian civil war and the Iranian nuclear program – that needed to be
dealt with first. The officials said that the two men agreed to continue
discussing the issue.
With the guidelines – drawn up by European
Commission bureaucrats – due to be formally publicized in the EU’s journal on
Friday, it was not immediately clear whether this would now be postponed as
Netanyahu and Barroso continue to work on the matter.
would significantly restrict Israeli institutions from taking part in various EU
programs and being eligible for EU grants, prizes and financial instruments if
they have activities beyond the Green Line.
Netanyahu also spoke with US
Secretary of State John Kerry, currently in Amman trying to push forward
Israeli-Palestinian talks, about the EU guidelines. The prime minister
reiterated his position that this type of European support for Palestinian
maximalist demands will make it much more difficult to start the
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who met EU envoy Andreas
Reineke on Wednesday, made similar arguments, saying that it was important for
the Europeans to let Israel and the Palestinians determine the border in
negotiations, and that it was not for the EU to unilaterally do it for them.
Livni added an EU decision to freeze the guidelines would contribute to
restarting the talks.
Over the last two days, Netanyahu also spoke about
the matter with French President Francois Hollande, Greek Prime Minister Antonis
Samaras, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, and Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph
Muscat. Those conversations, at least the ones with the Austrian and Maltese
leaders, were believed to be as much about placing Hezbollah on the EU’s terror blacklist
as they were about the settlement guidelines.
Malta is perceived as being
the last remaining country to register opposition to calling Hezbollah’s
military wing a terrorist organization. Austria announced on Wednesday it was
dropping its opposition. European officials held a meeting on the matter on
Wednesday, and the EU’s 28 foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue
during a meeting on Monday.
Israel’s ambassadors in EU countries,
meanwhile, were instructed to explain to their interlocutors the significance
and ramifications of the guidelines, which are believed in Jerusalem to be
understood by very few, outside of the EU bureaucrats who drafted
The ambassadors are to explain the practical implications of the
guidelines, and how there are certain clauses that are impossible for Israel to
live with, and which will severely complicate both Israeli-EU ties and the
diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
One senior Israeli diplomatic
official quoted highly placed colleagues in some European capitals he contacted
on Tuesday as saying, when the story first broke, that they did not know what
was being discussed.
“We need to understand who is behind this,” the
official said. “If it is a process set forth at the diplomatic level, or whether
it was overeager bureaucrats who took a statement made after the EU foreign
ministers meeting in December and took it way too far.”
The official said
it was not clear to what extent EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who
mentioned none of this when she was in Israel last month, was involved in the
process. Netanyahu has not spoken to Ashton about this matter over the last two
Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in December, they
issued a statement that included the following: “The European Union expresses
its commitment to ensure that – in line with international law – all agreements
between the State of Israel and the European Union must unequivocally and
explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel
in 1967, namely the Golan Heights, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and
the Gaza Strip.”
The official said that senior diplomats in some European
capitals said they were surprised that such a detailed document governing the
EU’s interactions with institutions and companies operating beyond the Green
Line had been developed from that statement.
It is important to delay
publication of the guidelines, the Israeli official said, because once they are
publicized in the official EU gazette, it will take a consensus of the 28 EU
countries to rescind them, something that is highly
Netanyahu, according to the official, is trying to explain
that the EU is acting like “an elephant in a china shop,” and that not only will
this move make it more difficult to bring the Palestinians back to the
negotiating table, because they will ask why they should bother negotiating when
the Europeans are giving them what they want, but it will also enhance voices in
Israel against Kerry’s efforts.
While up until now, the Right has given
Netanyahu the political space he needs to encourage Kerry’s efforts and enter
into talks with the Palestinians, as a result of the EU guidelines – and because
of the sense that nothing Israel can do will relieve EU pressure – there will be
voices saying that there is no reason to give any concession to the
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy
Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who together with Livni met with Netanyahu in an
urgent meeting Tuesday to discuss the new measures, have said in closed meetings
that if this is implemented, Israel should shut the EU out of the diplomatic
process and the projects it is funding for the Palestinians in Area C of the
West Bank, and Israel should also make no gestures to the PA to get them back to
“This is an overeager bureaucratic process that can have
far-reaching ramifications that Israel cannot agree to and which is liable to
significantly hurt Israeli-EU cooperation in research and development,
education, culture and scientific exchanges,” Elkin told The Jerusalem Post,
adding that “it badly hurts the diplomatic process and Kerry’s
Senior diplomatic officials, meanwhile, expressed wonderment
that Israel’s Embassy to the EU in Brussels did not see this move coming a few
months ago, which would have given Israel more time to try to deflect
While the work on the guidelines was done by EU bureaucrats
discreetly, the official said that the Israeli mission on the ground in Brussels
should have picked up the signs. Foreign Ministry officials, however, said it is
difficult to pick up signs if the EU bureaucrats dealing with the matter were
deliberately doing so in a shroud of secrecy.
Some 10 days ago, Israeli
Ambassador to the EU David Waltzer was informed that something was being
discussed concerning adding a territorial clause to EU-Israel
This was often discussed, and no one became unduly alarmed,
the official said.
The actual guidelines themselves were sent to the
Foreign Ministry over the weekend, and on Monday, Elkin received a legal opinion
on what they meant. At that point, he brought it to the attention of Netanyahu,
and called an urgent meeting in the ministry set for Wednesday to discuss how to
deal with it.