Ireland, perhaps Israel’s harshest critic inside the European Union, assumed the
position of the EU presidency on Monday at a time when Israel is already bracing
for a rocky period with the body over the stalled diplomatic process and
construction beyond the Green Line.
While the importance of the EU
presidency has waned significantly in recent years as Brussels has increased its
power and the EU’s foreign policy chief – and not the EU presidency – now chairs
meetings of its foreign ministers and represents the body internationally, the
EU’s rotating president still can wield influence and push issues important to
One Foreign Ministry official said that if Dublin decides to turn its
extremely harsh criticism of Israel and the settlements into an “obsession,” it
could present Jerusalem with considerable problems in its new role. At the same
time, he stressed, the EU presidency does not carry with it the same authority
it had some four years ago.
Ireland is replacing Cyprus, which held
position for the last six months.
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore,
in a November letter to the chairman of the Irish parliament’s committee on
foreign affairs and trade, said Ireland would – when it assumed the EU
presidency – “push for a strong EU role in seeking progress on the MEPP [Middle
East Peace Process].”
However, Gilmore said that “we have to be realistic
about the scope available to the rotating presidency under the new arrangements
relating to the CFSP [EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy].”
pointed out that it is Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who
chairs the meetings of the EU’s foreign ministers and that she and the EU’s
External Action Service determine the agenda of the meetings. In the past these
functions were carried out by the rotating president.
Ireland’s new role, Israel is expecting the EU to adopt a more assertive role in
the coming year in trying to break the diplomatic stalemate with the
Palestinians, and take an even more critical stance on Israel’s positions,
especially its settlement policies.
Gilmore, perhaps in a sign of what is
in store, wrote in his letter withering criticism of the settlements, saying the
“illegal Israeli settlements” are “now a major impediment to the achievement of
peace in the Middle East.”
According to Gilmore, “The ongoing settlement
project inherently involves injustice to Palestinians and misappropriation of
their resources, especially land and water. The priority accorded both in
Israeli law and in practice to the settlers, their security and their interests,
is the basis for most of the restrictions under which Palestinians
The Irish foreign minister said he has gone on record in the past
as saying that the EU should, were it deemed necessary to get Israel to end or
reverse its settlement policy, consider a possible ban on settlement products
from entering the EU.
Such a ban, Gilmore wrote, “would be consistent
with EU values and positions… I believe that there is a moral case for banning
settlement products, and I agree it could have a symbolic impact.”
said, however, that the “problem” was not settlement products, but “the
settlements themselves, and their relentless expansion.”
reportedly one of four EU ministers who sparked former foreign minister Avigdor
Liberman’s ire last month, when they argued at the last EU foreign ministers
meeting in Brussels against including a tepid denouncement of recent Hamas calls
for the destruction of Israel in their statement slamming Israel for announcing
planning and construction of settlements in E1.
In addition to Gilmore,
the other three foreign ministers were from Portugal, Denmark and Finland.