The European Union might use its trade ties with Israel as leverage to pressure it into renewing peace talks with the Palestinians, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the EU said on Saturday.
Ashton was speaking at an EU foreign minister conference held in Spain. Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, said that Israel’s announcement on building in east Jerusalem during United States Vice President Joe Biden’s visit last week was intentional and not coincidental.
Bildt said there were “no guarantees” that Israel was committed to peace.
Ashton is on the verge of a Middle East tour where she will visit Egypt, Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
Earlier Saturday, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has promised the Palestinians that Israel will not construct new homes in east Jerusalem during peace negotiations.
According to the paper, Mitchell told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the phone that Washington would provide the PA with guarantees that Israel would halt construction in the east of the city.
On Tuesday it was announced that 1,600 new apartments would be constructed in the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. The announcement came during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden and embarrassed Washinton, leading to harsh condemnations from Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to Palestinians threatening to cancel planned indirect talks with Israel. Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have apologized for the timing of the announcement, although not for the building permits themselves.
The Arab report stated that Mitchell’s promise of guarantees was given after the Palestinians refused to accept Netanyahu’s apology as a signal that construction would not move forward.
Clinton sharply admonished Netanyahu over the Interior Ministry’s approval of the new building in east Jerusalem in a phone conversation Friday.
Her call came hours ahead of a condemnation of the housing plan issued by the Quartet of the US, UN, EU and Russia.
“The Quartet has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground,” read its statement, which also called for the resumption of peace talks. The Quartet said it would “take full stock” of the situation at its meeting in Moscow on March 19.
In her call to Netanyahu, Clinton labeled the east Jerusalem
announcement “a deeply negative signal about Israel's approach to the
bilateral relationship,” one that went against the spirit of Biden’s
trip to Israel this past week and “undermined trust and confidence in
the peace process and in America's interests,” according to State
Department spokesman PJ Crowley.
He said that Clinton also
stressed that “the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just
through words, but through specific actions, that they are committed to
this relationship and to the peace process.”
Biden wrapped up a
four-day visit to Israel Thursday in which he repeatedly stressed the
strength of the alliance and the US commitment to Israel’s security.
When news broke Tuesday about the plans for building in Ramat Shlomo,
he drafted a response in consultation with US President Barack Obama
using the harshest diplomatic language to condemn the move.