Israel ignores EU's settlement stance at its own peril

The new EU guidelines are the first concrete implementation of what some may have thought was just abstract policy after the constant drumbeat of pronouncements coming from Europe deafened Israel to the anti-settlement mood.

By
July 16, 2013 23:30
4 minute read.
Israeli flag over settlements (illustrative).

Israeli flag flutters over settlement of Ofra 311 R. (photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)

 
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Until Tuesday, most people in Israel paid no attention to Paragraph 4 of the conclusions issued by the EU’s foreign ministers following their 3,209th meeting on December 10 in Brussels, chaired by Catherine Ashton.

The paragraph read: “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.”

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That meeting took place soon after the Netanyahu government – in response to the Palestinians gaining non-member state observer status in the UN General Assembly – gave a green light to zoning and planning in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, and authorized the building of 3,000 housing units in the large settlement blocs and post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The EU Council conclusions slammed the E1 decision in the harshest of terms. Yet few in Israel paid much attention because it just seemed like “more of the same” anti-settlement rhetoric from the Europeans, whose fierce opposition to the settlements is as well known as it is long-standing.

But that December 10 policy statement was not just “more of the same,” and now the new EU guidelines preventing grants beyond the Green Line are the first concrete implementation of what some may have thought was just abstract policy.

The constant drumbeat of antisettlement pronouncements coming from Europe has deafened Israel to the anti-settlement mood that exists in many EU capitals. This sentiment is not necessarily felt by everyone, everywhere in Europe. But those who do feel it are very passionate about it, and they are very verbal.

And it is their passion that is driving EU governments – no less sensitive to public opinion than Israeli leaders are to their own – to take steps they have refrained from taking in the past.



Many of the anti-settlement steps under consideration – from labeling settlement goods to the new guidelines restricting financial grants to entities operating outside the Green Line – are driven by the street, as well as a feeling among EU governments that they need to respond to the vocal publics for whom this is a major issue.

The irony is that these very steps, promoted by those who see themselves as peace advocates, could actually work contrary to moving the diplomatic process forward.

The same EU foreign ministers who issued the December council conclusions in Brussels met last month as well and were considering to again issue conclusions highly critical of Israel.

Israel, together with the US, talked them out of it, arguing that harshly critical conclusions about Israel now would only harm US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations. Wait, the Europeans were asked, and see what happens with the Kerry mission.

The argument was simple: If the Palestinians see strong support from the Europeans for their position that the pre-1967 lines must be the starting point for talks, and that all construction beyond those lines must stop, then they will feel no rush to enter into talks. Why start negotiations – in which they will, by the very nature of negotiations, have to compromise – if they assume that whatever happens, the Europeans will back their positions and blame Israel for the stalemate? And indeed, the EU did not issue the statement. There was a sense in Jerusalem that, for a moment, a bullet had been dodged.

But then, on June 30, the EU Commission convened and adopted the guidelines that will be published later this week, essentially giving the Palestinians a tailwind. How could the Palestinians not feel that if they held out following EU guidelines that follow the contours of what they are demanding, international pressure will force Israel’s hand? There are two schools of thought as to how this came about. One, the nothing-is-coincidental school, which argues that the fact that these guidelines are coming out now indicates that the Europeans – who screamed last year for a more robust American effort to move the process forward – believe the process is going nowhere and that Israel must be pressured.

The other school of thought holds that once Europe decided in December that a territorial clause must be written into every agreement with Israel, and once it set that bureaucratic process in motion, it was just a matter of time before the decision was implemented – which is what is happening now.

According to this latter theory, the issuing of these guidelines now does not reflect any EU opinion on the likely success or failure of the Kerry mission, but is merely the fall of the bureaucratic top that started spinning in December.

Whatever school one subscribes to – whether one believes the timing was intentional or not – the byproduct is the same: a disincentive for the Palestinians to negotiate because of a belief that if they just wait long enough, the world, led by the Europeans, will get their solution imposed on Israel.

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