EU mulls delaying anti-Israel document in light of ongoing peace talks

Last year's report recommended a number of steps that were later implemented in the controversial settlement guidelines.

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December 24, 2013 07:00
2 minute read.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, June 20, 2013.

Netanyahu and Ashton looking sullen 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool )

A quiet debate is taking place inside the EU about whether now is the right time to release what has become an annual indictment of Israeli policies in the territories: the non-binding report written by the EU’s consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Diplomatic officials said that some inside the EU – particularly Germany – do not think that now, in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is a good time to bring out a report that is consistently critical of Israel.

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Though an internal document, this paper is generally “leaked” at the beginning of the year.

Another internal document that some inside the EU do not think is the right time to release, according to diplomatic officials, has to do with the situation in Gaza.

A meeting on this matter with representatives from the EU capitals deeply involved in the Middle East was held in Brussels on October 17.

Last year this document recommended a number of steps that were later implemented in the controversial settlement guidelines banning EU cooperation with any Israeli entities or organizations beyond the Green Line.

The year before, the report bewailed “attempts to emphasize the Jewish identity” of Jerusalem “at the expense of Muslim and Christian residents.”

And in 2010 the consuls advised that east Jerusalem should be treated as the capital of a Palestinian state and that EU officials not visit government offices in east Jerusalem, and turn down Israeli security when touring that part of the city.

In addition to concern about the publication of this document now, some of the pro-Israel members of the EU have also expressed concern that Christian Berger, the Middle East director for the European External Action Service and the person considered as instrumental in pushing through the settlement guidelines earlier this year, will likely be taking on a much larger role with the EU’s decision to do away with the role of EU special Mideast envoy.

The current special envoy, Andreas Reinicke, will end his duties in the coming days, and his position – created in 1996 for Miguel Moratinos – will be done away with.

European sources said that the bulk of Reinicke’s responsibilities will be given to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s deputy, Helga Schmidt, with Ashton herself also expected to become more involved.

But because both Ashton and Schmidt are heavily caught up in so many other issues, Berger is likely to also become more involved, something that, according to European sources, is troubling some in the EU as well as in Jerusalem.

Prior to being appointed to his present position in 2011, the Austrian diplomat headed the EU’s office in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The role of the special envoy is a relic of the past, diplomatic officials said, before there was an EU foreign policy chief.

Now, however, Ashton wants more control of the policy, and – since she is in almost daily contact with US Secretary of State John Kerry – does not see the need for a special representative, who often just created organizational competition for her and her staff.


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