The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, made up of the 28 EU foreign ministers, issued a statement Monday calling for a renewed multilateral approach to the Israeli Palestinian diplomatic process in the “spirit” of the 1991 Madrid Conference.
In an apparent admission that an agreement will not come through bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have been at the heart of the Oslo process since 1993, the statement said, “The establishment of an International Support Group and a further international conference are both possible ways to contribute” to moving the stalled diplomatic process forward.
The declarative statement, though at points highly critical of Israel, did not – as some in Jerusalem had feared – call for any new steps against Israel because of its settlement activities.
In fact, the language in the two sections on the settlements – though problematic from the viewpoint of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government – is not substantially different than language that appeared in the resolutions endorsed by the ministers last year.
“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible, the EU reiterates its strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, such as building the separation barrier beyond the 1967 line, demolitions and confiscation – including of EU funded projects – evictions, forced transfers including of Beduin, illegal outposts and restrictions of movement and access,” the resolution read.
“It urges Israel to end all settlement activity and to dismantle the outposts erected since March 2001, in line with prior obligations. Settlement activity in east Jerusalem seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states,” it read, much of which appeared in last year’s paper.
Likewise, the resolution read, “The EU and its member states are committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlements products. The EU expresses its commitment to ensure that – in line with international law – all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”
None of that is new, and the only new element was the call to dismantle all outposts established since 2001, and a line inserted in this year’s document stressing that the inapplicability of agreement beyond the Green Line “does not constitute a boycott of Israel which the EU strongly opposes.”
According to diplomatic officials, Greece was instrumental in toning down tougher language that appeared in previous drafts, as was the Czech Republic and, to a certain degree, Hungary.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that even though the drafts were softened, the EU “continues to employ a double standard with Israel, while ignoring the PA’s responsibility for the diplomatic stalemate as well as its incitement which is feeding the wave of terrorism.”
This approach, the statement said, prevents the EU from being an “honest broker” in resolving the conflict.
Nevertheless, there are elements of the resolution that will only serve to exacerbate tension between Israel and the EU, such as calling on the parties to “adhere strictly to the principles of necessity and proportionality in the use of force,” which in Jerusalem is read as a diplomatic way of saying that Israel has over-reacted in the killing of Palestinian attackers.
The same paragraph, however, also includes something that Israel, which wants to hear PA condemnation of the terrorism, will be pleased with: a call on all parties to “condemn attacks when they occur.”
The resolutions break no new ground in calling for Israel to lift restrictions on Palestinian development in Area C, since similar language was used last year.
The resolution did, however, indicate the EU’s unhappiness with the proposed NGO Transparency law, saying, “The council highlights the importance of unhindered work of civil society both in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and follows recent developments in this regard with concern.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said the conclusions published by the foreign ministers of the European Union continued a problematic line of attempts to intervene in Israel’s sovereign affairs.
“The statement attempts to determine future borders and create a reality on the ground, but the continued insistence on 1967 borders goes against the Bush letter and every round of negotiations between the two sides,” Lapid said.
Lapid, who met last week in Brussels with Frederica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, in Brussels, said he was glad that the European Union statement said it “strongly opposes” boycotts of Israel.” He said Israel must continue to fight against labeling of products from the West Bank and Golan Heights through ongoing diplomacy.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, by contrast, said the EU statement was tantamount to helping efforts to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. He said the EU was mistaken in not differentiating between isolated settlements and settlement blocs.
“The sad thing is that the failed foreign policy of Netanyahu led to this decision by making Europe angry,” Herzog said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.