Israel, EU resume contacts after dispute over settlement product labels

Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Federica Mogherini, ending an extended period in which diplomatic contacts between Jerusalem and Brussels were frozen.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Jerusalem, May 20 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Jerusalem, May 20
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel and the European Union ended the crisis in their relationship that was sparked by the publication last November of guidelines to help European member states place consumer labels on settlement products.
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini held a telephone conversation designed to resume a positive relationship.
As a result of the conversation, Israel lifted its suspension on committee meetings between Israelis and EU officials on matters pertaining to the West Bank which had been in place for the last three months.
Netanyahu also agreed to visit Brussels, but no date was set for the trip.
In their conversation, Mogherini spoke of the EU’s commitment to Israel’s security and its solidarity with Israelis as they suffer from Palestinian terror attacks that occur almost daily.
She condemned the attacks as well as the incitement that led to such terrorism and violence.
The two leaders discussed the crisis that resulted from the labeling guidelines. Mogherini told Netanyahu that the responsibility for implementing the guidelines rests with the 28 member state of the EU.
Israel has been engaged in a diplomatic effort to sway those states not to implement the guidelines and is hopeful those efforts will bear fruit, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.
Israel has been concerned that the labeling is a form of boycott and that it predetermines the final borders of the two state solutions. It believes those borders can only be set by Israelis and Palestinians through direct negotiations.
Mogherini assured Netanyahu that she agreed that Israel’s final borders should be set through such talks and that the labeling was not intended to prejudice any final status issues. The consumer labels do not constitute a boycott and should not be interpreted as such, Mogherini told Netanyahu.
The EU is opposed to boycotts against Israel and rejects attempted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to isolate Israel, Mogherini said.
They also spoke about the Gaza and the West Bank, including Area C.
The EU’s push to help the Palestinians develop Area C of the West Bank as well as its support for illegal Palestinian construction there has been another point of contention between the EU and Israel.
Netanyahu stressed to Mogherini that Israel opposed its support of illegal Palestinian construction. Mogherini spokes of the EU’s concern about Israeli demotions of illegal Palestinian homes. The two leaders agreed that the EU and Israel, would hold further talks on this matter.
Mogherini and Netanyahu agreed to convene the EU-Israel Association Council at the earliest possible opportunity.
The conversation between the two leaders was the result of work done by Foreign Affairs Director General Dore Gold and his staff with EU officials.
On Friday, Mogherini stressed to Netanyahu that the EU would continue play a role in the peace process, together with regional and international partners, such as the Quartet.
That same day, the Quartet, which is made up of representatives from the EU, the US, the UN and Russia, held a meeting in Munich on the Middle East. It expressed “serious concern” that “continued acts of violence against civilians, ongoing settlement activity, and the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures” are “dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-state solution”.
The Quartet also condemned all acts of terror and reiterated its call for restraint and for Israel and the Palestinians to “reject incitement and actively take steps to de-escalate the current tensions.”
The group’s representatives: European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Deputy United Nations Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, also stressed that “unilateral actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of a negotiated solution.”
“The status quo is not sustainable and significant steps, consistent with the transition contemplated by prior agreements, are urgently needed to stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground,” the body wrote in a statement. “The continued absence of such steps was leading to further deterioration, to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
According to the quartet, “both sides must swiftly demonstrate through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to a two-state solution in order to rebuild trust and avoid a cycle of escalation.”
The group, involved in mediating the peace process between Israel and Palestinians, said it is still committed to achieving a “negotiated, comprehensive, just and enduring resolution” of the conflict, but emphasized that “a robust Palestinian economy, enhanced governance capacity, and genuine Palestinian unity” will serve as cornerstones of a Palestinian state and are essential elements to reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under one Palestinian authority.
The Quartet also called on international partners to accelerate efforts to address “the dire situation in Gaza” and stated it will prepare a report on the situation on the ground, including recommendations for moving forward.