'US, EU to test Israel's sincerity on Palestine after elections'

The honeymoon period for any new Israeli government will be short, and neither the EU nor the US will have much patience for promises, diplomats say.

February 20, 2015 01:57
3 minute read.
A Palestinian protester wearing a mask featuring the Palestinian flag, uses a slingshot

A Palestinian protester wearing a mask featuring the Palestinian flag, uses a slingshot to hurl stones towards Israeli troops in Bil'in. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The honeymoon period for any new Israeli government will be short, and neither the EU nor the US will have much patience for promises of developing new policies toward the Palestinians, according to Western diplomatic officials.

Israel will need an initiative to convince both the EU and US of its seriousness in working toward a two-state solution, the officials said.

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This sentiment was also articulated earlier this week by former US peace negotiator Martin Indyk, who said at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv that after the election the prime minister, “whoever it is, needs to come to Washington immediately and recruit the American president to a serious, substantive, viable initiative – an Israeli initiative, which the Americans can get behind.”

European officials also want to hear more positive reaction from Israel regarding the Special Privileged Partnership that the EU offered both Israel and the Palestinians in 2013 if they complete a peace deal. Many in Brussels see the failure of the Netanyahu government to jump at the offer as a “missed opportunity,” even though – according to the officials – the government is more interested in a closer relationship with the EU than it wants to let on.

According to the officials, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is saving “for a strategic moment” the implementation of measures based on conclusions of the EU Council in 2012 regarding EU-wide labeling of settlement products.

The conclusions, issued after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, said “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.”

That wording formed the basis of a long, drawn-out fight between Israel and the EU in 2013 over new guidelines for Israel’s acceptance in the EU’s well-financed Horizon 2020 EU R&D program.

In the conclusions, the EU reiterated its “commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.”

That statement, officials said, could form the basis for EU-wide labeling of products from settlements. In the meantime, EU civil servants in Brussels are expected to continue working on a menu of potential sanctions to impose on Israel – such as reducing cooperation or adding restrictions on the free trade agreement – if Israel takes steps such as settlement construction in sensitive areas that the EU believes will render the two-state solution untenable.

Mogherini, meanwhile, is expected to name in the coming weeks a new EU special envoy, as a sign of what is expected to be increased European involvement in the diplomatic process. The last envoy, Andreas Reinicke, left his position at the end of December 2013.

France, meanwhile, is proposing a summit – similar to the 1991 Madrid and 2007 Annapolis conferences – though it realizes that after it voted for the Palestinian Authority statehood resolution at the UN Security Council in December, a resolution that failed, the likelihood that Jerusalem would agree to France hosting such a conference is slim.

Israel will want any such summit to take place in a more “Israel-friendly” country.

According to the Western diplomatic officials, Paris – which put forward a Security Council resolution of its own in December that was turned down by the Palestinians – is still interested in introducing a resolution as a way of keeping pressure on Israel by proposing recognition of Palestinian statehood within a set number of years if there is no progress in negotiations.

In a related development, Italy’s parliament is expected to vote in the coming days on a nonbinding resolution urging the government to recognize a Palestinian state.

It if passes, the Italian parliament will join the legislatures of Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and France and the European Parliament that have already passed similar measures.

The Italian motion was proposed by the Left Ecology Freedom Party and the Socialist Party, and Israeli officials said it will likely be supported by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, though that party’s support will likely result in moderating the final wording of the resolution.

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