jerusalem issawiya 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The European Union on Monday chose not to endorse or publish a draft report highly critical of Israel's activity in east Jerusalem, particularly of the security barrier and "illegal settlement" activity.
Israeli officials welcomed the decision of the EU's 25 foreign ministers, who considered whether to accept the report at a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
Israeli diplomats objected to the report, calling its language "very unpleasant" and suggesting its formal adoption could threaten relations between Israel and the EU.
In his official statement on the decision on the report, UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw referred to the "changed circumstances in Israel and the Occupied Territories," adding that the EU would "continue to make strong representations to the government of Israel about the matter in the normal way."
Straw, who chaired the council meeting because the UK holds the EU's rotating presidency, also said publishing the report now was inappropriate because the EU does not want "to get embroiled in domestic [Israeli] politics in the run-up to elections."
Privately, EU diplomats gave the additional reason that now was not the time to cause problems with Israel, since its recent evacuation from the Gaza Strip was seen as having improved prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev described the move not to adopt the report as "the right decision."
"There's no doubt that there's a new atmosphere in relations between Europe and Israel," Regev said. "I'm sure disengagement is part of this relationship between Europe and Israel, but I think people in Europe have taken the decision that to be more involved [here], it's important to be more even-handed."
Recently, the EU has upgraded its role in the region by serving as a monitor of the Palestinian-Egyptian border crossing at Rafah.
The draft report, written by the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah missions of the 25 EU members and acquired by The Jerusalem Post, criticized Israel for demolishing Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem, reducing work permits for Palestinians and imposing a system of "discriminatory taxation."
It called Israeli activity in east Jerusalem a "violation of both the road map obligations and international law" and referred to the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot, French Hill, East Talpiot, Gilo, Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa as "illegal settlements."
The document did not honor any Israeli claims to east Jerusalem or Israel's declaration that the security barrier is being built to prevent terror attacks, instead pointing to the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice against the fence.
It concluded that Israel's actions in east Jerusalem "are reducing the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem and demonstrate a clear Israeli intention to turn the annexation of east Jerusalem into a concrete fact."
Ra'anan Gissin, aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the report posed a danger to final status agreements and the road map because the latter calls for issues connected to Jerusalem to be resolved during talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Gissin said of the EU report that "Israel would never accept it" because it distracted from the road map. He attacked it as "tainted with political assumptions that are for the parties to decide.
At the previous meeting of the External Relations Council, on November 21, the council released a statement in which it "once again underlined its grave concern at Israeli activities in and around east Jerusalem, including construction of the separation barrier, settlement building and house demolitions."
The statement charged that, these activities "reduce the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem, threaten to make any solution based on the co-existence of two viable states physically impossible and are contrary to international law."
The EU also recently released its annual report on human rights in which it called on Israel "to ease the closures, freeze all settlement expasion and halt the construction of the barrier inside the occupied Palestinian Territory."
Tovah Lazaroff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.