Top EU foreign policy nominee has record of slamming Israel, praising Iran

Jerusalem was not particularly fond of Mogherini, and now, under Borrell, things might actually become more difficult.

Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell speaks on his mobile phone at the start of a European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium July 16, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell speaks on his mobile phone at the start of a European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium July 16, 2018
If past comments are any indication, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles – nominated on Wednesday to be the EU’s next foreign policy czar – will make Israel pine for Federica Mogherini.
And Jerusalem was not particularly fond of Mogherini, for the most part cutting her out of the Mideast loop because of a perceived pro-Palestinian bias.
Mogherini has not visited Israel on a working visit in some four years, though she did attend the funeral of Shimon Peres in September 2016. The last time she met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was during an icy meeting in Brussels in December 2017, following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move she blasted and which she wanted the EU to condemn. This move failed, however, because of an inability to reach a consensus among all 28 EU states.
As a result of the EU’s decision to label products from the settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended diplomatic ties with the group in late 2015 for a “reassessment.” Though Israel has lifted that suspension, the relationship with Mogherini never recovered.
Mogherini and the EU foreign policy apparatus she led were viewed in Jerusalem as staunchly pro-Palestinian and as a cheerleader for the Iranian nuclear deal, even after Trump withdrew from it last year.
She had planned a trip here in June 2018 to take part in the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, but canceled when it was made clear that Netanyahu would not meet with her.
And now, under Borrell, things might actually become more difficult.
When Mogherini took over the helm of the EU’s foreign policy apparatus in 2014, few outside of her native Italy had heard of her. The same cannot be said of Borrell, from the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), who has been a fixture on the European political scene since the 1970s, serving as president of the European parliament from 2004 to 2007 and as Spain’s foreign minister since June 2018.
As such, Borrell has left a long paper trail, and not one that will necessarily win hearts in Jerusalem.
Regarding the Palestinian issue for instance, he has come out in favor of EU countries unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state.
EEU, the Spanish news agency, reported in September that he was leading efforts to get Madrid to recognize “Palestine” as a state.
“The EU officially still supports a two-party-state system for the area of conflict, but the Spanish minister for foreign affairs and his government believe the bloc needs to ‘readdress this issue and take decisions’ as a matter of urgency,” the report read. The story quoted Borrell as saying, “It is obvious that the situation in Palestine must not continue as it is. If the EU is not able to reach a unanimous decision, then each to their own.”
In a scathing op-ed piece in the Spanish digital newspaper in May of 2018, after the Nakba Day riots along the Gaza border which took place as the US was moving its embassy to Jerusalem and led to the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, Borrell said Trump was “encouraging the warlike arrogance of Netanyahu.”
He referred to the incidents that day in Gaza as a “black Monday” that “reflects the dehumanization of the Palestinians by a large part of the Israeli political class and society.”
The irritation those opinions obviously triggered in the Prime Minister’s Office likely pale to the anger at what he has said about Iran.
In an interview in February with Politico, the future EU foreign policy chief said that everyone just has to get used to the fact that Iran wants to destroy Israel.
Asked about the nuclear deal, and whether it was dead, Borrell replied:
“The Americans decided to kill it, unilaterally as they do things without any kind of previous consultation, without taking care of what interests the Europeans have.”
Asked whether the US might “have a point about Iran,” given its vow to destroy Israel and its malignant behavior in the region, he said, “We are not children following what they [the Americans] say. We have our own prospects, interests and strategy, and we will continue working with Iran. It would be very bad for us if it goes on to develop a nuclear weapon … Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it.”
On November 6, a day after the US reimposed a last tranche of sanctions on Iran, Borrell joined Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in blasting the US for the move. The Spanish foreign minister said that he rejected “any kind of position that resembles an ultimatum from anyone and also from the United States.”
In February, on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran that led to the fall of the Shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, the Spanish diplomat posted a tweet thread somewhat sympathetic to the regime.
“Today marks 40 years of the Islamic revolution of #Iran,” he wrote. “This regional power has changed a lot during this time. In 1976, the literacy rate was 35%. Now it’s 84%. In 1980, 5% of the women employed were university students. Now they are 47%, but only 16% of the workforce is female, and the unemployment rate of women is double that of men.”
Iran, he wrote, “is a key country in the Middle East region. It has had an essential role in the #Syria war, helping Assad while the Americans are pulling out.”
He noted the strong competition that Shia Iran has with Sunni Saudi Arabia, and then wrote of the two “hard defeats” of the United States in the 1970s: the flight from Saigon and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. Forty years later, he wrote, “Vietnam is a productive power fully integrated into the world economy and has excellent relations with the United States.”
In contrast, he said, ”Iran remains an obsession for the US Government. They still do not have diplomatic relations and Trump has also withdrawn from the Nuclear Pact and has imposed sanctions. Surely Iran can survive the sanctions if Trump is not re-elected. Otherwise, the regime could reactivate the nuclear program for military purposes and multiply its interventions in the region.”
These opinions about Iran are not only causing concern in Jerusalem, but in other countries in the region as well. This was the headline in UAE-based newspaper The National reporting on the appointment: “Nomination of Josep Borrell for EU High Representative sparks outcry.”
The sub headline read: “A supporter of the Iranian regime, Mr Borrell will handle the EU’s negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.”
According to the report, “Borrell is a known supporter of Iran and has made several comments during his time as foreign minister, which were construed as being sympathetic to the regime.”
Borell himself addressed the Knesset in June 2005 as the president of the European parliament, and noted his history with Israel.
“This is not a strange land to me,” he said. “Thirty-six years ago, in 1969 when I had just graduated, I came to Israel to work on a Kibbutz – the one in Galon – following in the footsteps of other young Europeans attracted by that experience.”
Borrell met his first wife there.
European Council President Donald Tusk announced on Wednesday that the European Council would nominate Borrell. In addition, the Council nominated German Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as head of the European Council, and Christine Lagarde – currently the head of the International Monetary Fund – to head the European Central Bank.
All those nominations must now be approved by the European Parliament. One diplomatic official said that it was “almost certain” that the nominations would be confirmed.