EU team due in Israel to work on settlement guidelines

Decision to issue the guidelines against providing grants, prizes or loans to Israeli entities over the pre-1967 lines angered Israel.

Ma'ale Adumim 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ma'ale Adumim 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The European Union is to send a team to Israel on Monday in search of a sensitive way to move forward on the guidelines against Israeli entities in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem.
The EU decision in July to issue the guidelines that clarified its policy against providing grants, prizes or loans to Israeli entities, including non-profit and educational institutions, located over the pre-1967 lines, angered Israel, which said it was counterproductive to the peace process.
On Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry asked EU foreign ministers who met in Vilnius, Lithuania to delay any action on the matter given that direct talks were renewed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the end of July.
At a briefing with reporters prior to the meeting, a senior state department official said, “The secretary’s message to the EU foreign ministers will be very clear, that now that the parties are in negotiations and both leaders took difficult and painful – politically painful decisions in order to get into these direct negotiations – that it’s important for those parties who have an interest in a successful outcome that they be supportive of this effort and that they find a way to embrace the negotiators and encourage them to move forward, rather than, as it were metaphorically, bang them over the head.”
When asked about Kerry’s request at a press conference after the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, “I want to reiterate the issue of the guidelines, that this is putting down on paper what is currently the EU’s position.” She added, “We will be sending a team to Israel on Monday... to make sure that in the implementation, we are doing so sensitively.
We of course want to continue to have a strong relationship with Israel.”
PLO executive committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi expressed concern over Kerry’s request to the EU.
“The announcement of the EU guidelines was a very positive step which played a significant role in the decision to resume negotiations. By refusing to extend grants and awards beyond the Green Line, these guidelines reinforce the 1967 border and play a constructive role in reaffirming the two-state solution, something which can only help the cause of peace.
“Reports of US lobbying the EU on behalf of Israel are extremely discouraging and cast serious doubts on the US mediation role,” Ashrawi added. “Once again the US is using the negotiations process to grant Israel immunity and to buy it more time to create facts on the ground, thereby rendering the so-called ‘peace process’ a self-defeating exercise.”
Separately, the EU is working on legal guidelines for any of its member states that might choose to clearly label products produced in West Bank settlements.
These products are already marked so that customs officials know not to include them in tax-free trade agreements with Israel.
The guidelines are to be used to help member states to inform consumers that they were produced in West Bank settlements.
The measures are a reflection of long-standing EU policy with regard to West Bank settlements. But until recently they had not been so blatantly stated.
At Saturday’s press conference, Ashton said that Kerry should be credited for his efforts in supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“I remain optimistic that his efforts will hopefully lead to success,” she said.
As part of Kerry’s efforts to continue to facilitate those talks, he plans on Sunday to meet with Arab ministers in Paris and with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, in a meeting that is expected to last for several hours.
According to a senior state department official, a similar meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu planned during Kerry’s trip was canceled.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu felt it was important at this tense time for him not to leave Israel, and, because the secretary has to be back in Washington for very important business there, we couldn’t work it out on this particular trip. But he will be conducting a similar conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu very soon, as soon as we can work out the schedule for them,” the official said.
Palestinians have reported that no progress has been made in the talks. But on Saturday night, settlers said they believed it was possible that the talks could yield to the evacuation of West Bank settlements.
They are so concerned that they are holding a protest on Sunday morning in front of the Prime Minister’s Office against such an evacuation.
Leading settler rabbis, council heads and other political settler leaders are expected to be at the rally.