European FMs criticize Israel, settler violence

Statement on Middle East peace process reaffirms EU's commitment to two-state solution as a "crucial element."

European Union flags in Brussels 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
European Union flags in Brussels 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Italy and the Netherlands toned down a statement on the Middle East by EU foreign ministers Monday that, even with their intervention, sharply criticized Israel and settlement violence.
According to Western diplomats, the two countries – led this time by Italy – moderated some of the language in the three-page “Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process” that emerged following a monthly meeting in Brussels.
They also made sure that certain elements favorable to Israel, such as references to Palestinian incitement and Israel’s security needs, were inserted.
The statement reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to a twostate solution and said it was a “crucial element” for lasting peace and security in the region.
Just two days before the EU meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a letter to PA President Mahmoud Abbas affirming in writing Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution. The Western diplomat officials said the timing of that letter was most likely linked to the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, and that the statement welcomed “the exchange of letters between the parties.”
The officials said France, Britain and Germany shepherded the conclusions through the EU, and it reflected the EU’s new Middle East envoy Andreas Reinicke’s focus on maintaining the viability of a two-state solution in face of what the Europeans are increasingly concerned may be a closing window of opportunity.
“The viability of a two-state solution must be maintained,” the statement read, “The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two state solution impossible.”
The statement then enumerated acts it said Israel had taken that put the two-state solution in jeopardy. These steps included:
• The marked acceleration of settlement construction since the end of the 10-month moratorium in 2010.
• The formalization of the status of three outposts – Rehalim, Bruchin and Sansana – and the proposal to relocate the Migron residents to another hill “within the occupied Palestinian territory.”
• Evictions and house demolitions in east Jerusalem, expansion of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, and the “prevention of peaceful Palestinian economic social or political activities.”
• Worsening the living condition of the Palestinians in Area C, and limiting their ability to promote development there.
Reflecting an emphasis the EU has placed on Area C since career German diplomat Reinicke took over his post in January, the statement said this area is critical to the viability of a future Palestinian state, and called upon Israel to approve Palestinian master plans there, “halt forced transfer of population” and simplify administrative procedures.
Area C represents 62 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli control.
“The EU will continue to provide financial assistance for Palestinian development in Area C and expects such investment to be protected for future use,” the statement read. “The EU will engage with the government of Israel to work out improved mechanisms for the implementation of the donor funded projects for the benefit of the Palestinian population in Area C.”
One Israeli diplomatic official complained that a number of individual EU countries have repeatedly asked Israel for clarifications on policy in Area C, been given answers, and then simply ignored the Israeli replies.
The Foreign Ministry issued a response to the EU’s statement saying that they included “a long list of claims and criticism which are based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground. Such a public presentation does not contribute to advance the process.”
According to the statement, Israel “is committed to the well being of the Palestinian population and acts according to all relevant international conventions.
In Area C, for instance, 119 projects were authorized in 2011, through continuous dialogue with representatives of countries and other donors.”
The EU statement’s comment on settlement violence – expressing “deep concern” and calling for Israel to bring perpetrators to justice – raised eyebrows in Jerusalem because the instances of what had become known as “price-tag” retaliation actions have dropped significantly over the last few months. One government official said it seemed the EU was using the same boilerplate comments they used in the past even though the reality had changed.
Western diplomatic officials said that while the draft of the conclusions have been in the works for weeks, Israel and the US “woke up relatively late” in trying to influence the wording of the text.
While Italy and the Netherlands did the heavy lifting for Israel inside the EU bodies drafting the conclusions, other countries that frequently go to bat for Israel in EU forums, such as the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, were less active this time. The officials said this was due to the determination shown by the British, French and especially the Germans in getting the wording passed.
The officials said the document represented the prevalent position of Berlin on the Middle East situation.
On the plus side, Israeli officials pointed out that the document did take note of Israel’s security concerns, the ongoing missile attacks from Gaza and Palestinian incitement.
“The EU and its member states reiterate their fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, including with regard to vital threats in the region,” the statement read. “The EU is appalled by recurring rocket attacks from Gaza and condemns in the strongest terms violence deliberately targeting civilians. The EU reiterates its call on all partners in the region for the effective prevention of arms smuggling into Gaza.”
Regarding incitement, the statement called on the PA to end incitement and expressed “concern for recent incidents of incitement in Palestinian media and elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, Dani Dayan, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, responded by calling on the EU to recognize the legitimacy of West Bank settlements.
“The time has come for the European Union to recognize the flourishing settlements in Judea and Samaria, that include four cities, six regional councils and 13 local councils and more than 120 communities for a population of 360,000 Israelis. It is an enterprise that is irreversible and a fait accompli,” he said.
With respect to the request to allow Palestinians to build in Area C, Dayan said the guidelines of Oslo determined that 98% of West Bank Palestinians live in Areas A and B, which is autonomous and under the auspices of the PA. This includes construction, he said.
Israel, in turn, he said, has the right to build in Area C, where there is an overwhelming Jewish majority.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.