Sources in the European Union on Thursday played down a report in the Hebrew daily Maariv that Europe was seeking to pass a series of harsh sanctions against Israel following Jerusalem’s announcement last week of plans to expand settlement construction. That move by Israel came in response to the upgrading of the Palestinians’ status the previous day at the UN.
According to Maariv, new restrictions would include marking and boycotting goods made in Jewish settlements over the Green Line. David Kriss, the press manager for the EU delegation to Israel, unequivocally dismissed the report.
“Contrary to what appears in today’s Maariv, the European Union continues to oppose boycotts, including boycotts of settlement products,” Kriss told The Times of Israel.
European sources say that while a handful of the EU’s 27 member states had individually begun discussing labeling settlement-made products, it was doubtful that the union itself would enforce such a process. Rather, EU foreign ministers voting in Brussels on Monday would merely adopt a series of conclusions that echo resolutions already passed by the European body in May, reiterating that the union considered settlements illegal under international law, “irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel.”
Earlier this week, a top EU official said he didn’t see the EU passing “any sanctions at all,” even with relations between Europe and Israel hitting a nadir after Israel last week announced its intention to expand construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The crux of the issue has been the government’s declaration of plans to build in the E1 corridor, a strip of land connecting the capital to the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement to the east, which is seen by some as vital to maintaining a contiguous Palestinian territory in the West Bank.
According to Maariv, besides condemning Israel’s building plans “with an emphasis on the intention to develop the E1 parcel,” the EU resolution would also call on the Palestinians not to use their new status to take steps that could deepen the conflict — such as dragging Israel before the International Criminal Court.
Israel’s announcement that it would unfreeze plans to develop the E1 zone drew harsh criticism from some of Jerusalem’s closest allies, including the US.
Europe slammed the settlement plans as damaging to the peace process, with Britain reportedly threatening to recall its ambassador, while Israel expressed disappointment that every EU country but one (the Czech Republic) had declined to vote against the Palestinian resolution in the UN.
The news comes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the midst of what is shaping up to be an awkward whirlwind tour of Europe, which included a stop Wednesday in Prague, the one European capital to vote with Israel in the UN, and another in Germany, where Netanyahu was expected Thursday to be dressed down by Chancellor Angela Merkel over the building plans and other punitive measures against the Palestinians.
Wednesday night, the two leaders had dinner and spoke for some three hours, a meeting which the prime minister’s aides said “went well.” According to a report in Haaretz, Netanyahu intends to tell Merkel on Thursday that he won’t back down from his settlement construction plans.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu told the German daily Die Welt that he was disappointed with Germany for only abstaining in the UN and not backing Israel fully.
Since the settlement announcement, at least six European countries — Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Italy — and the EU in Brussels have called in their Israeli ambassadors to protest the plan.
Germany didn’t join them, but still issued a sharp expression of displeasure. Merkel has long criticized Israel’s settlement activities, and her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the move was “undermining confidence” in Israel’s “readiness to negotiate.”
On Wednesday, however, Israel pushed the settlement plan further along in the planning pipeline, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek UN Security Council help in blocking the construction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.