The European Union reiterated Monday that it would continue to differentiate between Israel proper and the settlements, yet stopped short of explicitly calling for a “distinction.”
Affirming an earlier decision to require certain products made in settlements be labeled as such, foreign ministers from the bloc’s 28 member states declared that the EU remains “committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlements products.”
The statement drew harsh condemnation from Israeli political leaders, even as the country’s diplomatic corps touted its successful effort in lobbying for the softened language.
The European leaders further vowed to “ensure that — in line with international law — all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”
However, the foreign ministers emphasized that this stance “does not constitute a boycott of Israel which the EU strongly opposes.”
In the wake of an earlier EU decision to enact a labeling program for settlement products, Israeli ministers had said the move was tantamount to a boycott, with some charging it was a form of classic European anti-Semitism.
The foreign ministers’ statement, while containing harsh criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank and even hinting at European concerns over proposed Israeli legislation that would appear to harm left-wing NGOs, was changed due to pressure Jerusalem exerted on several EU member states, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini praised the resolution after the meeting of bloc foreign ministers in Brussels.
“We unanimously approved [the statement], it is a good and common basis for our common position and our engagement in the region,” she said.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the EU’s decision was softened thanks to “diplomatic and political efforts by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry” but nonetheless castigated Brussels for its “double standard.”
The EU “ignores the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority for the diplomatic freeze and incitement that feeds the wave of Palestinian terrorism,” the ministry charged.
“Out of 200 territorial conflicts in the world, the EU chose to discriminate only against Israel. This approach prevents the union from being a fair player in settling the conflict,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely accused the EU of being one-sided in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the statement would bring about “the opposite effect that they aimed to achieve.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the EU had “enlisted to help the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement).”
“They don’t distinguish between legitimate settlement blocs and isolated outposts and that’s a gross injustice,” Herzog said.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid said that the council’s conclusions “continue a problematic line which attempts to intervene in Israel’s sovereign affairs,” arguing that insistence on sticking to the 1967 lines could predetermine Israel’s future in contradiction of international agreements.
However, Lapid, who last week meet with Mogherini in Brussels and asked her to make a statement opposing the anti-Israel boycott movement, praised the EU for including a phrase to that extent to the council conclusions.
“We must continue to fight against labeling of products from the West Bank and Golan Heights through ongoing diplomacy,” he said in a statement.
In an early draft of the document, known as the Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the union had called for a “distinction” to be made between Israel proper and the settlements.
“The EU will continue to unequivocally and explicitly make the distinction between Israel and all territories occupied by Israel in 1967,” said the initial draft, which was leaked to Haaretz. Jerusalem abhors the term “distinction” in this context.
Over the last few days, Israeli diplomats held meetings with their interlocutors in European capitals in order to soften the council conclusions. Netanyahu, who on Thursday directed bitter criticism at the EU, personally contacted senior officials in five European countries — Greece, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary — in a bid to get them to oppose the document’s more contentious parts.
While that effort partially succeeded, Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, which require unanimity among the union’s 28 members but are considered EU law once adopted, contain some harsh criticism against Israel, especially but not only of its settlement policy.
“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two state solution impossible, the EU reiterates its strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, such as building the separation barrier beyond the 1967 line, demolitions and confiscation — including of EU funded projects — evictions, forced transfers including of Bedouins, illegal outposts and restrictions of movement and access,” the foreign ministers declare.
Not distinguishing between outposts and settlement blocs, they also condemn the expansion of housing projects in East Jerusalem, arguing it “seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both States.”
Israel has effectively annexed East Jerusalem and says it retains the right to build anywhere in the unified capital, though its sovereignty over the city is not recognized internationally.
The council’s conclusions also make special mention of “the importance of unhindered work of civil society,” adding that it “follows recent developments in this regard with concern.” This is a clear reference to Israel’s controversial NGO bill, advanced by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, which would force nonprofits who receive most of their funding from foreign governments to take stronger measures to disclose their income than they were previously obligated to.
The foreign ministers also expressed deep concern that the “continuing cycle of violence has led to a serious loss of human life in Israel and the Palestinian territory in recent months” and “firmly condemns the terror attacks and violence from all sides and in any circumstances, including the death of children.”
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the EU announcement was “a step forward toward accountability,” but that Europe should take “immediate steps” such as banning the import of products made in the settlements. He called for greater European involvement to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Ilan Ben Zion and Associated Press contributed to this report