Europe’s approach to Israel appears to be a resurrection of its past colonialism, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday. It was part of an unusually blistering attack on the EU and its Middle East policies, in which the official accused European leaders of cynically employing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to deflect criticism and to distract the public from their inability to solve the continent’s real pressing problems.
“When I look at the sequence of the EU implementing labeling [for settlement products] and now the endorsement of an international conference, I feel that those are the ghosts of a colonial European past coming back to life,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel.
The EU’s 28 foreign ministers on Tuesday endorsed France’s plan to hold an international peace conference in Paris to advance the stalled peace process. Israel has repeatedly rejected the French initiative, arguing that it hardens Palestinian negotiating positions and thus distances peace.
Nahshon said the union was unqualified to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as long as it struggled to properly address its own woes.
“They have no credibility whatsoever if they deal with this conflict without dealing with the major issues that are far more important to Europe and the world, starting with the Syrian civil war, and challenges that Europe itself is facing, such as Brexit, immigration and Islamic terror,” he said.
Jerusalem wonders “whether Israel is not being employed, whether we are not being used in a cynical and deliberate way as a kind of fig leaf, a universal panacea, for a continent that is obviously unwilling or unable to deal with its real issues,” the diplomat thundered.
“Unfortunately, the conclusion is that this is probably the case,” he said. “Whenever you are in trouble, whenever you are a European leader unpopular at home, and whenever you face insurmountable challenges, then there’s nothing like organizing a conference on Israel to create a false agenda that will attract attention elsewhere.”
Nahshon charged that while the EU was embroiled in its most urgent problems – such as mass waves of immigration from Africa and the Middle East and the possible British decision to leave the union – it “seems to invest a lot of energy” in a peace summit in Paris that is doomed to fail.
If the EU was genuinely concerned about the stalled peace process, it would focus all its efforts on getting the Palestinians to agree to enter direct bilateral talks with Israel, the diplomat said. That is the only way to achieve progress, as evidenced by Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, he added.
During their monthly meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU foreign ministers pledged to make “a concrete and substantial contribution to a global set of incentives” for Israelis and Palestinians, urging EU institutions to “present proposals, including on economic incentives, without delay.” They reaffirmed their 2013 offer of an “unprecedented package of political, economic and security support to be offered to and developed with both parties in the context of a final status agreement.”
Nahshon flatly rejected the European offer of incentives.
“It is inconceivable and unacceptable that upgrading our relations with Europe should be conditioned on our participation in a misguided diplomatic effort,” he said. “This is tantamount to illegitimate pressure. Israel is an important member of the international community, a world leader in science and technology, which the EU benefits from. There is no reason why we should be subjected to such pressure.”
EU officials insist that their offer of assistance to incentivize the peace process is unrelated to efforts to advance EU-Israel bilateral relations on other issues, but Nahshon refused to accept that argument.
“If the EU really wants to promote the peace process it should invest all its energies to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. Israel-EU relations should not be linked to misguided EU initiatives,” he concluded.
Meanwhile Tuesday, a top European Union official said the bloc stands ready to provide Israel and the Palestinians with massive political, economic and security support as part of any peace agreement between them.
European Council President Donald Tusk said that the EU will “back up a peace deal with an unprecedented package of cooperation and support to both Israel and the future state of Palestine.”
Tusk said after talks in Brussels with President Reuven Rivlin that “a lasting peace in the region remains a top priority” for the EU.
AP contributed to this report.