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EU mulling envoy recall if settlement activity continues

Step said to be included in possible sanctions regime should Israel be seen as obstructing peace process

EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg Anderson, left, with Avigdor Liberman in May, 2014. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg Anderson, left, with Avigdor Liberman in May, 2014. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

The European Union could recall its ambassadors from Israel as part of a sanctions package it is crafting for use in the event Israel takes actions considered detrimental to the peace process, officials said Monday.

The news came just as EU foreign ministers gathered for a summit in Brussels where they were set to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ongoing conflict.

The Haaretz daily first reported on the sanctions, citing “European diplomats and two Israeli officials” who had seen a confidential document circulated among the 28 EU member states that contained a draft proposal of the sanctions policy.

The report elaborates on a potential EU policy shift that first emerged in October.

Some of the possible sanctions reportedly mentioned in the document were labeling products from settlements sold in Europe and restrictions on the free-trade agreement between Israel and the EU.

It also proposes recalling ambassadors from Tel Aviv and making meetings with settler groups verboten.

Diplomatic sources confirmed much of the report to The Times of Israel, but maintained that it is still in very preliminary stages and is meant to be used as a basis for discussions. The document is constructed like a “menu,” which essentially offers member states options to choose from should they want to respond to Israeli actions, such as settlement activity.

Israeli officials have rejected the idea of the EU linking its ties with Israel to the peace process, characterizing such moves as unhelpful.

In a meeting Sunday with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that it “does not contribute to stability, normalization or strengthening ties between Israel and the Palestinians.”

He also said that Israel would never limit construction in East Jerusalem.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the recognition of Palestine as a state by European countries, said Sunday that such action “pushed peace backwards.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (L) in Jerusalem on November 7, 2014 (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (L) in Jerusalem on November 7, 2014 (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Last month, EU member state Sweden took the drastic step of officially recognizing Palestine as a state in what it said was a move meant to push the both sides back to the negotiating table after talks flamed out spectacularly in late March.

Meanwhile, the UK Parliament recognized the state of Palestine in a symbolic vote, and French and Spanish lawmakers are set to do the same later this month.

The EU has, thus far, refrained from imposing tangible sanctions in response to Israeli actions, such as construction in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, but EU officials have, for some time, been crafting a new policy of sanctions against Israel that Brussels could enact whenever the union’s political echelon gives a green light.

Indeed, some in the EU are currently considering implementing a mechanism that would immediately penalize Israel for every step deemed unhelpful to the peace process (such as settlement expansion), a senior European diplomat told The Times of Israel in October.

The plan under consideration is to respond to every Israeli action deemed detrimental to the peace process by implementing a step that would hurt Israel, the diplomat elaborated.

For example, the EU has long insisted that existing EU legislation needs to be implemented, which in many cases is not yet the case. If Jerusalem were to approve another building project in East Jerusalem, for example, the union could opt to introduce a labeling regime for products from West Bank settlements.

With the threat of sanctions, however, the EU would also offer a proverbial carrot to Israel if it moves forward with the peace process.

Were Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, the EU has promised to grant both parties a “Special Privileged Partnership” — a significant upgrade in ties that would include financial, political and security assistance.

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