EU not reassessing relationship to Israel… yet, envoy says

Unlike US, Europe is waiting to see new government’s policy on Palestinians, but settlement expansion will bring new pressure, Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen warns

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)

Unlike the United States government, the European Union is not currently reassessing its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the group’s top envoy to Israel said Sunday.

But if the incoming Israeli government continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and build in East Jerusalem, Brussels will intensify its efforts to pressure Israel, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen warned. He also said the EU supports in principle a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding the speedy creation of a Palestinian state.

“What the US says is a reflection of US policy. Our view remains that we would have to judge the [Israeli] government on the actual actions that it is taking. Since the government is not formed yet that remains to be seen,” the ambassador told The Times of Israel. “Obviously, we are committed to the two-state solution, so we will be carefully monitoring what actions the government is taking that in our view are conducive or not conducive to a two-state solution. And that will be the basis on which we evaluate this government.”

Faaborg-Andersen reiterated Brussels’ staunch opposition to settlement construction. “We made clear time and again that settlement expansion is very detrimental to final-status talks. And obviously if it continues we will take appropriate action.”

In light of statements Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made ahead of this month’s elections that appeared to rescind his commitment to Palestinian statehood, Washington announced it would reassess its approach to the peace process.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu in the election run-up stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was prime minister, and I took him at his word that that’s what he meant,” US President Barack Obama said last week. Obama was unmoved by Netanyahu’s subsequent insistence that he still backs a “sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”

The EU, for its part, wants to wait and see which policies the new government will be pursuing on the Palestinian front, Faaborg-Andersen said. “We’re hopeful they will pursue policies [leading to] the solution of the conflict and the two-state concept. It’s clear that during the past couple of years we have seen a spike in settlement expansions, both in terms of planning and tenders and also actual construction and start up of construction,” the envoy said

“If we were to see a continuation of this trend then I’m saying that we will also see a toughening of EU policy in this particular area.”

Concretely, that would mean the implementation of measures such as the introduction of a union-wide labeling regime for Israeli products from beyond the 1967-lines, he explained. “At this point in time, it’s quite clear what a tightening of our policy in this direction means,” he said.

Faaborg-Andersen refused to comment on an internal EU document that was leaked to the press last week and that recommended several steps the union should take to pressure Israel, such as monitoring Israeli house demolitions and strengthening “efforts to raise awareness among EU citizens and business on the risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements.”

The Ynet news site quoted an EU diplomat as saying that Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the two-state solution increased the likelihood of these recommendations be implemented. “We are on a collision course,” the unnamed diplomat told the website.

Faaborg-Andersen refuted this report. The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called Netanyahu one day after the election, congratulated him on his victory, and said the EU is committed to work with Israel’s new government, he recalled. “To me, that doesn’t sound much like collision course.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Federica Mogherini at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on July 16, 2014. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90
PM Netanyahu meeting with Federica Mogherini in Jerusalem, July 16, 2014. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90

The EU looks favorably at the prospect of a UN Security Council resolution that would call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967-lines with Jerusalem as shared capital, Faaborg-Andersen also said. “Depending on the content of such a resolution, we in principle think that is an option worth considering.”

Brussels would look closely at the content and the timing of such a resolution but generally believes that “it would be potentially a helpful thing,” he added.

The French government is currently preparing to propose such a resolution, Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius indicated Friday, after a previous effort by the Palestinians failed to get the required nine yes votes in the Security Council.

Faaborg-Andersen welcomed Jerusalem’s decision to transfer to the Palestinian Authority tax revenues it had withheld over the last three months to punish the PA for its bid to join the International Criminal Court. However, Israel releasing the funds does not necessarily obligate the Palestinians to halt its application to the ICC, as some Israelis have demanded, the ambassador said.

“Israel has chosen to link the two issues — I don’t see any link between them, logically speaking. It’s a linkage we don’t accept,” he said.

Under the Oslo Accord’s Paris Protocol, Israel has a clear obligation to transfer tax revenues to the PA every month, the ambassador said. Membership of the ICC, on the other hand, does not violate any agreement, he argued. “There is a right for everybody to apply to the Rome Statue [that governs the court] if they so wish. These two things are of a different nature, as far as I see it.”

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