Israel lobbied hard against 'one-sided' text

6 countries block EU resolution that would have condemned Trump plan, annexation

Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic among members said to have torpedoed statement, which required unanimity, leading EU foreign policy chief Borrell to issue sharp statement on his own

European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the European Parliament in Brussels, October 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at the European Parliament in Brussels, October 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The European Union foreign policy chief’s unusually strident warning Tuesday that an Israeli annexation in the West Bank won’t pass “unchallenged” reportedly came after he failed to convince Europe’s foreign ministers to issue a similar criticism as a unified bloc.

According to Hebrew media reports, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell tried to convince the 27 European foreign ministers who are members of the union’s Foreign Affairs Council to issue a shared resolution criticizing the peace plan proposed by the Trump administration last week, and warning against Israeli leaders’ declared intention to annex significant parts of the West Bank within weeks.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry lobbied hard with European governments against the resolution, the reports said, arguing it was one-sided and encouraged Palestinians to avoid direct negotiations.

At least six European member states apparently agreed and decided to oppose the resolution. They included Italy, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, and at least two other unnamed nations, the reports said. That opposition killed the joint statement, as EU foreign policy declarations must have the agreement of all 27 member nations.

Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell (L) welcomes Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (R) during a foreign ministers’ meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on July 15, 2019. (John Thys/AFP)

Borrell then issued a statement in his own name, rejecting the Trump peace proposal and warning that an Israeli annexation would violate international law.

Borrell’s statement underlined the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed-upon land swaps, made up of the State of Israel and “an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable state of Palestine.”

Trump’s peace plan, which was unveiled last week, would see the eventual creation of a Palestinian state with restricted sovereignty in some 70 percent of the West Bank. It was rejected out of hand by Palestinian leaders who said it fell far short of their minimal demands and left sizable chunks of the territory in Israeli hands.

Borrell said the US initiative “departs from these internationally agreed parameters.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell gives a press briefing after his meetings with Iranian leaders, in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“To build a just and lasting peace, the unresolved final status issues must be decided through direct negotiations between both parties,” Borrell said. “This includes notably the issues related to borders, the status of Jerusalem, security and the refugee question.”

Trump’s plan was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed it as “nonsense.” Gulf Arab states also rejected the White House plan as “biased.” While Israeli officials were present for its unveiling, no Palestinian representatives attended.

Netanyahu has said he wants to move forward with plans to annex West Bank territory.

“We are especially concerned by statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank,” Borrell said.

Palestinians spray paint over the US Agency for International Development logo as they protest US President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at a roundabout that was renovated by USAID in the West Bank city of Ramallah, February 4, 2020. The Arabic reads, “From the people of the US.” (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

He suggested that the EU might consider legal action, saying any “steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman lashed Borrell’s comments Tuesday as “threatening language” that could sideline the EU as an actor in the region.

“The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrel [sic], chose to use threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office & only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least, odd,” tweeted ministry spokesman Lior Haiat. “Pursuing such policies & conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU’s role in any process will be minimized.”

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war — for an independent state and the removal of more than 700,000 Israelis from these areas.

US President Donald Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 27, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

But the plan sides heavily with Netanyahu’s stated views and shunts aside many of the Palestinians’ core demands.

EU foreign ministers have discussed in recent months whether the bloc should modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that Israeli settlement activity and US diplomatic moves like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are undermining the chances of a two-state solution.

Ireland and Luxembourg are among a small group of countries that support a change of position but no heavyweight member country is backing them.

In a letter to Borrell, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn wrote that hopes for a two-state solution are “being dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” and that it is time to consider recognizing Palestine as a state.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) welcomes European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in the capital Tehran on February 3, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Borrell has noted that member countries are “very much divided” over how to handle Middle East peace moves. In Tuesday’s statement, he also underlined the EU’s “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel.”

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