The European Union will work to “discourage” any Israeli initiative toward the annexation of parts of the West Bank and devote diplomatic efforts for a solution, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this weekend.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels on Friday after a virtual meeting with EU foreign ministers, Borrell said “unilateral actions from either side should be avoided and… international law should be upheld,” according to a transcript of the event released Saturday.
Borrell said the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “remains a priority and it is one of the strategic interests of the European Union.”
Several European nations led by France, and including Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, have reportedly expressed support for threats of punitive action in a bid to deter the new Israeli government — set to be sworn in on Sunday — from carrying out annexation with a green light from Washington.
The EU bloc is Israel’s largest trading partner, grants Israel favored trading status, and helps fund Israeli scientific research and development through its massive Horizon 2020 program.
Proposed steps include announcing that Israel would be prevented from entering into trade agreements with the bloc, receiving EU grants or participating in other forms of cooperation with the union. It is not clear if the steps would apply to future agreements or freeze existing ones.
Borrell said Saturday that European nations “must work to discourage any possible initiative towards annexation” and such a strategy will require that states reach out to Israel, the US, the Palestinians and Arab partners, “using all channels that the EU and the member states have.”
Asked if the EU is prepared to take concrete steps to deter Israel from going ahead with its annexation plan, Borrell responded that for the time being, the EU’s efforts are “devoted to the diplomatic action in order to avoid any unilateral action” and in support of a negotiated Two-State solution, as well as in support of the upholding international law.”
“What everybody agreed is that we have to increase our efforts and our reach out to all relevant actors in the Middle East in order to avoid that something that we do not want to happen, could happen… And if this happens, then we will see,” said Borrell.
The EU foreign policy chief said it was important for the EU “to have the best relationship with Israel” and that he hopes his phone call will be one of the first the incoming Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister receives “to express what we have been talking about today in the Council [of Ministers of Foreign Affairs] and our willingness to continue working with Israel on all possible cooperation [fronts].”
As part of their coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz agreed that the government can begin moving forward with applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley after July 1, a move expected to enjoy backing from a majority of lawmakers in the Knesset.
Though Gantz is believed to oppose unilateral action, he acquiesced to Netanyahu’s demand to allow the matter to be brought to a vote in parliament.
The annexation of settlements and the Jordan Valley has been a key campaign promise of Netanyahu and his Likud party in recent elections. A plurality of slightly fewer than half of Israelis back the idea, and fewer than a third think the government will actually go through with it, according to a survey of Israelis released Sunday.
Netanyahu’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank has been met with harsh criticism from nearly the entire international community, including Washington’s European allies and key Arab partners. US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan allows for the possibility of US recognition of such annexations provided Israel agrees to negotiate under the framework of the proposal that was unveiled in January.
According to the proposed plan, the US will recognize an Israeli application of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank following the completion of a survey conducted by a joint US-Israel mapping committee and Israel’s acceptance of both a four-year freeze of the areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state and a commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the terms of Trump’s peace deal.
Alone among most governments, the Trump administration has said it will support the annexation of West Bank territory claimed by the Palestinians for an eventual state as long as Israel agrees to enter peace talks.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said this month that Washington is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank should it be declared in the coming weeks.