The European Union on Monday harshly condemned Israel for settlement expansion, threatening to “take further action” to respond to Israeli moves deemed harmful to the two-state solution, but refrained from announcing concrete sanctions.
At the same time, an internal EU document was revealed in Haaretz that showed preliminary sanctions the union is considering imposing on Israel, including recalling European ambassadors and cutting ties with Israeli leaders who publicly oppose the two-state solution.
“Actions which call into question stated commitments to a negotiated solution must be avoided,” the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council declared in Brussels. “The EU deeply deplores and strongly opposes the recent expropriation of land near Bethlehem, recent announcements of plans for new settlement construction, in particular in Givat Hamatos, Ramat Shlomo, Har Homa and Ramot, as well as plans to displace Bedouins in the West Bank and the continued demolitions.”
The council — which consists of the foreign ministers of the EU’s 28 member states — urged Israel to reverse these decisions, as they “run counter to international law and directly threaten the two-state solution.”
Plans to expand construction in East Jerusalem seriously jeopardize the possibility of the city ever becoming the capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, the council’s conclusion states. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two state solution.”
The union also called for a “fundamental change of the political, security and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, including the end of the closure.” The situation in the coastal enclave is “unsustainable,” the ministers declared, stressing “the importance of a change of the Israeli policy allowing Gaza to trade normally and on a permanent basis.” They urged Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement that would end the Gaza blockade and at the same time addressed Israel’s “legitimate security concerns.”
The foreign ministers reiterated their support for the Palestinian unity government, calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to assume control over the strip.
Echoing language first used in council conclusions from July, the EU concluded by stating that the “future development of the relations with both the Israeli and Palestinian partners will also depend on their engagement towards a lasting peace based on a two state solution.”
At about the same time that the EU foreign ministers discussed the wording of these conclusions in Brussels, Haaretz published a copy of an internal EU document that shows that the union is mulling taking drastic steps in the event Israel continues to advance policies thought to jeopardize the two-state solution, such as expanded settlement construction in sensitive areas such as East Jerusalem.
Most drastically, it proposes recalling European ambassadors from Tel Aviv and avoiding official contacts with “settler organizations” and “settlers including public figures and those publicly rejecting the two-state solution.”
President Reuven Rivlin and senior cabinet members such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) openly reject the idea of a Palestinian state anywhere in the West Bank. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman could be considered a “settler,” as he lives over the Green Line in Nokdim.
The internal EU document lists several steps the union considers taking to promote a two-state solution, trying to offer both carrots and sticks. But most suggestions appear to be punitive, such as reassessing the EU’s commitment not to participate in Israel-bashing sessions at the United Nations Human Rights Council, reassessing the distribution of funds or “actions vis-à-vis EU companies operating in the settlements.”
The EU could also take actions “reinforcing” the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid, according to the leaked document, either by recognizing a Palestinian state or by supporting or not opposing the Palestinians’ efforts to join international organizations.
However, it should be noted that the document is clearly labeled as a “non-paper,” which means it does not state official policy but is merely meant as a basis to start a discussion on what could possibly become policy at a later stage.
In a press conference Monday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini denied that the document leaked to Haaretz is about to become the union’s policy. “There is no such plan” she said, adding that the Haaretz report merely referred to a “hypothetical working paper” asked for by the member states a while ago. The foreign ministers did not discuss any sanctions against Israel, she asserted. The goal of the council conclusion was to prod the two parties back to the negotiating table, she said.
Israel has not yet officially responded to the EU’s ideas about possibly sanctioning Israel. Liberman on Sunday said he hoped the Foreign Affairs Council would refrain from linking Israel-EU bilateral relationship to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. “Any attempt to create such a stipulation is based on a misguided approach that does not contribute to stability, normalization or enhancement of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Jerusalem.