Harsh EU report likely won’t spell settlement sanctions

European consuls recommend reduced trade with Israelis over the Green Line, slam construction in East Jerusalem neighborhoods

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Construction work at the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo, July 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Construction work at the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo, July 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Senior European Union officials stationed in East Jerusalem and Ramallah have recently recommended that the organization curb trade with Israelis located beyond the Green Line and cease financial support for them.

The move is seen as another indication of the EU’s growing frustration with Israeli settlement policies and the stagnating peace process, but the imposition of any kind of concrete sanctions against Israel remains unlikely.

In a new report sent to Brussels and foreign ministries in 27 member states, the consuls general representing the EU in the Palestinian territories call on the EU to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services,” Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The EU’s office in Israel declined to directly comment on the leaked document, but diplomats representing EU member states told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that while the report’s language seemed strong, suggesting a call for active EU divestment from the settlements, it signified no actual change in the union’s policy. The 2012 Heads of Mission report, which will be discussed by policymakers in Brussels but is nonbinding, merely calls for stricter implementation of already existing EU legislation, according to a European diplomat.

Even a harsh-sounding yet vaguely worded phrase, in which the consuls call on the EU to “prevent… problematic implications of financial transactions… in support of settlement activities,” already appeared in last year’s report, a senior European diplomat said.

According to Haaretz, the report makes seven recommendations that directly or indirectly suggest imposing sanctions on Israeli groups operating in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. The consuls urge Brussels to ensure strict enforcement of the EU’s policy to not give preferential treatment to imported goods from the West Bank and to prevent them from being labeled as originating in Israel. They also call upon the EU to stop supporting research projects by Israeli organizations located beyond the Green Line.

The EU does not recognize the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, as Israeli territory, and products from these areas therefore do not benefit from preferential trade arrangements between Israel and EU. However, the EU’s ambassador in Israel, Andrew Standley, told The Times of Israel earlier this month that the imposition of sanctions against Israel required a unanimous decision of the 27 member states and was therefore unlikely. “The EU is opposed to boycotts. This is not the way we operate in terms of our international relations,” he said.

However, Standley did acknowledge that EU officials were paying “renewed attention” toward figuring out to how to ensure that relevant EU regulations were correctly implemented. Such efforts could be understood as “the expression of concern at the political level at the lack of positive movement in the Middle East peace process” and continued Israeli settlement construction, he said.

In line with longstanding EU positions, the consuls’ 2012 report also slammed the Israeli government for seeking to expand the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Homa, Gilo and Givat Hamatos. Those plans are “systematic, deliberate and provocative” and aimed at preventing a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible, the senior diplomats said.

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