Swedish foreign minister says E1 settlement plan has changed EU’s view of Israel

European ministers expected to slam Israeli moves at meeting in Brussels, without imposing concrete punitive measures like boycotting West Bank goods

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, right, being greeted by his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, right, being greeted by his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The European Union is expected to slam Israel on Monday for a recent series of controversial punitive responses to the Palestinians’ successful bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations, chief among them the decision to build new housing units in the contentious E1 corridor in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem.

The meeting of foreign minister in Brussels, however, will likely not include the ratification of any sanctions against Israel for the measures, officials said.

Ahead of the meeting, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Europe’s political view of the Mideast has changed profoundly because of Israel’s advancement of plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Bildt said the Israeli plans had caused “extreme concern” in the European Union. He referred in particular to the E1 project, which would drive a wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank.

“What the Israelis did on E1 has shifted opinions in Europe,” Bildt said as he arrived for the meeting. “I don’t think the Israelis are aware of this.”

The EU views any Israeli settlements on territory occupied during the 1967 Mideast war as a breach of international law.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expected “the entire EU will be strongly opposed” to the settlement-building.

The Israeli decision to expand settlement development, including in the E1 tract, sparked a slew of international responses last week, and Israeli ambassadors to countries the world over, most notably in six European countries — Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Italy — were summoned by their host nations for sharp dressing downs.

Although there was speculation that Monday’s EU meeting would produce a series of harsh sanctions against Israel, including a landmark decision to begin boycotting imported Israeli products manufactured in settlements beyond the Green Line, senior officials in the union told The Times of Israel that the meeting would merely ratify previous resolutions, “irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel.”

“The European Union continues to oppose boycotts, including boycotts of settlement products,” David Kriss, the press manager for the EU delegation to Israel, said.

An official statement is expected to emerge from the meeting later Monday.

Israeli officials on Monday estimated that although the European foreign ministers would condemn recent settlement activity, there would be no concrete steps against Israel, Israel Radio reported.

European sources said that while a handful of the EU’s 27 member states had individually begun discussing labeling settlement-made products, it was doubtful that the union itself would enforce such a process. Rather, the EU foreign ministers voting in Brussels would merely adopt a series of conclusions that echo resolutions already passed by the European body in May, reiterating that the union considered settlements illegal under international law.

Relations between Europe and Israel appeared to hit a nadir last week in the wake of Israel’s announcement of its intention to expand construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The crux of the issue has been the government’s declaration of plans to build in E1, a strip of land connecting the capital to the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement to the east, which is seen by some as vital to maintaining a contiguous Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Israel’s announcement that it would unfreeze plans to develop the E1 zone drew harsh criticism from some of Jerusalem’s closest allies, including the US. Europe slammed the settlement plans as damaging to the peace process, with Britain reportedly threatening to recall its ambassador.

Last Wednesday, however, Israel pushed the settlement plan further along in the planning pipeline, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek UN Security Council help in blocking the construction.

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