‘Israeli diplomats say top EU official deliberately misled them over settlement ban’

In documents quoted by Maariv, envoy to EU David Walzer denies he was ‘asleep on the job,’ says he twice warned the government ahead of new directives

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, during their meeting in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2013. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, during their meeting in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2013. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

Israel’s envoy to the EU warned the Israeli government in March and again in May about the European Union’s plans to implement an unprecedented directive banning all EU cooperation with, and funding of, Israeli entities with any links to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Maariv reported Friday.

But the Israeli envoy and his colleagues were misled by EU officials over two critical aspects of the new directive, according to the report in Maariv. Specifically, EU staffers, led by the European Commission’s Director of the Middle East Department Christian Berger, did not tell either Israeli diplomats or even the EU’s own commissioners that the directive would ban EU dealings even with Israeli entities that have only minor connections over the pre-67 lines, and that Israeli entities would have to state that they have no dealings over the pre-67 lines as a condition for receiving any EU funds.

The new EU policy directive, bitterly criticized by the Israeli government, is due to go into effect at the start of 2014. President Shimon Peres, who has urged the EU to at least delay implementation, said last week that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would soon raise Israel’s complaints over the directive with the EU’s foreign ministers.

Maariv quoted from a cable sent recently to ministry staff by Israel’s Ambassador to the European Union David Walzer, in which he broke his silence over the harsh criticisms he has faced in recent weeks from the Israeli government for allegedly not anticipating the move, which was described as an “earthquake” by senior Israeli officials when the news broke last month.

In March, documents quoted by Maariv indicate, Walzer wrote a classified briefing to Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and ministry Director-General Rafael Barak, warning that EU officials were working on a draft of the new guidelines.

He sent another missive in May after he and his staff received a briefing from Berger about the general sense of the guidelines.

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, left, and David Walzer, Head of the Mission of Israel to the EU. (Photo credit: European Union, 2013)
President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and David Walzer, Israel’s ambassador to the European Union (photo credit: European Union, 2013)

The Israeli diplomats were assured by Berger that they would be able to take a look at the draft before the guidelines were adopted, Maariv reported, but Walzer’s office only received the document on July 5 whereas EU members had the document since June 28 and adopted it on June 30.

The envoy insisted that his office was not asleep on the job, adding in his recent cable that he hoped “the injustice done to the diplomats [in this embassy] is corrected” and that the “stain on our reputation is removed as quickly as it was applied.”

Elkin directed Barak to hold an inquiry into the possible failings of the Brussels embassy on the matter; that inquiry is still ongoing. As part of the investigation, Walzer submitted a written document detailing events and correspondence.

Walzer’s office was aware of most of the clauses in the EU document but was blindsided by the formulation of some, Maariv reported. “The foreign ministries of other European Union members didn’t know about them either,” Maariv reported, “and nor did the EU’s representatives in Israel.” Berger “hid from everybody” the true extent of the directives “because he knew he was going much further than the original intention,” Maariv reported. The European officials “hid the most serious clauses,” it quoted an Israeli staffer as saying.

Maariv said Elkin has not been convinced by the explanations of Walzer and his Brussels team, because the deputy minister believes it is the diplomats’ job “to uncover what EU officials are trying to hide.”

In response, Maariv quoted bitter Foreign Ministry officials as saying, “Most of the information was passed on to Jerusalem. What they [the EU] tried to hide, even its offices in Ramat Gan did not know about. [The Israeli government] can’t have expected us [to obtain information we didn’t know about]. Even the Shin Bet was not able to find out where Gilad Shalit was being held, despite its vast intelligence resources in Gaza.”

In Walzer’s cable, he wrote that he was “convinced that we acted correctly and credibly.”

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