Israeli leaders blast EU directive as bad for peace

Decree ‘a stupid move that strengthens the right’s sense of siege and keeps Abbas from entering negotiations,’ says Labor MK Hilik Bar

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Labor MK Hilik Bar speaks in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Labor MK Hilik Bar speaks in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

A European Union directive barring its 28 members from cooperating with Israeli entities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem garnered dramatic responses across the Israeli political spectrum Tuesday, with many saying it would push the Palestinians further from peace negotiations.

The directive, sent out on June 30, extends to “all funding, cooperation, and the granting of scholarships, research grants and prizes” to Israeli entities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.

Many argued the directive would hinder chances of renewed peace talks.

“It certainly doesn’t add to the atmosphere of peace talks. On the contrary, it fuels the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiation table,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said.

Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich said the growing diplomatic isolation posed as mush of a strategic threat to Israel as the advanced weaponry aimed against it by its enemies. “It is too bad that instead of supporting the Americans’ efforts to resume negotiations [between Israel and the Palestinians], the European Union is focussing on sanctions and boycotts,” she added.

“This is the wrong decision. It doesn’t help us reach an agreement,” agreed MK Hilik Bar (Labor), considered one of the Knesset’s most dovish representatives.

Bar is a founder of a Knesset caucus advocating a two-state solution and the author of a bill that would outlaw Israeli annexation of territory in the West Bank except in the framework of a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

According to Bar, the European move would bring further obstacles to any Palestinian return to the negotiating table. “This directive is simply a mistake, a stupid move that strengthens the right’s sense that we are under siege,” he told The Times of Israel, adding that it would help keep Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from coming to the negotiating table.

Bar insisted the EU’s mistake was unintentional, and that the body wasn’t trying to side with one side in the conflict or “prevent [Abbas] from entering into negotiations. They’re making every effort to support those negotiations.”

He also urged that negotiations be resumed. Abbas, he said, “is slowly shedding his preconditions for talks. Netanyahu should do the same when it comes to complying with the Palestinians’ request that he agree to talk on the basis of the ’67 lines,” he said.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been largely bogged down since 2008, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze and other measures before returning to the table. US Secretary of State John Kerry was expected in the region Tuesday for the sixth time since taking office, in an intensive effort to bring the sides closer to talks.

But Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, a Likud hawk who also serves as minister for regional development, blasted the directive as “another wrench stuck in the wheels of the negotiations.”

“Construction in the settlements didn’t prevent Begin from leaving Sinai, Sharon from leaving Gaza, Netanyahu from signing the Wye Accords, or Olmert from negotiating over practically the entire territory,” Shalom noted.

By strengthening the Palestinians’ sense that they could gain concessions and bring more pressure to bear on Israel by refusing to negotiate, “the EU is pushing [the Palestinians] away from any possibility of being part of the negotiations.”

He argued it was the Palestinians who were resisting the push for new peace talks, noting the Palestinian Authority was demanding the freezing of all settlement construction, including in some Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and an agreement on borders — all as a precondition for negotiations.

Israel insists on talks without preconditions.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid called the Eu’s decision “miserable” and ill-timed, and said he planned to make it clear to Israel’s friends that their decision only serves to push peace further away.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the EU directive Tuesday.

Even those who are explicitly opposed to a Palestinian state in the West Bank said the decision was not helpful to any prospects for founding one.

“This shows the extent to which the Europeans are detached from this region,” MK Ayelet Shaked, of the nationalist Jewish Home party, told Army Radio. “Why would [Abbas] enter negotiations if the Europeans are doing his work for him” by pressuring Israel into concessions without him having to reciprocate, she wondered.

Some on the right accused the EU of bias.

“This is a double standard,” complained Yuval Steinitz, who serves as minister for intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs. “We don’t see the EU pushing similar measures in Turkish Cyprus, where the EU is also opposed to the fact that one-third of Cyprus is controlled by Turkey. It’s singling out Israel.”

A few voices insisted the EU step was inevitable.

“The Europeans gave us a ‘red card,’ ” a penalty card given in soccer to indicate a serious violation, according to MK Nachman Shai (Labor). “They’re saying, ‘Enough. We waited, we discussed, we listened.’ But now the Europeans are simply not willing to let Israel continue” to build settlements in the West Bank, Shai said. Supporters of continued construction in the settlements “are costing us our independence.”

And Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on called the directive “very significant,” in distinguishing between sovereign Israel, on the one hand, “and the settlements and occupation,” on the other. Europe, she said, was telling Israel that it can’t simultaneously expect to maintain international credibility as a seeker of peace while building in the settlements.

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