Israeli officials snubbed EU peace envoy during recent visit — report

Jerusalem said angry over failure of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to adequately condemn rocket fire at Israel during recent fighting against Gaza terror groups.

Sven Koopmans (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal / Wikipedia)
Sven Koopmans (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal / Wikipedia)

Israeli officials snubbed the European Union’s Middle East peace envoy during his recent visit to the region, turning down all of his requests to meet with them, the Walla news site reported Wednesday.

Quoting unnamed senior Israeli officials, the report said the decision to blackball Sven Koopmans was taken over what Israel saw as EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s lack of support during the recent fighting against Gaza terror groups.

Koopmans, a Dutch politician and diplomat, was appointed the EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process on May 1.

Two weeks ago, Koopmans told Israel’s ambassador to the EU, Ronnie Lashno-Yaar, that he wanted to visit Israel and meet with Israeli officials, according to the news site. While Lashno-Yaar backed the idea, officials at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had reservations about the timing and told Koopmans to plan his trip for a later date.

Koopmans, however, decided to go ahead with the visit in any case. In response, the Foreign Ministry decided that no Israeli diplomatic or defense officials would meet with him and all his requests for meetings were rejected, the report said.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference in Brussels, Monday, March 22, 2021 (Aris Oikonomou, Pool via AP)

Instead, Koopmans traveled to Ramallah where he met with Palestinian Authority figures and also visited the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and met with people whose homes were damaged by rockets fired by terror groups in Gaza.

An Israeli official said Jerusalem was angry with Borrell for failing to adequately condemn the rocket fire on Israel. The official said that during the fighting, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi had a “difficult” phone conversation with Borrell.

On May 18, after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Borrell called for the implementation of a ceasefire.

“The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a ceasefire,” Borrell told reporters, adding that the statement was backed by all the bloc’s member states except Hungary.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

The Walla report said Israel also believed that Borrell deliberately misrepresented the positions of other EU nations in a bid to present a united front, and that Hungary was not alone in opposing the call.

The bloc’s 27 nations often struggle to find a common position over the conflict, with some members including Germany, Austria and Slovenia firmly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and others urging it to show greater restraint.

EU officials quoted by the news site rejected the Israeli criticism of Borrell, saying that he and other European officials had repeatedly expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

“Koopmans received a mandate from the 27 foreign ministers of all [EU] member states to serve as their joint envoy and to visit the area, and he hopes to hold conversations with Israeli government representatives,” the official told Walla.

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