Prague, Budapest holding up EU move to sanction violent Israeli settlers — sources

A photo of Palestinians bound and stripped after being apprehended by IDF soldiers and settlers in the central West Bank village of Wadi al-Seeq on October 12, 2023. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A photo of Palestinians bound and stripped after being apprehended by IDF soldiers and settlers in the central West Bank village of Wadi al-Seeq on October 12, 2023. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An EU effort to impose sanctions on Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank has stalled due to objections from Hungary and the Czech Republic, diplomats say.

The two staunch allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in an EU committee on Thursday they were not ready to let the proposal go forward for now, say four diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity about internal EU deliberations.

Some say a compromise may be found later to let the measures proceed, possibly after more EU sanctions on Hamas.

The United States and Britain have expressed similar concerns and have already imposed sanctions on several settlers they say are responsible for violence.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in December he would propose similar measures.

But EU sanctions require unanimity among member states and the bloc has yet to find agreement – a reflection of broader divisions on the Middle East, with some EU countries strongly backing Israel while others lean more towards the Palestinians.

The proposals under discussion would impose sanctions on around a dozen people or organizations, according to diplomats. The EU has not spelled out what the sanctions would entail but officials have said they would include bans on travel to the EU.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on Hamas following the Oct. 7 attacks and diplomats say more are in the pipeline.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday now was “definitely not the time” to sanction Israeli settlers, state news agency MTI reported. Budapest says the EU’s focus should be on helping Israel to defeat Hamas and free hostages.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said his country was not “substantively” blocking sanctions on settlers inciting violence but did not want them to come alongside measures against Hamas.

“An act of terrorism is not on the same level as acts by settlers,” he says. “These things cannot be connected.”

France, which has been pushing for the settler sanctions and is expected to introduce national travel bans on two or three individuals imminently, is hoping that once its measures are in place European partners will be more willing to press ahead.

“Once we have our measures we shall see how the others react,” says a French diplomatic source.

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