Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied on Saturday that Israel had been consulted about plans for a European Union-led report that would recommend steps to reach a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The report would be carried out by the Middle East Quartet, including the US, Russia, the EU and the United Nations, according to a Saturday announcement on the official blog of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
“I gathered the Middle East Quartet in Munich yesterday – John Kerry for the US, Sergei Lavrov for Russia, Jan Eliasson representing Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations,” Mogherini wrote.
“As crises around us multiply we cannot forget the need and the urgency to help build a solution for the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We have decided to immediately work together on a report, which will include recommendations for relaunching the two-State perspective. We will do this in coordination with the UN Security Council and with the main regional actors: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia – on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Mogherini added that the new initiative would be done “in strong coordination with the parties. This is why yesterday I called Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, who assured to me their willingness to engage in this new process.”
But late Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Office denied Netanyahu had backed to the initiative, telling Channel 10 that Netanyahu had never agreed to such a move.
“Netanyahu and Mogherini never spoke about such a report,” officials maintained.
EU-Israel relations have only just begun to recover from a crisis over the union’s guidelines to member countries calling on them to label goods produced in West Bank settlements or on the Golan Heights.
On Friday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the sides had “overcome the crisis” after Netanyahu and Mogherini spoke that day.
Israel’s relations with the European Union are “close and friendly” again, he said.
While the labeling directive is not expected to change, Nahshon said Israel had received assurances that the move “is not a political step to determine future borders or to boycott Israel.”
Nahshon told journalists that Mogherini told Netanyahu that the November decision to label settlements goods “does not prejudge the outcome” of the conflict.
“The conversation resolved the tensions and we are, Israel and the EU, back to good and close relations,” Nahshon wrote in an English-language comment on social media.
Netanyahu and Mogherini “agreed that relations between the two sides should be conducted in an atmosphere of confidence and mutual respect… that will assist in advancing the Middle East peace process,” Nahshon said.
The EU announced last November it was instructing member states to begin labeling products manufactured by Israeli-owned companies in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as made in those areas rather than “Made in Israel.”
Slamming the move as discriminatory, Netanyahu in response ordered government agencies to exclude the EU from any Israeli-Palestinian engagement or negotiations efforts.
During her Friday conversation with Netanyahu, Mogherini reportedly underscored her opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts to isolate Israel, and said the EU’s new labeling guidelines should not be interpreted as such.
Mogherini reiterated the EU’s commitment to the two-state solution, and said any final status issues, including borders, should be settled in direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
The top EU diplomat also expressed the bloc’s solidarity with Israel over the current wave of Palestinian terror attacks targeting Israelis.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.