Netanyahu trying to talk EU down from new settlement rules

Prime minister calls European leaders, reportedly to coax them to drop new directives; measure will quash peace talks, deputy foreign minister says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks on the phone. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks on the phone. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked with a series of European leaders Wednesday, outlining his strong objections to a European funding ban on Israeli institutions operating in occupied territories, officials said.

Netanyahu discussed the measure with the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso as well as the leaders of France, Greece, Malta and Austria, the officials said.

They said Netanyahu told the leaders, “There are more urgent and pressing issues in the Middle East that should be dealt with first,” like the conflict in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the content of the conversations with reporters.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu urged the leaders to delay the ban’s enforcement.

The officials also said Netanyahu spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry about the EU decision, saying it harms Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations. Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, met Wednesday with the European Union envoy for Mideast peace, Andreas Reinicke, and told him that postponing the ban’s enforcement would help relaunch peace talks, which stalled nearly five years ago.

The EU said the ban applies to “grants, prizes and financial instruments and that the new funding guidelines go into effect in 2014. The EU issues dozens of grants, totaling millions of euros, to Israeli universities, companies and researchers every year.

The EU decision would have far ranging consequences, even on Hebrew University dorms located only a few meters over the Green Line, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Channel 2 on Wednesday.

“We are are talking to the Europeans and explaining to them that there has been a dramatic change,” he said, adding that the new directive would put Israel’s participation in EU sponsored joint research and development programs into question and could cause Israel to lose tens of millions of Euros.

The new rules would act to keep the Palestinians away from the negotiation table, Elkin said, and added that Israel should respond to the pressure by withdrawing potential gestures to the Palestinians that were aimed at bringing them to the talks.

“If they go forward, there’s no reason to continue with the gestures,” he said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met with EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Andreas Reinicke Wednesday and told him that halting the new measures would help resume negotiations with the Palestinians. She said it was important that the two sides be allowed to determine their future borders themselves and be dictated by unilateral EU decisions.

In an interview to Israel Radio, Livni said the EU’s decision was bad, but that she hoped it would lead to new insights. She said that the international community was attempting to fill up the “diplomatic vacuum” caused by the stall in the peace talks and that the EU’s decision should be seen as a “wake up call” for Israel.

The Europeans are “not our enemies but our friends,” former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday at an economics conference in the Galilee. “We can not continue with the political deadlock and believe that the world will accept this deadlock,” he added.

The last four years haven’t shown any progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace, Olmert said, and “it can’t pass quietly. The international community is impatient from the lack of movement on the deadlock.”

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