President says Israel willing to help refugees, but does not specify how

Rivlin: Labeling of settlement products an ‘obstacle’ to peace

Netanyahu tells EU president Donald Tusk plan driven by ‘anti-Israeli obsession’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, following their meeting at the presidential residence in Jerusalem on September 8, 2015. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)
President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, following their meeting at the presidential residence in Jerusalem on September 8, 2015. (AFP/GALI TIBBON)

Israeli leaders criticized threatened European moves to sanction Israel over settlement activity and stagnating peace efforts with the Palestinians Tuesday, during meetings with EU President Donald Tusk.

President Reuven Rivlin told Tusk the proposed EU plan to label products from Israeli settlements was an “obstacle” in achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Europe was forcing Israel into a dangerous peace agreement.

During a meeting with Tusk in Jerusalem, Rivlin said the European initiative — that Israel has condemned as an international delegitimization campaign — would only serve to further divide the region.

“The labeling of Israeli products will only be a further obstacle to peace,” Rivlin said.

“Europe must remember its duty to itself, and to the world. It must remember that the dream of different peoples living side by side was not achieved by creating barriers to trade and cooperation, but by breaking down divides and finding a common dialogue,” he added.

In April, France and 15 other European Union countries urged the bloc to clearly label products sold in member counties which originated in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The issue of labeling settlement products has been on the EU agenda for the past several years and is expected to become official policy in the coming months.

Opponents of the legislation say it will not be conducive to restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced the European initiative when he met with Tusk Tuesday. He said those driving the effort were “possessed by the anti-Israeli obsession,” and condemned Western powers for focusing on Israeli while failing to stop bloodshed in other Middle Eastern countries.

Touching on the stalled peace talks, Netanyahu urged Europe to take a “more productive course rather than the one that seeks to unilaterally press Israel into agreements that will endanger our very existence and therefore your very defense.”

During his official visit to Jerusalem, Tusk also discussed the need to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and addressed the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

“I am aware that the situation is much more complex than many people realize, and that the issues are far from black and white,” Tusk told Rivlin, but stressed the importance of mutual cooperation between Israel and the EU in order to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Help for fleeing refugees?

Earlier Tuesday, Tusk urged a crackdown on the “murderers” among human traffickers who have killed scores of people trying to reach Europe from conflicts abroad.

“We have to focus on rescuing people’s lives and… the fight against human traffickers and smugglers,” Tusk said ahead of his meeting with Rivlin. “In fact we can talk today about murderers because they are directly responsible for the death of thousands of people. Maybe this is the most important thing today,” he said.

Rivlin told Tusk that Israel was willing to help refugees, but did not specify how. On Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel could not take in Syrian refugees because it is too small.

“As a Jewish state, and as a democratic state, I am proud of the humanitarian aid we have given to thousands upon thousands of refugees throughout the years,” Rivlin said. “Israel is ready to continue this important work, and I believe could provide relief to a proportionate number of those fleeing.”

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