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Relationship between EU and Israel increasingly complicated

By Missing Peace

EU Israel relations

Relations between Israel and the European Union hit a new low last week when the EU funded NGO Breaking the Silence leaked an internal EU report which blasted Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The annual report by the European consuls in Israel stated that “settlement construction remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution”, a conclusion that totally ignored Palestinian violence and intransigence as well as the PA refusal to return to peace negotiations with Israel.

This was not the first time the EU leaked an internal report in which Israel was heavily criticized. NGO monitor called the leaking of the report to Breaking the Silence ‘disgraceful diplomacy’ and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the report ‘fostered confrontation’.

Analysis

The increasing problematic relations between Europe and Israel were analyzed by two leading Israeli journalists.

Former Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar published an article in which he painted a bleak picture about EU policy vis-à-vis Israel.

He revealed that the EU will stop funding the office of Quartet envoy Tony Blair.       Blair has been the only foreign emissary who successfully established cooperation projects between Israel and the PA in the West Bank.

Eldar also wrote that both Obama and Catherine Ashton have set themselves a one year deadline to bring about a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Here are the most interesting parts of Eldar’s article:

Europe is mostly busy with its own problems, the financial crises and the integration of new members (next in line is Croatia. For the information of reader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — this was made possible after the Croatians met the EU’s demand to erase from their constitution the article stating that Croatia is the national home of the Croatian people). The Quartet, the mechanism established with the aim of advancing the diplomatic process, has turned into a joke. In answer to my question about former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s activity as the special envoy of the Quartet (the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN), the two officials sitting across from us exchanged meaningful looks and burst out laughing. They said the EU has decided to stop funding Blair, who has disappeared somewhere in East Jerusalem.

Thus, the Europeans are directing their eyes westward, to the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, US President Barack Obama. So far, the Union’s special envoy to the Middle East, Andreas Reinicke, is the only bearer of good news. He says EU’s foreign policy chief, Lady Catherine Ashton, and Obama have set themselves a one-year deadline to bring about a permanent settlement, not an interim arrangement, not a Palestinian state within temporary borders, but rather the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state side-by-side with the state of Israel. The impression in Ashton’s office, on the other hand, is that Obama will focus his meeting with  Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear issue. We heard there that at his last meeting with Ashton, each time the European minister wished to raise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu said this was a marginal issue which deflects attention from the big Iranian threat. “If this is a marginal issue”, Ashton is said to have answered, “let’s get it out of our way so we can be free to deal with the main issue.” The prime minister, we were told, did not respond.

Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon also analyzed EU policies in the Middle East. He highlighted the different agenda’s of the US administration and the Europeans.

Keinon ridiculed British Foreign Secretary William Hague who stated during a press conference with US Secretary of state John Kerry last week that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is still on the top of the agenda.

Here is what Keinon wrote:

“There you have it. More than 60,000 Syrians have been slaughtered in that country, Iran continues to march toward nuclear capability, North Korea recently detonated another nuclear device, Europe’s economy is teetering on the brink, but for Hague and the British Foreign Office “there is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013” than Israel and the Palestinians”.

“Israel will try to convince Kerry and Obama when they arrive together that it is precisely because of the developments in the Arab world that reaching a grand Israeli-Palestinian bargain now is so unrealistic, the Europeans are undeterred and – as Hague made abundantly clear – are lobbying the US administration to agree that “there is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

This week the NGO Breaking the Silence leaked an internal EU report to the Israeli media in which sanctions against Israel were proposed. The report stated that Israel’s settlement policy remained the biggest threat to the two-state solution.

The Jerusalem Post cited Yigal Palmor the spokesman of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who said that the report, which was written by EU consuls, fostered confrontation.

Another official said the report, and other annual reports put out by the EU heads of missions in east Jerusalem and Ramallah, is a result of their living in an “echo chamber.”

He said the EU representatives there are forbidden to be in contact with Israeli government officials, and are only exposed to the Palestinians and the NGO community – organizations such as Breaking the Silence.

“As a result, it is not a surprise they come out with one-sided partisan reports,” he said. “This is a structural problem. One part of the EU’s foreign policy bureaucracy is institutionally anti-Israel, where their whole milieu is Palestinian activists on the West Bank and NGOs that share their same agenda.”

The official asked rhetorically when the last time was that a report by the EU consuls was either leaked, or even written, that took the PA to task for anything – be it financial wrongdoing, human rights abuses or incendiary statements against Israel.

These remarks show that Israel has no confidence in the EU’s ability to understand the new reality in the Middle East nor in the European role as honest broker in the efforts to resolve the Arab Israeli conflict.