EU backs down to avoid undermining Kerry’s peace efforts

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia & Romania, recommending that the ministers in their meetings just adopt a general statement supporting Kerry’s efforts.




In a move surely to be applauded in Jerusalem, the European Union foreign ministers are unlikely to issue detailed conclusions on the Middle East peace process following their monthly meeting on Monday in Luxembourg.

Netanyahu at meeting with Catherine Ashton, EU High Rep for Foreign Affairs, June 20, 2013. – Photo: Courtesy – GPO


Both Israeli and European officials said certain key EU actors were impacted by Jerusalem’s arguments that a detailed European statement right now regarding how the EU envisions the peace process would only serve to undermine US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to get the sides back to the negotiating table.

This argument, diplomatic officials said, was made over the last week not only in all European capitals but also forcefully by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his meeting Thursday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

A week ago Jerusalem was very concerned that the EU would issue council conclusions similar to ones issued last May, viewed in Jerusalem as extremely critical of Israeli policies, while giving the Palestinian Authority a “free pass.”

Israeli officials argued that if a similar statement on the Middle East was issued following Monday’s meeting, it would undercut Kerry by giving the Palestinians the impression they have a “blank check” from the Europeans, that there was an alternative better than what Kerry was offering, and that no matter what they do – or how long they stay away from the negotiations – the European diplomatic fire will always be aimed at Israel.

Following Ashton’s visit last week to Ramallah and Jerusalem, according to one European official, it became clear to Ashton that just repeating a whole set of detailed conclusions blasting settlements and taking Israel to task for its policies in Area C and Jerusalem would not be useful and conducive in getting both parties to the table.

Officials said that Netanyahu also expressed concern to Ashton that even if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas comes to the table, he may walk away again as he did in September 2010. Netanyahu pressed the EU not to create any illusions that they will support him and his positions if he comes back to the table, but then simply leaves again.

Kerry is expected back in Israel on Thursday for the fifth time since March.

Over the last couple of weeks, one Israeli official said, the proposals for the council conclusions have increased and decreased like “like an accordion.” Among the countries that led efforts for a long, detailed statement similar to last May’s – something very much opposed by Israel – were Ireland, Denmark and Malta, though according to one official Ireland has now changed its position.

On the other end of the spectrum were Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Romania, recommending that the ministers in their meetings just adopt a general statement supporting Kerry’s efforts.

And in the middle were the Spaniards and the Greeks, pressing a middle-ground proposal that would support Kerry but also go into some detail.

No consensus on this issue was reached in two working group meetings that prepare the groundwork for these monthly meetings, according to officials familiar with the discussions. As a result, there is no pre-agreed draft, which means that the foreign ministers themselves would have to hash the issue out at their one-day meeting – something they are likely not going to be able to do, because of time constraints and since this is not the only issue on their agenda.

In a related matter, the issue of whether to place Hezbollah on the EU’s terror blacklist is not expected to be addressed at the foreign ministers meeting, after two inconclusive working group meetings on the matter in the past three weeks. No consensus has yet been reached on whether to back the British proposal to place Hezbollah’s military wing on the terrorist list.


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