EU threatens Israel not to make further settlement construction announcements


EU dictates to Jerusalem: No gov’t announcements on new settlement construction after Palestinian prisoner release at end of month.

European delegation tells Israeli officials: There will be dire consequences if current round of peace talks collapses.

By The Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff

The European Union yesterday said it had asked Israel not to announce any new West Bank settlement construction following an expected Palestinian prisoner release, warning it would be blamed for any resulting failure in the Mideast peace talks.

A construction worker working on a new housing unit in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, which the EU considers illegal [Archive] – Photo: AP

In further pressure on Israel, a European delegation told Israeli officials there could be dire consequences if the current round of peace talks collapsed, including economic sanctions against the settlements, an EU official said.

The warnings were the latest sign of international disapproval of Israeli settlement construction and its effect on negotiations, which have yielded no tangible results since last summer.

Under a U.S.-brokered formula to restart talks, the Palestinians dropped their demand for a construction freeze while Israel agreed to release 104 of its longest-serving Palestinian prisoners. The releases have taken place in four stages, with the third expected later this month.

The Palestinian prisoners have been convicted in dozens of deadly attacks on Israelis. In order to appease a public uproar over the releases, Israel has announced plans to build hundreds of additional settler homes in the coming months. The announcements have prompted international condemnation and Palestinian threats to withdraw from talks. Officials involved in the U.S.-brokered negotiations hope to reach a peace deal by April.

“If these talks fail because of a new settlement announcement, Israel risks having a finger pointed at it,” Eyal Inbar, the EU’s acting spokesman in Israel, said yesterday.

Inbar said the EU message was delivered to the director of the Foreign Ministry on Monday. Details of the meeting were first reported by Haaretz. Another EU official said yesterday that a separate delegation of officials from the EU’s five largest countries had threatened to take economic action over the settlements should peace talks fail.

The official warned of “unprecedented steps,” including explicit labeling of settlement products exported to Europe and even a possible ban on such items. The official also said that Europe threatened to halt its aid to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, offered no details as to when such measures might take effect. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment.

The European official said the threat to cut off aid was also made to Palestinian officials yesterday.

A halt in aid would be painful to both sides. For the Palestinians, it would likely bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. But for Israel, it could be even more painful by forcing it to assume responsibility for the 2.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank.

The threats are part of the carrot and stick approach of tough talk and incentives, which is being promoted by European officials. On Monday, EU foreign ministers pledged “unprecedented” political, financial and security support for Israel and the Palestinians if they reached a peace agreement. This would translate to increased access to European markets, closer cultural and scientific ties and promotion of business-to-business relations. The EU official said yesterday the package could include a “nonmember state” status for the Palestinians, giving them special access to European markets and resources.

The EU representative to the Palestinians, John Gatt-Rutter, yesterday met with the Palestinian president and prime minister to discuss the EU offer. He said the EU had urged Israel and the Palestinians “to seize the unique opportunity provided by the peace negotiations. By doing so and by providing a substantial offer of practical support, the EU has indicated its readiness, once more, to accompany both parties toward a just and lasting peace.”

Still, Europe has grown increasingly impatient with the stalemate.

Last week, EU auditors recommended that the bloc stop paying the salaries of Palestinian civil servants in Gaza who haven’t worked since Hamas seized the territory from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Abbas has continued to pay the idle workers to maintain political support in Gaza. But Israel’s settlement construction has rankled Europe in particular.

The 28-member EU already blocks goods produced in Israeli settlements from receiving customs exemptions other Israeli goods receive. Bloc officials are also considering measures to clearly label settlement products. The EU has already forced Israel to accept regulations barring EU funds from supporting Israeli projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other territories won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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