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Turning point: when Europe lost patience with Israel

Last updated 6.12.12

This posting has 5 items:
1) Al Jazeera: Israel rejects outcry over settlement plan;
2) FCO: Foreign Office Minister summons Israeli Ambassador to express deep concern about settlement policy;
3) Spiegel: ‘This Time, Israel Has Defied the Whole World’;
4) BBC news: UK and France summon Israeli envoys in settlements row;
5) Foreign Policy: How Israel lost Europe;

PM Netanyahu and French President François Hollande, who told Netanyahu last October that the two countries had “divergences on Occupation, which we want to see halted.” See item 5, How Israel lost Europe. Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Israel rejects outcry over settlement plan

Moves by UK, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden are in protest to Israel’s plan to build 3,000 homes on Palestinian land.

By Al Jazeera
December 04, 2012

A defiant Israel has rejected a wave of American and European condemnations over plans to build thousands of new homes in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements, vowing to press forward with the construction in the face of widespread international opposition.

The UK, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden on Monday summoned Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries to protest Israel’s plans to build more settler homes.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel would continue to stand up for its interests “even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision taken”.

The announcement from Netanyahu’s office was likely to deepen a rift that has emerged between Israel and some of its closest allies following the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian state last week.

Russia and Germany have also expressed opposition to the building of additional settlements, and the White House issued a statement urging the “Israeli leader to reconsider their unilateral decisions”.

The official twitter-account of Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs said that, “Israeli construction on Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 is illegal, unrecognised and condemned by Russia and internationally.”

Media reports on Monday also said France and Britain were considering recalling their ambassadors to Israel over the plans.

Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela, reporting from London, said that the British government was “frustrated not only by the scale of this expansion…but also by the timing of the announcement.”

French President Francois Hollande said he was deeply concerned about the effect it could have on the peace process.

“I said, as the French foreign minister did, that we are highly pre-occupied by what was announced by the Israeli government – the installation of new colonies composed of 3000 settlements with all the consequences it could have on the peace process,” said Hollande on Monday.

‘Fatal blow’
The decision to build in a key area east of Jerusalem, called E1, sparked a storm of diplomatic protest from Washington and Brussels as well as from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who on Sunday warned it would deal an “almost fatal blow” to the prospects of resolving the conflict.

E1 is a highly contentious area of the West Bank that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians bitterly oppose the project, as it would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and sever it from Jerusalem, and make the creation of a viable Palestinian state even more problematic.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that Sweden wants to “urge the Israeli government to take a step back”.

“We had anticipated that they would be ready now to enter into direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians after the vote in the UN, and instead, we are extremely concerned over the announcement that we’ve heard from the Israeli government,” said Bildt.

Josh Lockman, a professor of international law at the University of Southern California, said Israel’s reaction to Palestine’s new UN status brings into doubt its “genuine commitment to a two-state solution”.

Foreign Office Minister summons Israeli Ambassador to express deep concern about settlement policy

By FCO, media release
December 03, 2012

FCO Minister Alistair Burt: “Israeli Government has not heeded the calls that we and others had made for Israel to avoid reacting to the UN General Assembly resolution in a way that undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks.”

Speaking after summoning Israeli Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub to the Foreign Office this morning, Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said:

This morning I met Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, who was formally summoned to the Foreign Office. Mr Taub was summoned following the Israeli decisions to build 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, to unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority. I set out the depth of the UK’s concern about these decisions and I called on the Israeli government to reverse them. The settlements plan in particular has the potential to alter the situation on the ground on a scale that threatens the viability of a two state solution.

I also made clear that the strength of our reaction stems from our disappointment that the Israeli Government has not heeded the calls that we and others had made for Israel to avoid reacting to the UN General Assembly resolution in a way that undermines the Palestinian Authority or a return to talks.

Earlier this morning, a Foreign Office spokesperson said:

We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two state solution.

We have called on the Israeli government to reverse this decision. The Israeli Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, has been formally summoned to the Foreign Office this morning by the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt. The Minister set out the depth of the UK’s concerns.

Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union.

‘This Time, Israel Has Defied the Whole World’

Europe is furious with Israel for its plan to build 3,000 new settler units to punish the Palestinians, following their elevation to “non-member observer status” in the UN last week. While sanctions appear not to be on the table, German commentators say it is time to get tough with Israeli premier Netanyahu.

By Charles Hawley, Spiegel Online
December 04, 2012

One might think that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Wednesday visit to Berlin could provide for some fireworks. He has come under significant criticism from the European Union for Israel’s announcement last Friday that it would build 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Britain and France denied reports on Monday that they were considering recalling their ambassadors from Israel, though both nations, in addition to Sweden, did vent their anger by summoning the Israeli ambassadors to voice their concerns.

On Tuesday, cooler heads seem to be prevailing. British Foreign Secretary William Hague ruled out the possibility of European sanctions on Israel. “I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union … about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel,” he said. “I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach.” France too has indicated that it would not pursue sanctions. Furthermore, despite Merkel’s own warning on the settlement construction plan — her spokesman said on Monday that the chancellor was “extremely concerned” — it seems more likely that the experienced stateswoman would chide Netanyahu in private rather than openly.

Still, anger is widespread in Europe at the Israeli plan, announced shortly after the United Nations voted last week to grant the Palestinians “non-member observer status,” essentially recognizing a state of Palestine. In addition to the settlement program, Israel also announced it would withhold more than $100 million in tax revenue due the Palestinians this month in response.

Further Steps?
“We deplore the recent Israeli decision to build 3,000 new housing units,” the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

The Palestinians, too, are seeking to use their newfound status to exert pressure on Israel to halt the settlement expansion plan. Having been granted UN observer status, the Palestinians now have access to the International Criminal Court — and on Tuesday they threatened to pursue war crimes charges against Israel should the construction go ahead.

Europe, too, has not completely backed away from applying pressure on Israel. Hague said on Tuesday that the focus remains on bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table. But, he added, “if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take.”

German commentators take a closer look at the brewing conflict on Tuesday.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

One can only encourage the chancellor to use Netanyahu’s planned construction of settlements in the West Bank as an opportunity to take the hardliner to task. Because what Netanyahu is planning makes a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians impossible.

The construction of settlements has long been the source of discord in the Middle East conflict. But Netanyahu wants more. … Clearly Netanyahu doesn’t want a Palestinian state. Even if Berlin, Paris and London pull their ambassadors out together, as long has he has the fundamental support of the US for his course of action, he won’t be dissuaded from it. But it would be fatal if the Palestinians — and, indirectly, the Arab states — were to turn away from Germany and Europe in disappointment.

Anyone who gives up on the Palestinian goal of an independent state is arguing against European interests. Of course, a German chancellor must choose her words carefully, given the background of Nazi history. But it is exactly this history that obligates Germany to criticize the repressive measures taken by a government like Netanyahu’s.

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

Netanyahu wants to punish the Palestinians because President Mahmoud Abbas applied for ‘non-member observer state’ status at the United Nations…. But Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land are a violation of international law, against which the Palestinians could take action within the framework of the United Nations. With his approach, Netanyahu isn’t just awaking the suspicion that he is not interested in resuming peace negotiations. Rather, his government is creating facts on the ground indicating a creeping annexation of the West Bank. The prime minister is provoking both the Palestinians and the international community. A number of European capitals called in Israeli ambassadors to voice concern.

If the international community wants to prevent the door to peace from closing completely, they should try to persuade Netanyahu to change his strategy from punishment to negotiation.

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

This is typical of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, but it’s not clever. Revenge is never a good counselor — and in the end the damage to Israel could be greater than to the Palestinians. The sharp reactions from Washington as well as London and Paris and Berlin show that Israel has gone too far.

Sure, the government in Jerusalem has long since gotten used to protests from all over the world against every new settler home it builds. Even though international law forbids the settlement of the Jewish population on Palestinian land occupied since 1967, around half a million Israelis live there now. Breaking the law has long since become routine — and has even become a ritual with which every Palestinian transgression is punished. But this time, Israel hasn’t just punished the Palestinians — it has defied the whole world.

Of the 193 UN member states, only eight voted together with Israel against elevating the status of the Palestinians. That very clearly shows the growing isolation of the Jewish state. Psychologically, the fact that Israel should dare to show the global community the finger after such a vote can probably only be explained as a mixture of defiance and megalomania.

It’s up to Israel’s friends to show Netanyahu where the limits lie. Protests alone will evaporate — nothing less than the withdrawal of the announced plan is warranted now. If Netanyahu isn’t prepared to do that, he and his voters should know that he risks losing the support of the last remaining allies. Angela Merkel will have the opportunity to convey this to the Israeli premier at their dinner on Wednesday. She should do that as clearly as possible in the interest of Germany and Israel.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

The announcement of plans to build 3,000 new homes in the particularly delicate ‘E1’ area east of Jerusalem is another kind of punishment for the Palestinians, and is likely to lead to long-term international isolation of Israel. The housing plans would essentially divide the West Bank into two halves and largely cut off the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, which they want to make the capital of their future state.

The German government didn’t go as far as France, the UK or Sweden, who all summoned their Israeli ambassadors, marking a clear diplomatic escalation. But Berlin did speak — even just before the German-Israeli government consultations in Berlin — of a ‘negative message’ by which ‘Israel is … undermining confidence in its readiness to negotiate.’ When have we last heard such tones from the German government directed at their Israeli partners?

Israel should acknowledge that the international community wants to find a two-state solution in the Middle East to finally put an end to the long-lasting conflict. The question is no longer whether, but how that will be accomplished.

UK and France summon Israeli envoys in settlements row

By BBC news
December 03, 2012

Britain and France have both summoned Israeli ambassadors in protest at Israel’s decision to approve the construction of 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The UK said the move would cast doubt on Israel’s “stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians”.

Israel authorised the 3,000 additional housing units a day after the UN voted to upgrade Palestinian status.

An official close to the prime minister said Israel would not change its mind.

“Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made,” an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Sweden has also summoned the Israeli ambassador, while Russia and Germany have expressed their opposition to the settlement plans.

The UN has warned the homes would be “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes.

‘Preliminary zoning’
In a statement, the UK Foreign Office said it was urging Israel to reconsider, and threatened a “strong reaction” if the homes went ahead.

It said: “We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two state solution.”

Plans for construction in the E1 area – between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim – are strongly opposed by Palestinians, who say such development will prevent the creation of acontiguous Palestinian state.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier warned that the E1 plans would have to be rescinded.

“It would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution,” Mr Ban said.

An Israeli official has described the proposals in the E1 zone as “preliminary zoning and planning work”.

The Israeli envoy to Paris was summoned to a meeting on Monday morning, French foreign ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, said in a statement.

The BBC’s Peter Biles says the UK is coordinating closely with France in sending a clear warning signal to Israel, but he says a suggestion in the Israeli press that Britain and France may recall their ambassadors in protest seems unlikely at this stage.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin: “Israel is undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate and the geographic space for a future Palestinian state, which must be the basis for a two-state solution, is disappearing.”

The Russian foreign ministry website said the move would have “a most adverse impact” on peace.

Israel has condemned the Palestinians’ diplomatic move at the UN as a “gross violation” of previous agreements with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also brushed off criticism of the settlement plans.

“We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” he said.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Two decades of on-off negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have failed to produce a permanent settlement, with the latest round of direct negotiations breaking down in 2010.


By Jonathan Marcus, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

The British and French governments have made their displeasure at Israel’s latest settlement announcement clear, and there are hints that further steps could be taken.

The threat to build in the area designated E1, east of Jerusalem, has especially annoyed Western governments – indeed, successive US administrations have been given assurances by Israel that it would not build there. Construction in E1 would pose a major obstacle to a contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank and divide such an entity from Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital.

Indications from Israel had suggested that its initial response to the UN General Assembly vote granting the Palestinians permanent observer status would be largely rhetorical. There’s a sense in the air that the diplomatic climate is changing but no real evidence as yet that Washington – the critical player – is again ready to invest in the elusive quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

How Israel lost Europe

How Benjamin Netanyahu lost friends and Mahmoud Abbas influenced people.

By Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal, Foreig Policy
November 30, 2012

BERLIN — There was never much doubt that the U.N. General Assembly would overwhelmingly vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to the status of nonmember state on Nov. 29. The big surprise of the event was that a number of key Western European countries did not join the United States and vote against the resolution. The Czech Republic was the only European country to vote against the upgrade, and shockingly, the normally staunchly pro-Israeli governments of Germany and Britain decided to abstain. Does this mean that Israel has lost Europe?

Germany’s surprising decision, in the eleventh hour, to shift from opposing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to abstaining on it was reportedly tied to the question of Israel’s ongoing construction of settlements in the West Bank — a recent source of contention in European capitals. Germany appears to have taken this opportunity to address the conflict on the world stage.

This decision was especially shocking to Israelis given Germany’s historical relationship with the Jewish state. Chancellor Angela Merkeldeclared in a 2008 speech before the Knesset that she supported Israel’s right to defend itself and that only the Israelis and Palestinians — without external interference — could negotiate a two-state solution.

“Every German chancellor before me has shouldered Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security,” Merkel said then. “This historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’être. For me as German chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.”

The Federal Republic has based a large chunk of its devotion to Israel’s security on the notion ofWiedergutmachung, or reparations for the German crimes against European Jewry during the Holocaust.

Although Germany likes to present itself as Israel’s strongest ally in Europe, the relationship has often been shaky. Take the example of Christoph Heusgen, Merkel’s national security advisor and Middle East point man, who in 2009 — a year after the chancellor’s speech before the Knesset — sought to convince U.S. envoys to weaken Washington’s opposition to the United Nations’ Goldstone Report, which alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza during that year’s Operation Cast Lead.

According to a WikiLeaked cable from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin at the time, Heusgen “thought [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu needed ‘to do more’ in order [to] bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. With Palestinians in East Jerusalem getting notices from Israeli authorities that their houses will be destroyed, it would be ‘suicide’ for President Abbas to move under the current circumstances.”

The cable continued: “Heusgen said he could not fathom why Netanyahu did not understand this. He suggested pressuring Netanyahu by linking favorable UNSC [U.N. Security Council] treatment of the Goldstone Report to Israel committing to a complete stop in settlement activity.”

In 2010, Merkel and Netanyahu had a heated telephone exchange over the settlements issue, and the relationship further frayed over Germany’s decision this year to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s representation in Berlin to that of a full diplomatic mission with an ambassador.

Germany’s U.N. abstention on Nov. 29 may also have been driven by domestic calculations. Specifically, Merkel may inherit the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as a coalition partner in a new government in elections in late 2013. This month, SPD officials hosted representatives of Palestine’s ruling Fatah party at the SPD’s Berlin headquarters and published a joint declaration affirming a “strategic partnership” between the two parties.

Meanwhile, France’s relations with Israel have been uneasy for more than a decade. Famously, in 2001, France’s ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard, called Israel “that shitty little country.” More recently, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy offended the Israelis with his famous hot-mic fiasco at the 2011 G-20 meeting, in which he told U.S. President Barack Obama he couldn’t stand Netanyahu (and Obama concurred).

During Sarkozy’s tenure, France was also a vocal proponent of upgrading the Palestinian status at UNESCO. When the Paris-based UNESCO granted the Palestinians member-state status, U.S. law compelled the Obama administration to withhold its $80 million annual contribution to the organization. Washington registered its displeasure with the move in no uncertain terms. As State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated, the vote was “regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Sarkozy’s successor, François Hollande, did not let the financial blow to this Paris-based organization get in the way of his support for the Palestinians at the United Nations. Hollande has made clear that the settlement issue is a priority for his government. “It erodes the building of trust between the sides and constitutes an obstacle to a just peace, based on a two-state solution,” said France’s Foreign Ministry in a statement this month.

In a late-October meeting with Netanyahu in Paris, Hollande said that the two countries had “divergences on occupation, which we want to see halted.”

Although Hollande has played his cards close to the vest, he announced this week that he would support Abbas’s bid. His position against the Jewish state was particularly startling given the recent uptick in anti-Semitic violence that has rocked France in recent years, forcing Paris and Jerusalem to jointly deal with this disturbing trend.

With France pushing for Palestinian statehood and Germany largely sitting out the fight, other European governments soon cast their votes in favor of Abbas’s bid too.

According to one European diplomat well versed in Spain’s foreign policy, Hollande capitalized on the weak Spanish economy to push Madrid to vote for the PLO’s upgrade. “France knows our weakness — the bank crisis — and expanded it to foreign policy,” he said. In short, the diplomat noted that Spain had joined France as part of a bloc of countries — including Italy and Portugal — in exchange for France’s protection in upcoming rounds of austerity talks.

The diplomat also noted that Spain is attempting to obtain a seat on the U.N. Security Council and that the vote may have been a way to court favor from Arab countries.

Israel could once count on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s staunch support, but this has given way to successor Mario Monti’s cold shoulder. Monti’s support for the Palestinian bid was an about-face from Italy’s position when Abbas attempted a similar maneuver one year ago.

(As for the now-isolated Czechs, Prague’s decision to veto the PLO’s move came as no surprise. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has dubbed noble-born Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg the “Zionist prince” for his support during Operation Cast Lead.)

Israel’s brief war against Hamas in Gaza this month may also have had an impact on EU decision-makers. Faced with the PLO’s deepening irrelevance and the growing potency of Hamas and its Iranian military arsenal on Israel’s southern border, Israeli officials say that the Europeans may have wanted to give the nonviolent Abbas a moment in the sun. In other words, they wished to demonstrate approval for bureaucratic and legal strategies over the brutal violence of Abbas’s rivals in Gaza.

So, after the better part of a decade of diplomacy between PLO embassies and their host governments from Latin America to the Levant, Abbas won his diplomatic upgrade.

Israel, for its part, made no diplomatic overtures to counter Abbas’s whirlwind tour of European capitals over the last two years, which included multiple visits to multiple capitals, including Berlin. The Israelis produced no tangible alternative to persuade European leaders from voting for the upgrade. Abbas badly outflanked Netanyahu, while Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who remains widely reviled among Europeans, did not exercise the diplomatic finesse necessary to keep Israel’s continental allies at his side.

In fairness, Israel always faced an uphill battle in Europe, where Muslim populations are on the rise and pro-Palestinian sentiments continue to gain traction. From the EU’s perspective, Israel’s long-standing recalcitrance over settlements and the rise of Hamas probably made support for Abbas inevitable.

But for Netanyahu to find himself all alone, with only a reluctant partner in Washington and seven other countries by his side, must surely have come as a shock.

Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow and reports on European affairs for the Jerusalem Post.

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