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Conflict in EU over backing Kerry’s mission

This posting has these items on conflicts in EU’s strategy towards Israel/Palestine:
1) European Voice: Ashton in power struggle over Middle East policy;
2) Ha’aretz: Netanyahu to Ashton: Planned EU statement on Israeli-Palestinian peace will impede Kerry’s attempts to restart talks, June 21;
3) EU: High Rep Catherine Ashton visits …Israel and Palestine , June 17;
4) Times of Israel: EU denies holding off on settlement product labeling , May 2013;
5) Deutsche Welle: Mideast caught up in strategic reorientation, Andreas Reinicke interviewed by German broadcaster DW, February 2013



Andreas Reinicke, the EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process. He was appointed by the Council of the EU on 23 January 2012, following the proposal of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.

Ashton in power struggle over Middle East policy

Foreign policy chief clashes with member states over EU’s position on the peace process.

By Andrew Gardner, European Voice
June 20, 2013

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, has sought and failed to remove the EU’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, in a battle with member states over policy-making for the region.

The member states fought back, and European Voice has been told of a confrontation between Ashton and their ambassadors to the EU’s political and security committee (PSC).

The struggle comes as Ashton seeks to shift the EU’s position on the Middle East peace process, apparently to align it more with that of the US.

Multiple accounts by diplomats and officials show that Ashton tried to remove Andreas Reinicke, a career diplomat from Germany who has held the post since February 2012.

In a series of initial exchanges between her staff and the member states’ ambassadors, Ashton said that she wanted to extend Reinicke’s mandate by just six months, as a prelude to removing him and eliminating the position. Reinicke’s mandate runs until 30 June.

The foreign policy chief made a rare personal visit to a meeting of PSC ambassadors on 7 June to press her argument, but her proposal was unanimously rejected. A source said that the ambassadors had taken the unusual step of meeting beforehand to co-ordinate their positions, without the chairman of the political and security committee (PSC), who is a member of her staff.

Ashton made clear that personal differences contributed to her desire to remove Reinicke, but she also said that she had concluded that she herself should step into the Middle East peace process. “We reminded her that she could do that at any time,” a diplomat said.

Ambassadors insisted that the position of a Middle East special envoy, which was created in 1996, should be maintained. Member states cover the costs of special envoys, and envoys answer to both the EU’s foreign policy chief and the member states.

The German government refused to comment on Ashton’s bid to remove Reinicke. A spokesperson for Ashton said: “The review is to make sure that we have the most adequate, effective and efficient set-up to deal with the respective issues.”

Although Ashton approved his appointment back in 2012, Reinicke has found himself sidelined. She is said to pay far greater heed to Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister who is now an envoy of the Middle East quartet – the United Nations, the United States, the EU and Russia.

The breakdown of relations between Ashton, Reinicke and the EU’s member states comes at a moment when several of the EU’s member states are chafing at how they have gone along with an American request to allow the new US secretary of state, John Kerry, space to pursue a diplomatic initiative with the Israelis and Palestinians.

These member states are alarmed that Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear programme and Egypt’s troubles have diverted international attention from the continued building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. Such settlements threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

Europe is not “a cheerleader” to be brought on and off court, one diplomat said, noting that last year the EU was “the only international actor keeping alight the sacred flame of the two-state solution”, with the US “out of the picture for a year”.

A desire to accommodate the request from the US, the strongest international actor in the region, ensured that the early phases of preparations for a meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers on Monday (24 June) were dominated by a debate about whether or not member states should issue any conclusions at all on the Middle East peace process.

Ashton would have preferred no conclusions. A decision has been taken to issue conclusions in some form, but Ashton’s team is trying to ensure that they are as non-committal as possible.

Last May, the EU’s foreign ministers issued a strong statement warning that “developments on the ground” – the construction of settlements on occupied territory – “threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”.



Netanyahu to Ashton: Planned EU statement on Israeli-Palestinian peace will impede Kerry’s attempts to restart talks

Version of statement supported by France and Britain criticizes Israel for continued settlement construction and calls for forcing labels on products from West Bank settlements when marketed in Europe.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
June 21, 2013

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to EU foreign policy chief Christine Ashton to withhold a planned joint statement by the 27 foreign ministers of the EU member states, during their meeting Monday. The statement would condemn Israel for construction in West Bank settlements and lay out principles for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The European Union’s foreign ministers will convene in Brussels Monday for their regular monthly meeting. One item on the agenda is the Middle Eastern peace process. A senior Israeli official has told Haaretz that a group of countries headed by France and Britain are pressing for the ministers to make a joint statement on the European Union’s position on the conflict at the end of the meeting. However, a group of EU nations, headed by Germany and Italy, are opposed to making such a move.

Various drafts of the statement have reached Jerusalem in recent days. The [version] drafted by France, Britain and other countries, is [said to] be long and detailed, similar to the one made in May 2012. It denounces Israel for settlement construction and calls for labeling in Europe products that come from West Bank settlements. It likewise criticizes the limitations Israel imposes on Palestinians living in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under full Israeli control, as designated in the Oslo Accords. The announcement also refers to European proposals for resolving the conflict, including the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu told Ashton at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem that the timing of this announcement, only two days before the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, will hinder American efforts to restart negotiations.

“The contents of the announcement are unworthy and the timing is unhelpful and even harmful,” Netanyahu told Ashton. “The announcement will only encourage the Palestinians to refrain from returning to the negotiating table. With this announcement, the Palestinians will think it worth their while to wait until Kerry’s efforts fail, since the Europeans will support them in any case, laying the responsibility for failure on Israel’s shoulders.”

Ashton, who is working in coordination with Kerry, is not pleased with the British-French initiative. She believes that any announcement at the end of Monday’s meeting should be terse, stressing the Union’s support for Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations. “My position is that Kerry’s channel is the only game in town,” Ashton told Netanyahu. “That’s the message I will convey to the foreign ministers.”

Netanyahu also spoke with Ashton about the proposal in the European Union to officially list Hezbollah as a terrorist group. For a second time in two weeks, the topic was raised at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Friday. No consensus was reached and the topic will most likely come up at Monday’s meeting of foreign ministers. Sources at Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that for various reasons Austria, Ireland and the Czech Republic are against placing Hezbollah on the terror list, as proposed by Germany, Britain and France.

Netanyahu told Ashton that he hopes these countries will lift their objections. “If Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, I don’t know what is,” he said. “I hope there is a European consensus on this issue. I can’t understand why this is still not the case. Hezbollah is assisting in the massacres in Syria and is murdering civilians around the world, including on European soil, as we saw in Bulgaria, and as was tried in Cyprus.”



Lady Ashton meets with PM Netanyahu, June 20, 2013. Photo by AP.

High Representative Catherine Ashton visits Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Palestine

Media release, EC
June 17, 2013

Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the Commission, travels over the coming days to Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Palestine.

On Sunday in Jordan, she had an audience with H.M. King Abdullah II, and held talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

On Monday in Iraq, she met Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Speaker of the Council of Representatives Usama Nujaifi, Deputy Prime Minister Sharistiani, and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, as well as Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

On Monday and Tuesday in Lebanon, the High Representative will have discussions with President Michel Suleiman, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Azmi Mikati, Prime Minister-designate Tamman Salam and caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour. Together with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, she will visit a community centre in Beirut which is helping out Syrian refugees.

On Tuesday and Wednesday in Egypt, she will meet President Mohammed Morsi, Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr as well as other senior ministers and opposition leaders. She will also discuss latest developments in the region with Nabil al-Araby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the High Representative will have talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. She will also meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. On Thursday Catherine Ashton will visit Gaza where she will meet UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi.

Catherine Ashton said:

This is a very timely visit to the region, coming against the backdrop of US efforts to restart Middle East peace talks. I will explore the possibility to further support these efforts and for the Israelis and Palestinians to re-engage in efforts towards a negotiated solution.

I look forward to discussing how the European Union can continue to help the transition in Egypt.

The visit will also give me the chance to underline the EU’s increased support for the all those affected by the fighting in Syria. I pay tribute to all neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees.

I will also pass on our concern at the recent violence in Iraq and our desire to help Iraq get its transition back on track.



EU denies holding off on settlement product labeling

Nobody tried to dissuade us from labeling goods from beyond the Green Line, Europeans say; diplomatic source says US probably did suggest a delay

By Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel
May 20, 2013

The European Union on Monday denied a report that claimed it had frozen a plan to label imported Israeli goods produced beyond the Green Line. But a diplomatic source in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel on Monday that the US probably did approach the Europeans and suggest they hold off the introduction of a labeling regime for settlement products.

A report in Haaretz on Sunday quoted “European diplomats and senior officials in Jerusalem” as saying that after US pressure the EU agreed to hold off on the move until the end of June.

But an EU spokesperson said legislation to label settlement goods was ongoing.

“Contrary to what was recently reported in the Israeli media, work on the effective enforcement of EU legislation with regard to the labeling of settlement products has not been delayed. Nor has the EU been asked to postpone such work,” a spokesperson of the EU delegation in Israel said in a statement Monday.

The Haaretz report quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that Jerusalem recently asked Washington to intervene, in an effort to block or delay the EU move to label settlement goods. According to the official, Israel even appealed directly to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

As a result of Israel’s lobbying, the implementation of the labeling scheme, which was expected to be approved at an EU Foreign Affairs meeting next week, had been delayed until June, the report said.

The EU commission made the initial decision to label settlement goods in May 2012, but is working on legislating guidelines to implement the decision.

According to European officials quoted in the report, the Americans said that the labeling plan would complicate renewed US and EU efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The delay was conditional on progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and if no breakthrough is forthcoming, the EU will initiate the labeling plan, an Israeli official was quoted as saying.

Despite the EU’s insistence that no one asked it to postpone its labeling plans, a diplomatic source in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel on Monday that it was “likely” that the Americans approached the Europeans and suggested they hold off on any moves that could upset either side on the Israeli-Palestinian divide, including the introduction of a labeling regime for settlement products.

The EU has for several months been working toward enacting guidelines that would require retailers to label Israeli goods produced beyond the pre-1967 lines as not having originated in Israel. Several EU states, including the UK and the Netherlands, have declared their support for such measures; the South African government introduced similar steps recently.

Last week, former US president Jimmy Carter endorsed the EU’s plans to label settlement goods, saying such a measure would pressure Israel into restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. “The EU has repeatedly condemned settlement expansion in the West Bank. It could therefore introduce a clear labeling of products made in Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” he said.

“The question of so-called labeling is one of the issues where the Europeans just want to make sure that, according to our consumer laws, the consumers have the information they want to have,” the EU’s special representative to the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Andreas Reinicke, told reporters in Jerusalem earlier this month.

The EU recognizes Israel only in its pre-1967 borders, and an increasing number of states are in favor of labeling Israeli products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. While last year only one or two countries recommended that retailers label such goods, currently 13 of the EU’s 27 member states are considering similar measures, Reinicke said.

“The settlement issue for us Europeans is a very important issue because we are increasingly convinced that the increasing number of settlements endangers the two-state solution, because it makes it factually impossible,” Reinicke said.

Israel vehemently opposes any efforts to impose labeling requirements for settlement goods, arguing that such policies are discriminatory in that they single out Israel while ignoring territorial disputes elsewhere.

During a meeting with Reinicke on May 8, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin tried to dissuade the ambassador from imposing a labeling regime on settlement products.

“Labeling products is a negative phenomenon that will ultimately hurt the Palestinian economy and the Palestinians who work in factories” in the West Bank, Elkin told Reinicke. “It’s too bad that this phenomenon is being allowed to expand instead of stopping it completely.”

Gavriel Fiske and JTA contributed to this report.


Mideast caught up in strategic reorientation

Interview on Deutsche Welle
February 21, 2013

The EU’s Middle East envoy Andreas Reinicke believes Egypt will continue to play a constructive role in the region in the future. He also urges Israel’s new government to agree to a two-state peace solution.

DW: An estimated 70,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war so far. Following an alleged Israeli airstrike, Iran and Syria recently threatened retaliation. Egypt faces continued violent clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. Have you ever considered, over the past weeks, giving up your job as EU envoy for the Middle East peace process?

Andreas Reinicke: No, but I have considered doubling the job or the working hours. But of course, you are right. The situation in Syria above all is worrying and tragic. You’ve indicated the air strike on a site near Damascus. This is just another factor that shows just how difficult the security situation is in Syria, also relating to its neighbors. We have the additional problem of the Syrian poison gas potential that everyone is worried about and we have the problem of the Palestinian refugees. There are about one million Palestinian refugees in Syria who are trying to remain as neutral as possible because they have no alternative to turn to. Some have meanwhile fled to Jordan and Lebanon and you can only suspect the problems that will entail.

Egypt has often played a very constructive and important role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in the wider Mideast in general, in the past. Do you believe Egypt can assume this role in the future with a government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after remarks by Egypt’s President Morsi were recently made public that could possibly cast doubt on such a move?

We must acknowledge that the entire Arab world and the region are also caught up in a phase of strategic reorientation. Previous coalitions no longer really work and there has been a change in players. We’ve mentioned Syria, Morsi and Egypt are another area. Saudi Arabia is seeking a new role and the Gulf States also wonder what the future will bring in relation to their ties with Iran. That adds up to many new constellations.

What is clear is that Egypt will play a weighty role even under the new president. I am in touch with the Egyptians to discuss the possibilities, and it is a long-drawn out discussion process. But Egypt realizes it must be constructive, and it has in fact shown in the case of the Gaza conflict that it is in a position to play a constructive role.

So you do not fear that Egypt will constrain rather than drive the Mideast peace process?

I believe all states, including Egypt, realize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a problem that must be solved. They know their actual problems are domestic. And they also know that the Palestinian conflict is a problem that causes unrest in the entire Arab world. A solution is in everyone’s interest, also in Egypt’s. But it is a difficult route and we hope that, with the new US administration and the willpower of the EU and its 27 member states, we can make a new attempt this year and make some headway.

You’ve mentioned the US whose commitment is generally regarded as indispensible for a chance at success in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Do you see any signs- and are you hopeful – that President Obama will make a fresh start in the peace process during his second term in office?

The US plays an important and decisive role in the solution of the conflict, we all know that. But the Europeans will also play an increasingly important role, the European Foreign Ministers have repeatedly made remarks along those lines over the past months.

We’ve heard US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in the Senate hearing, showing the significance he attaches to the issue. The coming weeks and months will show how things develop. In any case, the EU, foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and I are in close contact with the US administration to explore the means and routes how we can take these steps together.

What do you expect from the new Israeli government – itself an important part of any solution to the Mideast conflict?

We expect the new government, currently still in the process of being formed, to be open to a two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted it in his speech at Bar Ilan University and we would like to see the new government take up his route and be open to negotiations just as we expect the Palestinians to continue to be open to talks after the UN General Assembly vote.

Apart from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the debate about the Iranian nuclear program is another hotspot for the entire region. The US and Israel recently once again said they would not tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons and again said they would not exclude a military option. What is the EU’s position on this issue?

You know the EU and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have a Security Council mandate to hold the E3+3 (Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China – the ed.) talks with Iran. We have been negotiating for quite a while, with great patience and seriousness. We will continue in that vein for the time being and hope the Iranian government will understand how serious the situation is – and recognize the chances and opportunities the new US administration offers them.

Andreas Reinicke served as Germany’s ambassador to Syria from 2008 to 2012. He was appointed the EU’s special envoy for the Mideast Peace Process in February 2012.

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