Still building in the illegal settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, Dec. 28, 2016. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters
The European Union is considering establishing a P4+1 group, without the United States, dealing separately with the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iran file.
By Uri Savir, trans. Inga Michaeli, Al Monitor/Israel Pulse
January 08, 2017
There is unprecedented concern and alarm at European Union headquarters with Israel’s accelerated settlement and annexation policies.
The EU leadership and some of its leading member states consider themselves as the real architects of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 on the Israeli settlements. Indeed, France joined forces with Egypt and the Palestinians for the drafting of the resolution proposal — with the United States being informed. From the French point of view, the upcoming Jan. 15 Paris Conference, the July Quartet report and the Security Council resolution are part of an ensemble of moves designed to revive a two-state solution process.
A senior official close to High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Quartet report and the Security Council resolution serve as a basis for the EU’s 2017 policies on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In that respect, the Dec. 28 speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry correlated perfectly with the EU stance. According to the EU official, “Secretary Kerry reflected the EU consensus on the permanent status issue, although some European states, such as Spain, take more pro-Palestinian positions.”
The official added that the EU shares Kerry’s alarm on the new Israeli annexation policies, stating that “this tendency is a dangerous watershed, as reflected by the [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu initiated settlement legalization bill. The EU is determined to prevent Israeli annexation measures, using all the means at its disposal.”
Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London are currently discussing the possibilities at hand vis-a-vis Israel’s new annexation policy, reflected already in four areas. The first being the Regularization law, which legalizes illegal West Bank settlements. The second is the accelerated Israeli construction in the Jerusalem area, to prevent any contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Then there is the issue of Israeli economic expansion in Area C (under Israeli control), which the EU considers a de-facto annexation of the area (60% of the West Bank). The last point is the paramount role of Education Minister Naftali Bennet and his party HaBayit HaYehudi in leading the government to adopt extreme right policies.
According to the official, the EU intends to take more stringent measures against annexation policies of the Israeli government compared with the measures it took in previous years on settlement expansion. “The two-state solution must remain the only viable realistic option to be advanced by the international community,” he said.
The measures that are being explored by EU policy planners are more rigid labelling of goods from Israeli settlements, sanctioning Israeli institutions and individuals prominently active on settlement expansion along the lines of the sanctions against Russia on the Ukraine occupation (Germany is against using this measure), and encouraging the International Court of Justice in The Hague to investigate Israeli legal infringements of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
With Resolution 2334 adopted, the next step on the international agenda is the Paris Conference on a two-state solution. More than 50 foreign ministers have been invited, and it is expected that Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend, as will the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
A French diplomat told Al-Monitor that Israel should perceive the conference as another last-minute warning against its annexation policies.
Both Paris and Brussels realize that the Donald Trump administration could offer Israel a free pass to settlement expansion, at least within the settlement blocs and in the Jerusalem area. Thus, Europe wants to create a global consensus, isolating Israel and the United States. The French Foreign Ministry is coordinating policies on the settlement issue with Russia and China. The purpose is to create one P4+1 group (namely France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China + Germany, without the United States) that will deal separately with the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iran file. Such a group would then initiate a dialogue with the new administration on the United States joining the two forums. The issue of sanctions against Israel will await reports on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2334.
Official Israel, while exaggerating the hostile nature of the resolution, is not taking the European warning seriously. A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official told Al-Monitor that Netanyahu is convinced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will prevent any discussion of sanctions beyond the existing labelling of settlement goods. In Netanyahu’s views of 2017, the international system will be led only by the Trump administration with some coordination with Russia, sidelining the EU.
But Netanyahu is wrong. Even after the UN Security Council vote, with only the United States abstaining, he does not seem to realize that the EU, China and Russia share the same position. Such a broad agreement could advance diplomatic moves in the spirit of the European plans, even without the new US administration. A global consensus against settlements (even without the United States) can lead, at a later point, to severe European countermeasures, especially since the EU is Israel’s leading trading partner.
If President-elect Trump gives Netanyahu a green light on settlement expansion, Israel will suffer growing international isolation and endanger its very identity as a Jewish democracy.