Thursday, December 13, 2012

Europe's 'dismay' over settlements

Europe's 'dismay' over settlements

Boaz Bismuth

European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss and condemn the Israeli government's recent decision to go ahead with a construction plan in the E1 area near Jerusalem. Perhaps these EU officials were inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize that the EU officially received on Monday in Oslo or maybe they were only acting in line with the consistent policies of European nations in recent years regarding Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria. While ignoring the horrific events in Syria and the bellicose statements of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, the EU found itself able to express "dismay" about Israeli settlement construction.

EU foreign ministers strongly oppose Israel's response to the unilateral step taken by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the U.N. General Assembly on November 29, but the EU is too divided to decide on sanctions against Israel right now. So while the EU condemned Israel's announcement of new settlement construction, it chose to reserve the right to impose sanctions at a later time, if Israel ends up actually implementing the E1 construction plan (which, by the way, was first announced by the government of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994).

On top of the reprimand meetings that Israeli ambassadors were summoned to in a number of European capitals last week, Monday's summit of EU foreign ministers gave the Europeans another opportunity to condemn Israeli settlement construction. One should remember that announcing construction in E1 was perhaps the least severe of the steps that Israel considered taking in response to the unilateral Palestinian U.N. bid. Other possible steps that were not taken included annexing parts of Judea and Samaria and toppling the Palestinian Authority.

Despite the Nobel Peace Prize that it received, the EU has trouble making unanimous decisions on foreign policy issues. It is tough to get 27 foreign ministers to sing with one voice and in recent days several European countries made a genuine attempt to soften the wording of the final version of the statement, which the EU released on Monday.

The Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and perhaps Germany are the leaders of the pro-Israel faction within the EU, while Sweden, Ireland and Portugal represent the faction that wants to take a stronger stand against Israel. For now, Britain and France are satisfied with having summoned Israeli ambassadors for reprimand meetings and are opposed to taking tougher steps against Israel.

The EU on Monday also called on the Palestinian Authority not to exploit its upgraded U.N. status by taking additional steps that would only reduce the chances of renewing peace negotiations. In the corridors of EU power in Brussels on Monday, the question was what direction the U.S. would take. It could push its allies in Europe to ease up on Israel. Or it might allow European pressure on Israel to mount, something that would dramatically increase Israel's dependence on the U.S.