EU under pressure to take stand on Trump ‘peace plan’

Brussels to discuss how to warn Israel ‘price to pay’ for annexing Palestinian territories

High representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy Josep Borrell: has compared Israel’s annexations to Russia’s actions in Crimea. Photograph:  Christof Stache

High representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy Josep Borrell: has compared Israel’s annexations to Russia’s actions in Crimea. Photograph: Christof Stache

 

Pressure is growing within the EU to issue a pre-emptive warning to Israel against its expected unilateral implementation of the Trump peace plan by permanently annexing swathes of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ireland, in the form of Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, on Sunday in Brussels joined six other “like-minded” EU states for informal talks ahead of Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers. These were animated by, as one diplomatic source put it, “a sense that something must be done now” to respond urgently to the Trump plan.

“There is a sense,” the diplomat said, “that Israel must understand there will be a specific price to pay in terms of its relationship with Europe if it goes ahead”.

Ministers from Sweden, Luxembourg, France, Slovenia, Spain and Portugal were also expected to attend.

Specific proposal for a list of punitive measures – trade sanctions, cutting co-operation programmes, and political recognition of the Palestinian state are among those mentioned – will not emerge at this stage, but there is an expectation that ministers will encourage high representative for foreign policy Josep Borrell to come up with options.

Parameters challenged

He has strongly condemned the US proposals published three weeks ago which, he said “clearly challenge the internationally agreed parameters. It is difficult to see how this initiative can bring both parties back to the table.” Sources say he has warned that the plan and annexations “change everything”.

Although the EU remains committed to its traditional stance of opposition to the illegal settlements and to attempts by Israel to resite its capital in Jerusalem pending a negotiated deal with the Palestinians, foreign ministers have found it more difficult to get the unanimity required for attempts to sanction Israel or criticise it more forcefully.

Borrell has been allowed to make the running with personal statements which have seen him comparing annexations to Russia’s actions in Crimea. “I would like to speak to the EU foreign ministers about the ideas that Europeans have, and what initiative we could follow to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians,” he told Die Welt this week.

Todays’s meeting comes just days after the UN controversially published a list of 112 companies doing business with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, drawing praise from human rights groups and denunciations from Israel and the US.

Anti-Semitic claims

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Thursday condemned the UN human rights office for publishing the list, accusing the organisation of “unrelenting anti-Israel bias”. 

Publication of the list was seen as a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has sought to pressure Israel economically over the settlements, The Israeli government views the BDS movement, which has supporters in many countries including in the United States, as an anti-Semitic plan to delegitimise Israel. BDS supporters deny the accusation.

Most of the listed companies are Israeli but a few are international companies, including Motorola Solutions, General Mills, Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Expedia from the US; Alstom and Egis Rail of France; and JC Bamford Excavators of Britain.

Supporters of a trade boycott are divided between a majority attempting to close down trade only with companies producing goods and services in the Occupied Territories, and a broader move to cut any links with Israel. Within the EU any moves would have to be agreed by the EU as a whole, as member states individually do not have a competence in trade.

Ministers on Monday at the meeting will also discuss how the EU can assist the UN to monitor the embargo on arms supplies to Libya. Agreement on the reactivation and redefinition of the EU’s Sophia naval operation is unlikely, however, as Austria is still vehemently opposed to putting ships back in the eastern Mediterranean, claiming these will simply act as a pull factor for illegal migration.