Endgame of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

EU warns Israel not to announce new settlement building after prisoner release

Ambassadors call urgent meeting at Foreign Ministry, warning that Israel will be held responsible for failure of talks.

By  | Dec. 17, 2013 | 2:23 AM |  16
Ma'aleh Adumim

Palestinians ride on a donkey near homes in the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem. November 13, 2013. Photo by Reuters

The European Union is pressuring Israel and the Palestinians to make progress in the peace talks. The five largest EU states told Israel on Monday that if it declares construction of new settlements after the planned release of Palestinian prisoners at the end of this month, and the talks collapse, Israel will be held responsible.

Earlier Monday, foreign ministers of the 28 European Union member states passed a resolution – whose draft was first published in Haaretz last Friday – stating that in the case of a peace treaty, both Israel and the Palestinians would receive an “unprecedented package” of economic, political and security aid, and both sides’ relations with the EU would be upgraded to “special privileged partnership,” the top status of a nonmember state of the EU.

A senior European diplomat said that several hours after the resolution was passed, the ambassadors to Israel of Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain requested an urgent meeting with Nissim Ben-Shitrit, the acting director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The European message to Ben-Shitrit was coordinated with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who might return to the region this week for yet another round of talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Kerry is hoping to present both sides, by the end of January, with a framework for a treaty that would address all core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water and settlements.

The dual EU message offers both carrot and stick. A senior EU diplomat said the two messages were equally powerful and were conveyed equally in conversation.

“We gave you an offer which is truly unprecedented. We are really serious about the offer, and we ask that you don’t underestimate it. We are ready to discuss with you right now how the future of EU-Israel relations might look if there is movement toward peace,” the ambassadors told Ben-Shitrit.

While stressing the possible benefits of a peace treaty, the ambassadors also focused on the third group of Palestinian prisoners, due to be released on December 29. They noted their extreme concern that Israel would announce new tenders for construction of thousands of housing units in the settlements, as it did following the two previous rounds of prisoner releases.

“New announcements of settlement activity after the third round of prisoner releases at the end of the month might be a fatal blow for the peace process,” the ambassadors said, requesting that Israel refrain from such a move, adding that if such a move would lead to the end of the talks, Israel would be held responsible.

Israeli diplomats in London, Berlin, Rome, Madrid and Paris were also summoned to the respective foreign ministries Monday, where they heard the same message.

On Tuesday, the five EU states will hold similar talks with the Palestinians, with the five consuls in Jerusalem due to meet with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, and Palestinian representatives in Europe due to be summoned to the foreign ministries.

The senior European official said that the message to the Palestinians would be equally severe, and that the Palestinians would be made to understand that they, too, would pay dearly for the failure of the talks, and must bear that in mind before carrying out hasty steps.