EU to ensure settlement guidelines will not harm ties with Israel, says Ashton
Comments by EU's foreign policy chief come as U.S. Secretary of State urges the EU to postpone the guidelines, which target Israeli entities with links to settlements.
Speaking in Vilnius after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Ashton said that the guidelines - which state that any private Israeli entity that wants to receive funding from the EU must demonstrate that it has no links to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights – will be implemented "sensitively, and we of course want to continue to have a strong relationship with Israel."
Ashton's comments came after Kerry met in Vilnius with the EU's 28 foreign ministers, urging them to postpone the new guidelines.
A senior U.S. official said Kerry asked the foreign ministers to support ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks and postpone the implementation of the guidelines so as not to hinder the negotiations. The official said that the foreign ministers showed "willingness and openness to consider Kerry's request."
According to the guidelines, any funding or financial investment, and/or granting of stipends, scholarships or prizes by EU agencies or foundations to Israeli groups connected directly or indirectly to the settlements will be banned. The guidelines also determine that in any agreement between Israel and the EU, there must be a clause to the effect that the settlements on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are not a part of the State of Israel.
The new guidelines are particularly relevant these days as Israel and the EU discuss scientific cooperation within the framework of the Horizon 2020 program. Israel is refusing to sign the agreement as long as it is based on the guidelines. On Thursday, senior officials from Israel's Foreign Ministry will meet in Brussels with European Commission officials to try to find a solution to the impasse.
Foreign Ministry officials said that over the past two weeks the German and Italian foreign ministers have asked Ashton to find a compromise that would allow Israel to sign the agreement. Their appeals were echoed by Romania and the Czech Republic. Similarly, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during his visit to Israel last week that "a practical solution" should be found.