Netanyahu and Livni to EU Leaders: Freeze New Guidelines on Settlements

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Israel is pressuring the European Union to postpone the publication of new guidelines conditioning all future agreements on Jerusalem's acknowledgement that its occupied territories are not part of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Wednesday evening with the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to express his concerns about the move. The guidelines, which were drawn up by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, are expected to be officially released on Friday.

According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu asked Barroso to postpone the publication of the new guidelines, warning that publishing them on Friday would hinder U.S. efforts to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. The two leaders agreed to continue discussing the matter, the source said.

The new guidelines are intended to take effect on January 1, 2014. They would prohibit EU agencies and funds from providing funding, financial investments, grants, scholarships or prizes to any Israeli bodies that are directly or indirectly related to the settlements.

The new guidelines also state that any agreement between the EU and Israel must include a section stating that the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights are not part of the State of Israel.

While Netanyahu was speaking with Barosso, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is the minister responsible for peace negotiations with the Palestinians, spoke on the telephone with Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union

Livni too asked Ashton to postpone the official publication of the new guidelines, citing efforts to restart the peace talks. Livni apparently tried to convince Ashton that it is important for the EU to allow Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate an agreement on the border, as opposed to the EU making a unilateral decision.

Netanyahu has discussed the new EU guidelines with a long list of European leaders over the telephone during the past day, and has asked them to help postpone the guidelines' publication. Netanyahu has spoken with French President Francois Hollande, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.

Netanyahu has also asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his help.

According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu tried to persuade the European leaders during these conversations that there are much more urgent and pressing matters in the Middle East that must be dealt with first, such as the civil war in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program.

The source said several of Netanyahu's colleagues told the prime minister that they hadn't heard about the EU guidelines or the intention to publish them on Friday.

On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu gave an interview to the German newspaper Die Welt in which he harshly criticized the EU decision. In this interview too he claimed the move undermines Kerry's efforts to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

"For years the Europeans have been whining about the fact that the Americans are not involved enough," Netanyahu said. "Now that they are involved, this action actually undermines the American efforts and undermines the negotiations."

The EU decision "causes Israelis to lose confidence in the impartiality of Europe. It's just the wrong way to go," said Netanyahu, adding that Israel will not allow its borders to be determined through external economic pressure but rather only through negotiations.  

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, speaks at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following their meeting in his Jerusalem office, June 20, 2013.Credit: AP
How much money the WZO allocates for settlement construction in the West Bank remains a mystery.Credit: Nir Kafri
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, gestures during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Monday, Sept. 5, 2011.Credit: Bloomberg

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