Deputy FM Rejects Report Claiming Government Ignored EU Shift on Settlements

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Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin has rejected the findings of an internal investigation into the failure of Israeli diplomats to warn the government ahead of the recent European Union sanctions against Israeli settlements. The investigation exonerated Foreign Ministry employees.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Elkin was considering appointing an external committee to reexamine the issue. The EU guidelines bar the body's agencies from funding entities that have direct or indirect links to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

Talk of the new guidelines emerged just days before their official publication and caught many officials in the Foreign Ministry and beyond by surprise. In private conversations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Israeli diplomats’ failure to anticipate the announcement or warn Jerusalem the biggest failure he had encountered in 30 years of dealing with diplomatic and security issues.

As a result of the criticism Foreign Ministry Director General Rafi Barak appointed retired diplomat Harry Kney-Tal to investigate the affair. Kney-Tal examined the conduct of Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem and in the Israeli Mission to the EU in Brussels, flying to Belgium to interview Ambassador David Walzer and his diplomatic staff. Kney-Tal submitted his 100-plus page report to Barak two weeks ago. It was delivered to Elkin last Wednesday.

A senior Foreign Ministry source said Kney-Tal’s report detailed all the reports submitted to the ministry relating to EU activity and the settlements in the past year, as well as diplomatic and intelligence briefings on the issue submitted by the ministry to Netanyahu and the inner cabinet.

Kney-Tal concluded that the mission in Brussels had not been negligent, and that any errors were tactical in nature. He accepted Walzer’s argument that EU officials had kept the process of drafting the guidelines under wraps, and consulted only a handful of individuals on a strict need-to-know basis. As a result, the Israeli diplomats had no means of knowing about the process in advance.

Kney-Tal went on in his report to argue that it was, in fact, the Israeli political leadership that was responsible. He noted that, in the annual intelligence assessment presented to the inner cabinet in late 2012 -- more than six months before the EU’s announcement -- the Foreign Ministry’s Center for Political Research warned the EU would take a harsher approach to the settlements in 2013.

“The report determined that the ministry indeed did not know in advance exactly when the new guidelines would be published and all they would include,” the senior ministry source said. “But the report’s main message was that the Foreign Ministry did warn of the trend in the EU. The writing was on the wall, but the political leadership ignored it.”

Elkin told Barak last night that he had decided to reject Kney-Tal’s report.

“Unfortunately, the report does not answer the main questions for which I wanted clear answers,” Elkin said in a statement issued by his office. "Unfortunately, the report, as submitted, does not enable us to learn lessons for the future.”

A senior EU delegation is scheduled to arrive Tuesday to discuss the implementation of the new guidelines with Foreign Ministry officials.

The West Bank settlement of Kedumim. Credit: Tali Mayer
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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