Israel Warns EU Ambassadors of Serious Crisis Over New Settlement Guidelines

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The Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned the ambassadors of Britain and France and the deputy ambassador of Germany to discuss a new European Union ruling barring EU agencies from funding Israeli entities connected to West Bank settlements.

The ambassadors were told their governments must act to deflect a serious crisis between Israel and the European Union, a senior Foreign Ministry source said.

British ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould denied a report in Thursday’s Haaretz which said that most EU diplomats had backed the new guidelines during discussions in Brussels in recent weeks. Haaretz also reported that the British delegate suggested the guidelines should be extended to every Israeli citizen living beyond the Green Line.

“The story is completely erroneous,” Gould said. “The U.K. does not advocate and has never advocated the extension of these guidelines to individuals.”

Senior Foreign Ministry officials also held telephone conversations with ambassadors of other EU states and conveyed the same message.

A senior ministry official said the European ambassadors were told that in a few weeks, talks between Israel and the Palestinians may resume, but instead of the EU helping to advance the peace talks, it will be immersed in a crisis with Israel.

He said Israel’s main fear is that the guidelines will jeopardize Horizon 2020, a scientific cooperation program between Israel and the European Union that is expected to generate investments of hundreds of millions of euros in Israeli high-tech companies. Negotiations over the program are due to begin next month.

The EU is expected to demand a clause in the agreement stipulating that the program does not apply to Jewish communities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, because they are not recognized by international law as part of Israel.

“We told the European ambassadors to make it clear to their capitals that no Israeli government would accept the conditions posed in the new guidelines or sign such a clause,” the official said.

The British and French ambassadors and the German deputy ambassador all told the ministry that the new guidelines were not intended to harm Israel, but merely to reflect the EU’s longstanding policy on the settlements, the official said, adding that Israeli diplomats in EU countries reported receiving identical messages.

Most of the diplomats were told that Israel had overreacted. But several states conceded that the timing for publishing the guidelines was poor, the official said.

The guidelines are slated to be published officially in the EU gazette on Friday. An EU diplomat said Thursday that despite Israel’s urgings, the EU does not intend to postpone their publication.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso similarly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who telephoned him on Wednesday, that the settlement directive is meant not to hurt ties with Israel but to protect them, the EU diplomat said.

Barroso also told Netanyahu that the guidelines will take effect only on January 1, 2014, and that pursuant to Israel’s request, the EU “stands ready to engage in consultations on their implementation.”

West Bank settlement Modi'in llit Credit: AP

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