Netanyahu to Ashton: Planned EU Statement on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Will Impede Kerry's Attempts to Restart Talks

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to EU foreign policy chief Christine Ashton to withhold a planned joint statement by the 27 foreign ministers of the EU member states, during their meeting Monday. The statement would condemn Israel for construction in West Bank settlements and lay out principles for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The European Union's foreign ministers will convene in Brussels Monday for their regular monthly meeting. One item on the agenda is the Middle Eastern peace process. A senior Israeli official has told Haaretz that a group of countries headed by France and Britain are pressing for the ministers to make a joint statement on the European Union's position on the conflict at the end of the meeting. However, a group of EU nations, headed by Germany and Italy, are opposed to making such a move.

Various drafts of the statement have reached Jerusalem in recent days. The drafted by France, Britain and other countries, is be long and detailed, similar to the one made in May 2012. It denounces Israel for settlement construction and calls for labeling in Europe products that come from West Bank settlements. It likewise criticizes the limitations Israel imposes on Palestinians living in the West Bank's Area C, which is under full Israeli control, as designated in the Oslo Accords. The announcement also refers to European proposals for resolving the conflict, including the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu told Ashton at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem that the timing of this announcement, only two days before the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, will hinder American efforts to restart negotiations.

“The contents of the announcement are unworthy and the timing is unhelpful and even harmful,” Netanyahu told Ashton. “The announcement will only encourage the Palestinians to refrain from returning to the negotiating table. With this announcement, the Palestinians will think it worth their while to wait until Kerry’s efforts fail, since the Europeans will support them in any case, laying the responsibility for failure on Israel’s shoulders.”

Ashton, who is working in coordination with Kerry, is not pleased with the British-French initiative. She believes that any announcement at the end of Monday’s meeting should be terse, stressing the Union’s support for Kerry’s efforts to restart negotiations. “My position is that Kerry’s channel is the only game in town,” Ashton told Netanyahu. “That’s the message I will convey to the foreign ministers."

Netanyahu also spoke with Ashton about the proposal in the European Union to officially list Hezbollah as a terrorist group. For a second time in two weeks, the topic was raised at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Friday. No consensus was reached and the topic will most likely come up at Monday's meeting of foreign ministers. Sources at Israel's Foreign Ministry said that for various reasons Austria, Ireland and the Czech Republic are against placing Hezbollah on the terror list, as proposed by Germany, Britain and France.

Netanyahu told Ashton that he hopes these countries will lift their objections. “If Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, I don’t know what is," he said. “I hope there is a European consensus on this issue. I can’t understand why this is still not the case. Hezbollah is assisting in the massacres in Syria and is murdering civilians around the world, including on European soil, as we saw in Bulgaria, and as was tried in Cyprus."

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

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