The 27 foreign ministers of the European Union are expected Monday to issue a harsh denunciation of Israel's activities on the West Bank. The EU's Foreign Affairs Council will criticize violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and will call on Israel to remove restrictions on Palestinian construction and economic development projects in Area C of the West Bank, which under the Oslo Accords was under exclusive Israeli control.
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The condemnation, contained in an official council conclusion, is exceptional because of its length - three pages - as well as its detailed accounting of Israeli actions in the West Bank in the past several months. According to a high-ranking European diplomat who has seen a draft of the resolution, the EU foreign ministers will rebuke Israel for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They will denounce settler violence against Palestinians and call on the Israeli government to prosecute such actions.
Meanwhile, at a meeting in Ramallah on Saturday Netanyahu's envoy for the peace process, attorney Isaac Molho, gave Abbas a letter from Netanyahu on the impasse in the peace process. It was a response to a letter to Netanyahu from Abbas from a few weeks ago, in which the PA leader blamed Israel for the derailment of the peace process.
A senior Israeli official said that in his response Netanyahu called for the immediate resumption of talks without preconditions, but did not propose any new ideas.
Before meeting with Molho, Abbas spoke on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The EU resolution demands that Israel allow Palestinians to build houses and be allowed more freedom to pursue economic activity in Area C, which comprises more than half of the area of the West Bank. Additionally, it calls on Israel to allow the EU to help the Palestinians to build economic infrastructure projects and to refrain from destroying them, as has happened a few times in the past few months.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was behind the conclusion, which has the support of the French, British and German foreign ministers.
A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that in the past two weeks Israel has tried to block the conclusion. Israeli ambassadors in a number of European capitals filed vehement protests to their host government, in which they argued that the resolution would complicate efforts to renew peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. They also argued that the new unity government in Jerusalem is in a strong position to renew the peace talks, and that a negative message from EU foreign ministers would only encourage Palestinian intransigence.
The United States, Italy and the Netherlands also tried to help soften the wording of the conclusion, to little effect. Only minor changes were made in the resolution, which is expected to gain approval on Monday.
"The resolution portrays the situation on the ground," a senior European diplomat said. "The moment Ashton, the Germans, the French and the British pushed this forward the process could not be stopped."
In its bid to forestall the resolution Israel pointed to the recent exchange of letters between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.