Israeli ambassador to the European Union in Brussels, David Walzer, admitted in a document sent to Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin and Ministry Director-General Rafael Barak that he was indeed surprised by the formulation and timing of the EU guidelines on settlements. In the document, which is part of an inquiry held on the guidelines, Walzer insists that he and his staff were not guilty of negligence.
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A senior official in the ministry revealed that several days after Haaretz first published the new EU guidelines as to settlements, Elkin directed Barak to hold an investigation as to possible failings of the Israeli delegation to the EU and the Foreign Ministry in the matter.
The inquiry is still ongoing, but Haaretz has obtained some of the information already gathered. Thus, for example, on May 31, Christian Berger, Director for North Africa, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq at the EU informed deputy ambassador, Roni Gilor, that the EU Commission is working on new guidelines dealing with settlements. Berger headed the team that formulated the guidelines. Gilor reported this to the Foreign Ministry, but, in hindsight, it seems that the Israeli delegation did not fully comprehend the significance of the new policy.
On June 12, the embassy received new information on the matter and reported to Jerusalem, but it seems that nonetheless, the information wasn't fully understood. The report included general details as to the guidelines, but ignored the more problematic clauses as far as Israel was concerned.
On June 28, a draft of the guidelines was distributed to all 28 members of the EU. The Israeli embassy still couldn't acquire a copy of the draft even though dozens of diplomats had a copy. In fact, the embassy wasn't even aware the draft was distributed.
Only on July 5, when Berger sent a draft to the embassy, did the Israeli diplomats begin to understand the significance of the guidelines. On July 8, representatives of the 28 EU members in Brussels discussed the new guidelines, but the embassy still only had general information as to its impact, and in any case, it was already too late to stop the move. The guidelines were officially published on July 19.
As part of the inquiry, Barak requested that Walzer send him a written document summarizing the information the embassy had as to the guidelines and its actions concerning the matter in recent months.
Last Tuesday, July 23, Walzer submitted a three-page document. According to two senior officials in the ministry who read it, Walzer did not deny that the embassy did not acquire enough information on the issue. Still, the ambassador explained the failings by saying that Berger, who formulated the guidelines, misled him and his staff.
Walzer claimed that in his contacts with Berger in the last two months, the latter promised that he would hand a draft to the embassy long before the guidelines would be distributed and published. Walzer and his staff believed that the draft would be a basis for negotiations, not a final document.
One senior official in the ministry said that Walzer claimed that Berger acted 'under the radar,' formulating the guidelines with a small group of close aides, and that was the reason the embassy could not attain relevant information.
Walzer added a list of all the embassy's reports in recent months concerning EU activity as to the settlements. The list includes reports on matters only indirectly related to the new guidelines, such as the marking of settlement products. "The document was confused, everything was thrown into one salad," an official who read the document told Haaretz.
Ambassador Walzer summed up the document by stating that in the future the embassy and Foreign Ministry might again be surprised by similar EU steps regarding settlements due to the limited circle of diplomats who are dealing with the issue in Brussels.
Meanwhile, Walzer sent a cable to all ministry employees in Israel and abroad, briefing them that he sent the document as part of the inquiry. Walzer stressed that "the document clarifies unequivocally that we didn't fall asleep while on guard, but fulfilled our duty faithfully." Walzer called "to put right the injustice that was done to embassy diplomats," adding that "we hope that the smear will be removed in the same speed it was applied."