11 European Foreign Ministers Urge EU to List Options to 'Deter' Israeli Annexation

'Time is short,' top diplomats warn in a letter to the EU foreign policy chief, calling for concrete steps that 'would provide us with a solid basis for further discussions'

Noa Landau
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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, on Monday, July 13, 2020. 
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, on Monday, July 13, 2020. Credit: Francois Lenoir,AP
Noa Landau

Eleven European foreign ministers have demanded that the European Union quickly formulate a list of possible responses to an Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.

LISTEN: Protests, pandemics and Netanyahu's day of reckoningCredit: Haaretz

In a letter sent to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday, they wrote that doing so is essential, because “the window to deter annexation is fast closing.”

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, was signed by the foreign ministers of France, Italy, Holland, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Malta.

A general view of the West Bank settlement of Maale Michmash, in the West Bank, on January 26, 2020.
A general view of the West Bank settlement of Maale Michmash, in the West Bank, on January 26, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

These ministers first demanded that Borrell formulate responses to an Israeli annexation at an unofficial meeting with him on May 15. In response, he ordered his staff to prepare a list of possible responses. But this document, known as an “options paper,” still hasn’t been completed and shown to the foreign ministers who requested it, the letter complained.

“The possible annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory remains a matter of grave concern for the EU and its Member States,” the ministers wrote. “As you referred to in your statements of 4 February 2020 and 18 May, Israel’s annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory would be a breach of international law.”

They said they understood that the options paper “is a sensitive issue and timing is important, but time is also short. We are concerned that the window to deter annexation is fast closing.

“It is important to have clarity on the legal and political implications of annexation,” they continued. “Therefore we would like to see a paper, drafted in close consultation with the Commission, that provides an overview of the EU-Israel relations, an analysis of the legal consequences of annexation, as well as a list of possible actions in response to it, including the automatic triggers of all EU-IL agreements and the respective responsibilities of the Commission. Such an options paper would also contribute to our efforts to deter annexation. 

“We believe it is important and timely to present the options paper, as it would provide us with a solid basis for further discussions,” they concluded. 

Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to start annexing parts of the West Bank on July 1, based on the diplomatic plan proposed by the Trump administration, the EU has been working to prevent such a step. It argues that annexation would violate international law and end any chance of a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines. 

Though there is an almost unanimous consensus against annexation among EU member states – the one exception is Hungary, which has been vague on the issue – the union still hasn’t decided exactly how to respond should it actually happen.

The 11 countries represented by the letter’s signatories have been taking the most aggressive line on the issue. For months, they have been demanding a comprehensive discussion of how annexation would affect the EU’s relationship with Israel, meaning what punitive measures the EU would take.

Germany, though it also vehemently opposes annexation, has refrained from joining this group, both because of its special relationship with Israel and because of its current role as the EU’s rotating president. 

In internal EU discussions, various punitive steps have been proposed, including preventing Israel from joining EU agreements, nixing any new cooperation deals, sharpening the differentiation between Israel and the settlements and increased enforcement of EU rules governing products of the settlements.

As part of Europe’s efforts to prevent annexation, several European leaders have phoned Netanyahu in recent weeks to urge him to halt steps toward annexation. They include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The phone calls were on top of the opposition they voiced in official letters sent when the government was sworn in this spring.

Netanyahu’s response to all three of them was that he sees the Trump plan as a realistic peace plan and is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of it.

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