EU Delays Summit With Israel Over Settlement Buildup and Land-grab Law

France, Sweden and Ireland's opposition brings about postponement of summit, which would have signaled thaw in Israel, EU relations. Washington will wait for Supreme Court ruling before responding to land-grab law.

his Feb. 24, 2013 file photo shows a general view of the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Following Israel’s decision to accelerate construction in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem and in light of the passage of the law dubbed the “regularization bill,” which enables the expropriation of private Palestinian land, a summit between Israel and the European Union scheduled for February 28 will now be postponed. European diplomats noted that the meeting had already been delayed for five years, and was meant to signify a thawing in the relations between Israel and the EU.

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The diplomats, who wished to remain anonymous due to the matter’s sensitivity, told Haaretz that during Monday's meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers, several states voiced their opposition to holding the summit, dubbed the “association council,” at this current time. The meeting was meant to mark the tightened cooperation between Israel and the EU and to set out a work plan and priorities for improving relations between the sides.

Among the countries that expressed their reservations regarding the summit were France, Sweden, Ireland, The Netherlands and Finland. The European diplomats noted that these countries claimed that recent moves by Israel regarding settlements, namely declarations of plans to build 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, had rendered holding the summit a mistake. Some countries argued that holding a meeting at this time would be akin to rewarding Israel for its bad conduct.

>> Explained: Israel's controversial new land-grab law <<

In the absence of a consensus among the 28 member states in the EU the meeting with Israel cannot be held, the diplomats said. The consensus must relate not only to the date but to the agenda, the topics to be discussed with Israel and the closing statements. The diplomats said that at this point there is no consensus, so it was decided to discuss the matter at the next meeting of the foreign ministers, scheduled to take place in early March.

EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was hoping to hold the summit with Israel in order to signal that the sides are embarking on a new road. However, Mogherini will find it difficult to promote the issue against the opposition by prominent EU members such as France. In a press conference on Monday following the EU foreign ministers meeting, Mogherini avoided saying when the summit would be held, even though a date has already been set for February 28.

She also didn't explicitly say that the summit was postponed. Mogherini made do with a vague statement that it was decided to start preparing for the summit, an agenda for which would be set later by a consensus of all member states.

The diplomats said that the foreign ministers meeting was held several hours before the Israeli Knesset voted on the so-called "Regularization Bill." However, they said that several of the EU ministers voiced great concern that the Knesset would pass the measure, and listed it as one of the reasons why the time isn't right to hold the summit with Israel.

The U.S. was not quick to respond to the measure's approval. A senior official at the State Department said that the Trump administration wants to discuss the matter with both parties.

According to the official, the U.S. will not respond until Israel's Supreme Court rules on the petition against the law. "This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli civil law is being applied directly to the West Bank, and that Israel's attorney general has stated publicly that he will not defend it in court," he said.

Mogherini is expected to fly to Washington this week for a series of meetings with senior members of the Trump administration, set to deal mainly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mogherini is scheduled to meet National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and the president's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected to handle the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Mogherini said Monday that she will emphasize to the Americans that the EU's stance is still supportive of the two-state solution and against settlement construction. Later this month Mogherini will also meet Vice President Mike Pence, when he travels to Brussels with State Secretary Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis. Mogherini is expected to stress the EU's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in these meetings as well.  

Jordan and Turkey condemned the law on Tuesday morning. Jordan's Minister of Information Mohammed al-Mumani termed the law a "provocation" and stressed that it harms the possibility of the two-state solution and could lead to violent escalation in the region. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the law was unacceptable and that the policy of the Israeli government is destroying any basis for the two-state solution.

Reactint to the decision, Israeli lawmaker Ksenia Svetlova of Zionist Union said: "Israel pays a political price for its irresponsible leaders who surrender to an extremist minority."

Svetlova saw the EU's step as "only the beginning" of measures against Israel she feared would take place, and that she has demanded the Knesset debate the issue.