EU Foreign Policy Chief: Israeli Annexation ‘Most Important Item’ in Foreign Ministers Meeting

Josep Borell said that at the time the EU is 'far away from discussing sanctions' stressing that the matter is 'a very divisive issue inside the [Foreign Affairs] Council' set to meet Friday

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, March 4, 2020.
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell speaks to the media in Ankara, Turkey, March 4, 2020. Credit: AP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said Tuesday that Israel's annexation plans will be "the most important item on the agenda" of the upcoming meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Friday.

When asked about sanctions, Borell said he will consider the different positions that may arise within the union. "We are by the time being far away from discussing about sanctioning – but it’s important to know which is the position of the member states,” said Borell at a press conference in Brussels.

“Everything in [EU] foreign policy requires unanimity, especially sanctions, and we are by the time being far away from discussing about sanctioning,” said Borell stressing that the matter is “a very divisive issue inside the [Foreign Affairs] Council and different member states have different positions, we noticed it when we discussed [annexations] months ago."

Borel added that he intends to talk to the new Israeli Foreign Minister, expected to be MK Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan, once appointed, and will congratulate the new Israeli government once sworn in.

Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh said Tuesday in a tweet that he discussed with Borell the "urgency of a united European position to break the fait accompli that Israel seeks to impose, defend the rights of the Palestinian people, protect [international] law and European values, and to restore hope in the [international] justice system." 

Haaretz reported earlier on Tuesday that Foreign ministers of countries in the EU on Friday will debate possible responses to moves by Israel to annex land in the West Bank, should this clause in the Likud-Kahol Lavan coalition agreement be implemented.

Borrell is inclined to wait and see how the new Israeli government will act, several member countries have been exerting pressure to approve sanctions in advance as an act of deterrence. These could include denying Israel membership in trade agreements, special grants or cooperative ventures in various fields.

Sources familiar with the discussions told Haaretz that there is increasing support among EU states for sanctions intended to deter Israel from annexing any territory. France, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg are all said to be calling for a tough line on the issue.

The sources added that some steps, like trade agreements, don’t require the unanimous agreement of all the member states; as a result, Israel won’t be able to count on the veto of friendly EU countries like Hungary or the Czech Republic. Moreover, member states can decide on their own independent protest moves against Israel.

“No one wants to reach a stage were EU-Israel ties are damaged for the long term, but they will be in the event of a unilateral annexation. If only because of the precedent it would set anywhere else,” a source said.

As a result, in Brussels they are trying a “carrot and stick” approach; on the one hand, the option of turning over a new leaf between the new EU leadership and the new Israeli government, with an open dialogue between the two sides, while on the other hand, clear messages about the expected severe damage to be done to future relations in the event of a unilateral annexation.

Last week U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that a decision on annexation is up to Israel, and that his country was prepared to recognize such a step “within weeks.” He said that move would be dependent on Israel’s agreement to negotiate with the Palestinians on establishing their state, based on the Trump plan, which includes a freeze on Israeli construction in those parts of the West Bank’s Area C not slated for annexation.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel. A statement in advance of the visit said the focus of the visit is Iran, but the issue of annexation is also expected to come up.

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