EU Foreign Ministers Expected to Endorse French Peace Initiative on Monday

Jerusalem shifts into damage-control mode after failing to stop the EU's 28 foreign ministers from throwing their weight behind the French bid, Israeli officials say.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini attends the Mideast peace summit in in Paris, France, June 3, 2016.
Stephane de Sakutin, Reuters

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council is expected to adopt a resolution that will back the French peace initiative on Monday, calling for an  international peace conference including Israeli and Palestinian participation before the end of the year.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials said Israel failed to block the move by the panel of the EU’s 28 foreign ministers, which will add significant weight to the French proposal. Israel can now only try to soften the wording of the resolution, they said.

On June 3, the foreign ministers met in Paris and set the initiative in motion. Israeli officials apparently had not taken the French plan seriously, but after the Paris conference, Jerusalem realized that the proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was gaining momentum.

France has continued to advance the initiative, which has gained wider international support. This includes follow-up measures such as forming international working teams for issues including confidence-building gestures, security arrangements and economic incentives.

Paris is pressing EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European foreign ministers to endorse the resolution on Monday, which would fully harness the entire EU to its plan.

A senior Foreign Ministry figure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the draft resolution includes nearly all the items on France’s “wish list.”

Last week the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and officials in Israel’s diplomatic missions to Europe and to EU institutions lobbied against the resolution. The official said Israel’s ambassadors conveyed its flat objection to the French initiative and to any follow up move to advance it.

The official said the Foreign Ministry received reports that most European capitals politely rejected the Israeli arguments.

“They all agree with us in principle that direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians would be preferable, but in practical terms they didn’t really pay attention to our objections and in many states they simply don’t understand our position,” he said.

“Also, increasingly more states want to strengthen the French initiative even further, mainly because there’s no other initiative on the table to break the standstill in the peace process,” he added.

Reports from Israeli embassies in Europe also said that even the friendliest states like the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Italy support the French initiative. Germany, which in the past would have helped Israel to block similar moves in the EU, also doesn’t object to the resolution, despite its reservations about the French initiative.

The Foreign Ministry has now shifted its focus to trying to soften the resolution’s wording. Israeli diplomats are focusing mainly on removing a clause linking the French initiative to the EU’s proposal of December 2013 to upgrade Israel’s status to that of a special privileged partner in exchange for reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Until now Israel has refused to officially discuss this proposal with the EU. Israel believes that linking the two issues is tantamount to setting another European condition to improving its relations with the EU.

In the past two years Israel has tried to advance various issues with the EU, but was told each time the issue in question would be advanced only as part of upgrading Israel’s status after it signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“The Europeans keep setting more conditions to upgrading the relations. So now the French initiative will also become a condition?” the official asked.

“We won’t be able to exclude the French initiative from the resolution due to be adopted on Monday, but we want to sever the French initiative from the EU’s overall policy as much as possible — especially in everything pertaining to the incentive package Europe has proposed to Israel,” he said.