Israeli Response to EU Labeling of Settlement Products Has Backfired

Israel’s decision to freeze contacts with EU on Palestinian issue and petty acts of vengeance against few European states only increased European anger; main victims of Israel's policies are settlers.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini with the Slovak, Belgian and Latvian FMs attend an EU meeting in Brussels, December 14, 2015.
Reuters

There was “no small crisis” between Israel and the European Union, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a meeting of the Likud Knesset caucus last week. The resolution that the foreign ministers of the EU’s 28 member states are set to adopt when they meet in Brussels on Monday could turn Netanyahu’s remark into the understatement of the year.

To Netanyahu’s credit it should be said that in that same meeting he also said that “things are still open” regarding European sanctions against the settlements. He was right. The expected resolution, first reported in Haaretz, is an expansion, exacerbation and clarification of the policy of distinguishing between Israel and the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

European diplomats say the draft resolution embodies the spirit of a report published a few months ago by the European Council on Foreign Affairs addressing the need to make the distinction between Israel and the settlements a key component in European policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If this resolution is passed tomorrow, that is precisely what it will do.

Enshrining this “policy of distinction” in European law and in agreements with Israel in the realm of economics, research and development, law, air travel and visa exemptions could lead to serious restrictions on companies, groups and individuals working, based or living in settlements. Moreover, focusing on violence by settlers against Palestinians means that the suggestion that extreme right-wing activists would be subject to personal sanctions by the EU, including denial of entry to the continent, is not completely unfounded.

The draft proposal also includes a call for additional practical measures to rescue the two-state solution and to hold an international peace conference. The country behind the latter clause is France, which seeks to once again promote a UN Security Council resolution on the settlements, one that would determine principles for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or at least convene a peace conference in Paris.

The harsh wording of the draft proposal and the negotiations behind the scenes among the leading countries in Europe indicate that the Israeli response to the EU’s resolution to publish directives for labeling products made in the settlements has boomeranged. Israel’s announcement that it was freezing contacts on the Palestinian issue with the EU institutions in Brussels and petty acts of vengeance against a few European states that supported the labeling only increased the anger and frustration in Europe toward Israel.

European diplomats say the response of the government in Jerusalem has increased the motivation of the larger European countries — France, Britain, Italy, Spain and even Germany — to present a united front vis-a-vis Israel and issue a sharply worded resolution regarding the settlements. Israeli diplomats said that their colleagues in some European capitals warned them that the resolution that was coming would be harsh, but they added that the wording reflects the current atmosphere on the continent with regard to Israel.

On a number of occasions, including last Friday at a reception for representatives of foreign media outlets, Netanyahu claimed that Israel’s problem is not with the various countries in Europe, but with the EU machine — the ostensibly anti-Israel bureaucrats in Brussels — and that if only they would disappear, all the problems would be resolved.

But the reality, at least in the case of the current draft resolution, is the polar opposite. European diplomats involved in the formulation of the resolution say that EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the EU’s foreign service had originally presented a relatively soft version. According to the diplomats, when representatives of the five big countries on the continent saw the draft, they demanded it be made significantly harsher.

“Mogherini wanted to thaw relations with Israel a bit and publish a softened resolution,” a European diplomat said. However, he added: “The five big countries said ‘we can’t deny our policies with regard to settlements and the distinction between Israel and the settlements. The only countries that in fact support the Israeli position are Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary.’”

Nearly a year into the term of Israel’s most right-wing government ever, it seems the main victims of its policies are the settlers and the settlements. There is an almost total freeze on planning and construction, even in the major settlement blocs and in East Jerusalem, and the security situation in the territories is deteriorating. Europe decides to label products from the settlements, Brazil refuses to accept the appointment of an Israeli ambassador because he lives in a settlement and was chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements and now, this resolution.