EU Foreign Affairs Chief Asks Netanyahu to Clarify Suspension of Ties Related to Palestinians

PM declared moratorium on contacts with the EU due to union's decision to label settlement products; Israeli source: Step is merely symbolic.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini arrives for an EU foreign ministers meeting at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.
AP

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to clarify his declaration to suspend all contacts with the EU on the Palestinian issue in response to the EU's recent decision to label products made in Israel's settlements in the West Bank.

The two spoke briefly during the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Paris.

According to an announcement published midday Monday by the EU, relations with Israel and the Palestinians are good and are expected to remain that way. It was also said that the EU will continue to work with Israel and the Palestinians regarding the peace process with the help of the members of the Quartet – the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in Paris, where he is attending the UN Climate Change Summit.
AP

Quartet envoys are expected to arrive in Israel on December 9 to meet with leading Israelis and Palestinians, and to discuss possible steps to check the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank. A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that work with the Quartet and the envoys’ visit to Israel are not expected to be affected by Netanyahu's decision to suspend contacts with the EU vis-à-vis the Palestinian question.

On Sunday, Netanyahu instructed Israel's Foreign Ministry to stop all diplomatic contacts with EU institutions in Brussels regarding issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in response to publication of the new European Commission guidelines for labeling products from the settlements.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that contacts on the Palestinian issue with individual governments that are members of the EU – such as Germany, Great Britain and France – will continue as usual.

Nahshon added that Netanyahu has instructed the ministry to begin a process of “reassessment” regarding the degree of involvement that Israel will permit the EU's foreign service, the European Commission and other Brussels-based EU institutions, on subjects related to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. At the conclusion of the “reassessment,” it will be decided whether and how to renew contacts on the Palestinian question with the foreign EU institutions and with EU representatives in Israel.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Sunday that in the coming days, there will be discussions regarding the practical implications of Netanyahu’s decision. The source said that its aim is to convey to the EU Israel’s dissatisfaction with the labeling of settlement products and the fact that Israel considers this “a discriminatory step that smells like a boycott.”

The senior official added: “It is inconceivable for Israel to conduct a dialogue with EU institutions about ideas for advancing the peace process when at the same time the EU is initiating steps against Israel. We will examine each case individually, while our guiding principle will be that Israel’s interests vis-à-vis Europe and the EU member countries will not be harmed.”

Netanyahu’s decision to break off contacts for now is actually one of only symbolic significance. The premier had rejected a series of other proposals for far harsher responses that were submitted to him by the Foreign Ministry in recent weeks, and chose what is ostensibly the most moderate step.

For example, Netanyahu opted to act against the EU foreign affairs service headed by Mogherini, but to refrain from taking steps against EU member countries such as France, for example, which led the campaign to label products that come from the settlements.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) is greeted by France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls as he arrives for the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference on November 30, 2015
AFP

“This decision is of almost no significance,” said one senior Israeli official who works with the EU. “It’s as though Europe were to announce that it is suspending ties with the Israeli government, but continues to hold contacts with each minister separately.”

According to the European Commission, “The Commission provided this labeling guidance at the request of all EU member states. So there is no great change from EU perspective, and there is EU unity on this.”