Netanyahu Suspends Contact With EU Over Israel-Palestinian Peace Process

Israel's Foreign Ministry ordered to 'reassess' EU involvement with Palestinians after decision to label West Bank goods; 'decision is almost completely devoid of any real significance,' official says.

Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered Israel's Foreign Ministry to suspend contact with European Union institutions over all issues related to the peace process with the Palestinians, in response to the EU's decision to label products made in the West Bank.

Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said that all communications conducted directly with EU member states like Germany, Britain and France over the peace process will continue.

Nahshon added that Netanyahu ordered the ministry to "reassess" the level of involvement that Israel would allow the EU's foreign affairs service, the European Commission and the rest of the EU's institutions in Brussels regarding issues related to the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

Once the "reassessment" is complete, Israel will decide if and how to renew communication on the Palestinian issue with the European Union institutions in Brussels and the EU's representatives in Israel.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry said that in the upcoming days, discussion will be held into the repercussions of suspending contact with the EU on the Palestinian issue. According to the source, the move is intended to signal to the EU that Israel is opposed to their decision to adopt guidelines to mark settlement goods, which Israel calls a "discriminatory step that smells like a boycott."

The official added that "it is inconceivable that Israel will hold dialogue with EU institutions on how to advance a peace process while the EU simultaneously initiates measures against Israel." Israel, the official said, "will examine each case individually with the guiding principle of making sure Israel's interest vis-à-vis Europe and EU nations are not harmed."

Netanyahu's decision to suspend dialogue with EU institutions is symbolic. De facto, Netanyahu has rebuffed a string of much harsher responses suggested by the Foreign Ministry in recent weeks, eventually choosing the most moderate response which included a public statement devoid of any practical ramifications.

Thus for example, Netanyahu chose to act against the EU's foreign affairs service and its chief, Federica Mogherini, but refrained from taking retaliatory steps against EU member states like France, which led the campaign to mark settlement goods. France's activities in support of the decision will not prevent Netanyahu from leaving for Paris on Monday to participate in the climate summit taking place in the city, or even from meeting French President Hollande, in a meeting during which the Palestinian issue is likely to be discussed.

"This decision is almost completely devoid of any real significance," a senior Israeli official with close knowledge of Israel's ties with the EU said. "It's like the EU saying it is cutting communications with Israel but continuing to hold talks with each of its minister's independently."

Netanyahu's instructions are a continuation of preliminary steps announced on the day that the EU published the new guidelines. On the same day, EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen was called in to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for a dressing down, and was updated that Israel had decided to cancel a few political consultation meetings that were scheduled to take place between the parties in upcoming weeks. 

Foreign Ministry officials told the EU ambassador that Israel would suspend part of the diplomatic dialogues it is holding with the organization, and in effect would cancel a meeting on human-rights issues and a meeting on international organizations that were scheduled to take place in upcoming weeks.

The ministry noted at this stage, a date will not be set for another meeting with the EU as part of talks on the advancement of projects related to the Palestinians in the West Bank's Area C. The first and only meeting of this type took place in September.

In the beginning of November, the European Commission adopted the notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. The notice will contain guidelines for labeling of products from West bank settlements.

The guidelines state that the EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the June 1967 borders, regardless of the status of those territories according to Israeli law, and that it is interested that EU legislation and regulations reflect this position. Accordingly, "products of Palestine" that are not produced in settlements will be labeled "products from the West Bank (Palestinian product)" or "product of Gaza" or "product of Palestine.

According to the document, enforcing the guidelines will be under the authority of the agencies within the 28 EU member states. Member countries will determine which punishments they will enforce on anyone who does not abide by the regulations.