On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a request by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to hold a cabinet meeting on the political stalemate with the Palestinians, to discuss ways of advancing peace negotiations for a final agreement. On Monday Haaretz reported Barak as saying in private talks that a thaw in relations is in Israel's strategic interest and that the country is "living on borrowed time." On Tuesday the European Union demonstrated the price of neglecting this political channel, combined with the race to expand settlements.
The EU's decision to add the Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut municipality to the list of settlements whose exports will not be eligible for tax breaks, since some of its streets are located in "no-man's land," is not unconnected to the political context. Even if the EU limits its decision to the parts of the city that are beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders, its stance toward the settlements will not change. In Brussels, as in Washington, it is maintained that sovereignty over the West Bank must be determined by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over final borders.
Instead of pointing an accusing finger at so-called anti-Israeli elements in Europe who seek to cause damage to the country, it would be better for the political ranks in Jerusalem to examine their own actions. European leaders have warned Israel more than once that the EU will not be indifferent to settlement policy and attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 1999 the EU sent a message to the Foreign Ministry ratifying its position about the status of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, meaning that all of Jerusalem is occupied territory. The message was a response to Israel's demand that foreign ambassadors cease holding meetings at the Orient House in East Jerusalem, an unofficial but important Palestinian diplomatic center.
The Modi'in affair is another worrying sign of Israel's international standing. The prime minister's decision to bury the Levy report, which determined that the West Bank is not occupied territory, is a step in the right direction - a necessary step, but insufficient.