Saturday, 6 Jun 2020 - 14 of Sivan, 5780

Israel’s foreign ministry hits back at EU’s Josep Borrell for his statement on the new government ‘without agreement of all member states’

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‘’It is unfortunate that Josep Borrell…chose to welcome the new government of a central partner of the EU in this way and chose to only see the relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of a plague and the status of the territories,’’ the Israeli foreign ministry said.

“In light of the fact that this message did not receive the support of member states, we wonder – and not for the first time – what policies the honorable gentleman chose to represent,” it added.

 

‘’When I learned his name as successor of HR Mogherini, I knew enough.More difficult times ahead between the EU and Israel I fear,’’ wrote last year Bastiaan Belder, a former Dutch Member of the European Parliament, who was for yers very active in supporting Israel in the assembly, about the nomination in July 2019 of Josep Borrell as the European Union’s new foreign policy chief.

Borrell, who was foreign minister in the Spanish Socialist government before being nominated by the EU leaders to his new post, has a record of comments slamming Israel and praising Iran…. Despite the fact that he lived in a kibbutz in the late sixties.

In Jerusalem, his nomination was not really welcomed even if he succeeded Italian Federica Mogherini who was not appreciated because of her perceived pro-Palestinian bias and her role in the Iranian nuclear deal.

Israel’s fears about Borrell, turned out to be well-founded in the framework of the announcement this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz signed a coalition deal agreement to co-lead an “emergency unity government”, based on power share and rotation of the premiership. The two sides eventually agreed on annexation of parts of the West Bank, although it is not clear which.

While the first reaction from the EU came from the EU spokesperson on foreign affairs telling journalists that the EU ‘’was looking forward to work with the government when it will be in office’’ and reiterating Borrell’s previous statement that annexation of parts of the West Bank ‘‘will not be left unanswered’’, Borrell himself issued  a statement on Thursday, published on the EU’s external servicer site, ‘’taking note of the political agreement that could pave the way for the formation of a government in Israel.’’

In this statement he first expressed the EU’s willingness ‘’to closely cooperate with the new (Israeli) government on fighting the coronavirus, stressing the technical ongoing cooperation that ‘’will be strengthened on all aspects of the pandemic.’’ But after this positive note, came the ‘’plat de résistance’, a statement  slamming Israel – even ahead of any decision of the future coalition on annexation- that the EU ‘’reiterates that any annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law.’’ ‘’The European Union will continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly,’’ he warned.

Borell reiterated that the EU’s position on the ‘’status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 remains unchanged.’’   ‘’In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 242 and 338, the European Union does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied West Bank.’’

The problem with this statement is that it was issued by Borrell without agreement or even consultation of all member states. So it cannot be considered as an EU statement because besides several member states including France, the UK  and Germany, other members states – including Hungary and Austria – objected to the implied threat in the draft statementt. But Borrell chose to go ahead with the statement as written, in his own name, without waiting to have a full debate on this issued within the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which reunites the 27 EU Foreign Ministers.  During discussions with some member states’ foreign Ministers, Borrell reportedly even advocated for sanctions on Israel if it moves forward with annexation.

The member states who opposed the statement had concerns about the timing. Israel’s government has not yet been sworn in by the Knesset and they did not want to start off their relationship with Benny Gantz, who, according to the coalition agreement will become Prime Minister in a year and a half, on such a negative footing. Moreover, the incoming Foreign Minister, is likely to be former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who is a leading member of Gantz’ Blue and White party.

This was clear in the Israeli foreign ministry’s reaction to Borrell’s statement. ‘’It is unfortunate that Josep Borrell…chose to welcome the new government of a central partner of the EU in this way and chose to only see the relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of a plague and the status of the territories,’’ the ministry said.

“In light of the fact that this message did not receive the support of member states, we wonder – and not for the first time – what policies the honorable gentleman chose to represent,” it added.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanked EU member states that are friendly to Israel for opposing Borrell’s message, saying that they “see the value of relations with Israel, and we will continue to promote relations between Israel and Europe with them.”

This episode of EU-Israel relations highlights again the divide within the EU between member states on the Israeli government moves.

In February already, Borrell – whose official title is  EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy- tried to convince the 27 European Foreign Ministers to issue a shared resolution criticizing the peace plan proposed by the Trump administration and warning against Israel’s declared intention to annex significant parts of the West Bank within weeks.

But this time again, at least six EU member states reportedly decided to oppose the resolution, including Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. That opposition killed the joint statement, as EU foreign policy declarations must have the agreement of all 27 member nations.

Borrell then issued his own statement rejecting the Trump peace plan – and warning that an Israeli annexation would violate international law.

His statement underlined the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed-upon land swaps, made up of the State of Israel and “an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable state of Palestine.”

Borrell said the US initiative “departs from these internationally agreed parameters.”

Unlike the Europeans, on Wednesday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions.”

In February the US and Israel set up a joint committee to work on converting the conceptual map in the Trump plan into what US Ambassador David Friedman described at the time as “a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved”.

According to the Netanyahu-Gantz  coalition agreement the new government will “engage in dialogue” with the international community over annexation, “with the aim of preserving security and strategic interests including regional security, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements”.

 

 

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