The European Union has made clear that its role as Israel's biggest trade partner and the Palestinians' largest donor should not be taken for granted. The EU Ambassador to Israel said on January 22 that both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks risk paying a high price in losing European Union trade and aid if negotiations collapse.
War of words between Israel and the EU
“We have made it clear to the parties that there will be a price to pay if these negotiations falter,” EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said. “If Israel were to go down the road of continued settlement expansion ... I’m afraid that what will transpire is a situation in which Israel will find itself increasingly isolated,” he added.
The comments by EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen were the latest in an increasingly contentious war of words between Israel and the European Union over settlement construction. The EU has grown especially frustrated by Israel's repeated announcement since the talks started of new Jewish settlement building on land the Palestinians want for their future state. A major private Dutch pension fund announced earlier this month that it was divesting from five large Israeli banks because of their operations in the settlements, and Norwegian and Swedish funds are considering similar moves.
On the contrary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the EU of unfairly singling out Israel for settlement construction while ignoring Palestinian transgressions. In a statement released last week, he said Israel would make clear "that the one-sided position they constantly take against Israel and in favour of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates a feeling that they are only looking to place blame on Israel". On January 16, Israel summoned envoys from four European states to protest against their “one-sided stand in favour of the Palestinians”.
The 28-nation EU has potentially even more leverage over the Palestinians, providing some 1 billion euros of assistance each year to the cash strapped Palestinian Authority, making it by far the largest donor to the West Bank economy. "It has been made very clear to the Palestinians that just sitting around and waiting is not an option," Faaborg-Andersen said.
Last July, Israel and the Palestinians embarked on nine months of direct negotiations, at the urging of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, but the negotiations have shown little sign of progress so far. Furthermore, Israel has not slowed its construction in the occupied territories. On January 22 Israel has moved ahead with plans for another 381 homes in the occupied West Bank, the third such announcement in two weeks, raising the number of new settler homes declared this year to 2,530. Most countries deem Israel's settlements illegal and the European Union routinely condemns any new building moves.
The future of settlements is a core issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians fear Israeli building will deny them contiguous territory, which they see as crucial to a viable country and have warned that their expansion could derail the peace talks. Israel says the issue should be solved within negotiations. Netanyahu, whose coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has defended recent expansion in settlements that he says Israel would retain in any future peace deal.
Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Washington Post