Brussels, 10th April, 2014 – As the five-year term of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, BaronessCatherine Ashton, comes to an end, and the US-led Israeli/Palestinian peace talks falter, 42 European political leaders have urged the EU to review its policies concerning the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
On Monday, April 7, Leonello Gabrici, Head of the Middle East Division at the European External Action Service (EEAS), on behalf of Baroness Ashton, received an Open Letter from ECI that was signed by 42 European political leaders. These include government ministers and members of the Parliaments of eleven EU Member States, among them the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, Fiorello Provera from Italy and the chair of the European Parliament’s Israel delegation Bas Belder of Netherlands, as well as former Foreign Ministers of EU member states.
These leaders argue that the EU’s approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the disputed territories is not only unbalanced but based on basic legal and historical misconceptions.
In particular, the letter argues that the EU guidelines on funding in relation to Israeli settlements, which came into force last December, are unacceptable. It mentions six reasons why the EU should urgently review its policies in relation to Palestinian statehood and Israeli settlements, citing history, borders, security concerns, the future of Jerusalem, fairness and freedoms.
The Guidelines reflect the common policy of EU Member State governments as expressed in the European Council decision of December 2013. This policy supports creation of a Palestinian state based on the so-called pre-1967 borders (the ”Green Line”) and considers all Israeli settlements outside the Green line as ”illegal”.
The Open Letter argues that this policy pre-judges the legal status of the territories, including East Jerusalem. The legal status of these territories is extremely complex and undecided. Israel has the right to negotiate its borders as part of a peace agreement. Further, EU policy effectively promotes support of the PLO’s claims that no Jews will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. While the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination must be respected, such an outcome would amount to nothing less than ”ethnic cleansing” and is diametrically opposed to European values of freedom, tolerance and equality.
After the meeting ECI Legal Counsel Andrew Tucker and Founding Director Tomas Sandell issued a statement saying
– As European citizens prepare for EU-elections we feel this is the right time to raise our concerns about the unbalanced EU policy in the Middle East. Europe is once more going down a slippery slope of removing the freedom of the Jewish people to live in their historical homeland. Regardless of the final outcome of the peace talks, the rights of Jewish people to live and work in what are now disputed territories need to be affirmed by all parties, including the EU.
Mr. Gabrici expressed the EEAS’s appreciation of the activities of ECI, as a legitimate stakeholder in the European debate concerning the Middle East.
Mr Gabrici explained that the EU is not directly involved in the current US led peace talks. Instead the EU is focussing on ”what happens once the two parties have come to an agreement.” For both Israelis and the Palestinians Europe is a common reference point, he said.
At the meeting Director Gabrici agreed that if the peace talks fail it may indeed be time to review EU policies in the conflict, but underscored that the status quo is no longer an option for the international community.
– If the peace talks break down both sides will suffer the consequences, he said.
In addition to implementation of the EU guidelines, the EU intends to impose a mandatory labelling of goods produced in the disputed territories. Should the peace talks fail, Palestinians may face reductions in international funding of the Palestinian Authority, hence creating more instability in the region.
The Open Letter expresses serious discontent from many nations and a broad range of the political spectrum, reflecting growing criticism of the EU’s approach to the Israel/Palestine dispute. Last year two separate lists of prominent political leaders expressed their own concerns about the guidelines, thus adding to the level of discontent in Europe about the unbalanced approach of EU policy in this area.