Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

EU will try head off Israel annexations, Luxembourg minister says

Foreign ministers discussed a four-point declaration, but Hungary and Austria refuse to sign

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, visit the Europa Museum in Schengen, Luxembourg. Getty
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, visit the Europa Museum in Schengen, Luxembourg. Getty

EU countries are planning to issue Israel with a warning not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, trying to avoid a diplomatic clash.

The bloc is alarmed by the Israeli unity government's plans to annex Jewish settlements in the territory, which it says would breach international law and harm the chances of peace with the Palestinians.

But there is no agreement among EU countries over what punitive action to take should Israel press ahead with the move, which has the support of US President Donald Trump.

Luxembourg's veteran Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he discussed a declaration with fellow EU ministers during video talks on Friday.

"A very large number of countries on Friday supported a draft text that we drew up with my Irish counterpart Simon Coveney in which we warn against an annexation that would be a violation of international law," Mr Asselborn said.

He said Austria and Hungary had refused to sign the declaration, so it could not be issued in the name of all 27 EU states.

"But the fact that a very large number of countries support this line is a success," Mr Asselborn said.

The Israeli government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz is due to be sworn in on Sunday, and the plan was for the statement to be issued Monday.

"We are not talking about sanctions," Mr Asselborn said. "We're talking about prevention. This text is not aggressive."

The four-point statement welcomes the new government and recalls the EU's close ties with Israel, but gives a warning that annexation would breach international law.

"The European Union wants to co-operate with neighbouring states and countries in the region and reiterates its support for a negotiated, two-state solution for a viable peace perspective between Israelis and Palestinians," Mr Asselborn said.

"There is no alternative to this solution. No one has presented another viable solution."

The EU has criticised Mr Trump's Middle East peace plan, unveiled in January, which gave Israel approval to annex parts of the West Bank.

"If we don't succeed in convincing Israel to give up its project, the hardest part will be ahead of us," Mr Asselborn said.

After Friday's talks, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would make a concerted diplomatic push to try to steer Israel away from annexations.

But he said there were deep divisions among EU states, as some such as Mr Asselborn push for a tough line while others seek dialogue.

A European official said options for punitive measures were in place.

They were freezing bilateral agreements, suspending scientific co-operation, cancelling trade preferences and recalling ambassadors.

But adopting such measures would require a unanimous vote by the EU countries.

Updated: May 18, 2020 02:50 AM

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