Par Robin Emmott et Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France urges European Union partners to consider threatening Israel with a firm response if it proceeds to a de facto annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, said three European diplomats.
Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg also want to discuss the possibility of punitive economic measures at a meeting of foreign ministers on Friday, diplomats told Reuters, although all member states should accept collective action.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said cabinet discussions would begin in July on extending Israeli sovereignty to the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
A Middle East peace plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump in January recognized the U.S. for Israeli settlements and sovereignty over the Jordan Valley while envisioning a demilitarized Palestinian state.
But the Palestinians have expressed outrage at Israel’s plans to consolidate its grip on the land it seized in the 1967 Middle East War, territory they seek for a state.
EU diplomats have not given details of the punitive measures that EU member states could consider in an attempt to dissuade Israel from making the decision.
In procedural terms, EU governments should ask the Commission and the EU’s foreign policy division, the EEAS, to draw up a list of options.
The 27 EU countries should accept any response from the EU, and Israel’s closest allies such as Hungary and the Czech Republic could still block even the preparatory work.
An EU spokesperson declined to comment on the internal talks on Monday, but said: “The annexation is against international law and if the annexation continues, the EU will act accordingly”.
TRADE, RISK RESEARCH
Israel has long been part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, which accounted for nearly € 80 billion between 2014 and 2020, according to the European Commission.
The EU is also Israel’s largest trading partner and Israel enjoys trade preferences with the world’s largest trading bloc.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in February that Trump’s plan deviates from “internationally agreed parameters”. Borrell said that the measures to annex the Palestinian territory, “if implemented, could not go unchallenged.”
This is a point of view adopted by France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, according to European diplomats.
“There is clearly a need to examine what annexation means in the context of international law and we need to know our options,” said a senior EU diplomat involved in the talks.
“We also have to say what exactly would be the consequences of the annexation, ideally as a way to stop such a move,” said the diplomat.
Palestinians and many countries regard West Bank settlements as illegal under the Geneva Conventions which prohibit settlement on land captured during the war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political ties to the land.
(Written by Robin Emmott; Edited by Andrew Heavens)