SUBJECT EU to debate strengthening ties with Israel
BRUSSELS – The European Union is heading for a row over ties with Israel
as it attempts to introduce a major new policy designed to bring the bloc
closer to its neighbours, EU diplomats said on Thursday.
The dispute hinges on whether the EU should extend highly advantageous
economic and political ties to Israel while at the same time condemning
the Jewish state for disproportionate use of force against Palestinians in
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday are due to discuss
“action plans” to strengthen ties with the enlarged bloc’s new neighbours,
under the recently-adopted European Neighbourhood Policy.
The ministers will debate the first plans – for Moldova, Ukraine, Jordan,
Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
An official of the EU’s Dutch presidency said the plans were due to be
adopted by national leaders at a summit on Nov. 5.
The European Neighbourhood Policy is designed as a substitute for
membership for countries surrounding the bloc, with which the EU would share
“everything but institutions”.
Neighbours will be expected to introduce economic and political reforms to
achieve EU standards of governance.
In return they would eventually receive free trade, the freedom to move
and work across the bloc and all benefits of membership except voting rights
and representation in bodies like the European Parliament and the European
But EU ambassadors were deeply divided at a meeting on Wednesday over
whether to make such an offer to Israel while the Israeli army was
pressing ahead with its biggest offensive in four years in the Gaza Strip, an EU
Israel says the offensive is to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets
at Israeli towns.
“Imagine, if the disproportionate use of force is being condemned by
everyone, and at the same time the EU offers this magic plan to move
Israel and the EU closer to each other — a plan which benefits the Israelis,”
the diplomat said.
“At the bottom of this is how we can use for the best our leverage with
Israel. After all, they will get everything but institutions.”
Some EU members, including Germany and the Czech Republic, advocate either
adopting all seven plans together, or none.
Others, including Sweden, Ireland and Spain, say it is impossible to move
forward with Israel at present and suggest adopting some but leaving the
most contentious for later.
A Dutch presidency note on Monday’s foreign ministers’ meeting said
negotiations on the action plans are concluded with six of the partners
but are still continuing with Israel.
The EU is a member of a “Quartet” — with the United States, United
Nations and Russia — promoting peace in the Middle East.
Because the action plans are tailor-made for each partner and differ
significantly from each other, an EU diplomat said, the EU wanted to
in the Israeli plan language committing it to a “road map” for peace
outlined by the Quartet.
“Israel is resisting any mention of the Quartet or of obligations towards
the road map. Without these references the action plan will be difficult
for many member states, to say the least,” the diplomat said.
Other diplomats said the Ukraine plan was also contentious in view of an
Oct. 31 presidential election, in which the EU has appealed for a free
poll but expressed worries over whether the administration of President Leonid
Kuchma will allow one.