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Ashrawi praises 'significant' EU directive on settlements

July 16, 2013 12:57 P.M. (Updated: July 19, 2013 10:31 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- PLO official Hanan Ashrawi on Tuesday welcomed a directive by the European Union which will ban dealings with Israeli settlements and require future contracts to include a clause stating that settlements are not part of the Israeli state.

"We welcome this significant move that calls for all EU projects to be conducted within pre-1967 lines and not in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Golan Heights," Ashrawi said.

"This includes the prohibition of funding, cooperation and research funding, among other things, to any individual or institution in the illegal settlements."

The EU has moved from statements and condemnation "to effective policy decisions and concrete steps which constitute a qualitative shift that will have a positive impact on the chances of peace," Ashrawi said.

"The Israeli occupation must be held to account, and Israel must comply with international and humanitarian law and the requirements for justice and peace."

The Israeli government is more committed to settlements than to peace, the PLO official stressed, adding that international law requires Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders and cease settlement activity.

"It is thus Israel that holds the key to peace; it can either pursue the path of impunity, entitlement, and oppression, or it can relinquish the territories it occupies in 1967 and join the global community as an equal and not as a rogue state."

The new legislation will go into effect on Friday and builds upon conclusions from the EU Foreign Affairs Council's conclusion from last year.

It requires a clear distinction to be made in all signed agreements between Israel and the territories it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war -- the Golan Heights as well as the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

EU spokesman David Kriss told AFP: "These are guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activity in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards.

"It makes a distinction between Israel and the entities in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights," he said.

Israeli officials slam directive

A senior Israeli official was quoted by Haaretz as calling the new ruling an "earthquake," saying it was the first time such explicit directives have been published by EU bodies.

The Israeli daily reported that the move has created anxiety within Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office over the future of Israeli-EU relations.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin told army radio the Europeans had made a "mistake" and that the directive would undermine any return to peace talks with the PLO.

"It's a very worrying initiative launched at a bad time, because it only reinforces the Palestinians' refusal to restart negotiations," he said.

Kriss said the EU wanted Israel to cooperate fully with the directive to ensure its "participation in projects between 2014 and 2020."

But Elkin told the Haaretz newspaper: "We are not ready to sign on this clause in our agreements with the European Union," a refusal that could "halt all cooperation in economics... (and) cause severe damage to Israel."

A high-ranking Israeli official, who requested anonymity, described the European Union's move as a disproportionate "attack" on Israel.

"When it comes to disputed territories, the Europeans prefer to attack a small country like Israel instead of taking on more powerful states, because they're afraid of retaliation," he said.

Israel was "only informed of the directive at the last moment," he added.

A leader of the Yesha Council -- an umbrella group of municipal councils in Jewish settlements in the West Bank -- strongly criticized the EU.

"The one-sided and discriminatory EU directive means Europe has effectively decided to abandon any involvement it had in the Middle East peace process," Dani Dayan said in a statement.

"By aligning itself with the most extreme Palestinian demands... the EU can no longer be perceived as a neutral or objective," he added.

The PLO has said it will not return to direct talks unless Israel completely halts settlement construction and accepts the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations.

Netanyahu has so far categorically rejected outright any return to what he has called"indefensible" lines which existed before June 4, 1967.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in neighboring Jordan later on Tuesday on his sixth visit to the region in as many months in a bid to bridge the differences between the two sides.

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