EU’s Top Diplomat Rejects US Middle East Plan

(CN) — The European Union’s foreign affairs chief is condemning a pro-Israeli plan pushed by President Donald Trump in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, warned on Tuesday that the plan “departs” from previous peace plans based around creating two states.

The golden shrine of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old city can be seen behind a section made of concrete walls of the controversial separation barrier Israel was building in 2004 in Abu Dis, a village in the outskirts of Jerusalem. In the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, Egyptian forces took control of the Gaza Strip and Jordan took over the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel captured the territories when it launched a surprise attack in 1967 at a time of soaring tensions with its hostile Arab neighbors. (AP Photo/Enric Marti, File)

Borrell also warned that Israeli attempts to annex parts of the West Bank “could not pass unchallenged.” Israel has said it will annex parts of the West Bank where it has built settlements. Trump’s proposals are seen as a green light to annexation.

Israel responded to Borrell with a foreign ministry spokesman calling his language “threatening.” The spokesman said the EU’s position would lead to it having a “minimized” role.

Borrell’s statement on Israel comes on the eve of his first trip to the United States as the EU’s top diplomat, on Thursday and Friday. Borrell is expected to speak with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and an architect of the new proposal.

Last week the EU said it needed time to study the Trump plan. Under EU rules, unanimity among the bloc’s 27 members is required before the EU can make decisions in foreign affairs.

When it comes to the Middle East, EU policy is often cautious because EU member states’ loyalties are divided. Some European countries recognize a Palestinian state, though most of the bloc’s biggest countries have not.

Sweden became the first EU member to recognize Palestine in 2014 and others have considered following its example, but have not. A number of EU members, such as those in Eastern Europe, recognized Palestine when they were under the Soviet Union. As a bloc, the EU says recognition of a Palestinian state needs to take place after peace talks create a new state.

The EU is seen as having limited clout on the world stage, but is seeking to assert itself more, and the European Commission’s new leader, Ursula von der Leyen, has called for a “geopolitical” approach. The EU is seeking to help end a number of crises at its periphery, including conflicts in Libya and Syria.

Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented their plan on Jan. 28, but it has been widely panned in Europe. The plan, which Trump has claimed is the “deal of the century,” envisions giving Palestinians restricted autonomy in parts of the West Bank after carving up Palestinian lands into disjointed enclaves; critics say it replicates the system of apartheid in South Africa, where blacks lived in territories known as Bantustans.

“It’s very clear that in this ‘Deal of the Century’ a Palestinian state doesn’t exist,” wrote Paola Caridi, an Italian Middle East analyst, for Affari Internazionali, an Italian think tank. She said the Palestinian state envisioned under the Trump plan is “nothing else but a Bantustan artificially kept alive only with heavy financing … a farce.”

Under the plan, Israeli settlements on the West Bank considered illegal under international law would be recognized as legal. The plan also would give Israel control of most of Jerusalem and, critics warn, effectively end a two-state solution. In effect, the plan gives Israel virtually all it has sought during the long conflict.

Palestinian leaders have rejected it. They would like all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem part of an independent state, and remove more than 700,000 Israelis from settlements there.

“The European Union calls on both sides to re-engage and to refrain from any unilateral actions contrary to international law that could exacerbate tensions,” Borrell said.

He said the EU was “especially concerned” by Israeli talk of annexation of parts of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank. He said the EU — as stipulated under international law — does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over territories it occupied after the 1967 conflict, known as the Six-Day War.

“Steps toward annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged,” he said.

A 2013 view of the Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Borrell said the EU supports “reviving a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and which is acceptable to both parties.”

On Twitter, Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, called Borrell’s position “regrettable.”

“Pursuing such policies and conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU’s role in any process will be minimized,” Haiat said.

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(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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