The European Union convened a special parliamentary session in Brussels on Tuesday to debate, for the first time, the ways in which the planned EU sanctions against Israeli settlements could be averted. The session, titled "EU-Israel relations: Impact of the new EU guidelines on Israel and their effects on the EU, Israeli and Palestinian economies," was called at the request of representatives of the Judea and Samaria settlements.
Vice Chairman of the EU Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs Fiorello Provera headed the meeting, in which 15 European MPs heard Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika and his deputy Yossi Dagan, as well as Israeli Ambassador to the EU David Walzer and MKs Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu), detail their position on the matter.
The Israeli delegation arrived in Brussels following a Samaria Regional Council campaign that included hosting tours of Judea and Samaria for some 70 members of the EU parliament.
The Israeli delegates criticized the EU's policies against the settlements, which they claimed are led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Mesika and Dagan slammed the EU's most recent directive, passed in mid-July, which called on the EU's principal institutions and member nations to limit or suspend their economic, social and academic cooperation with Israeli institutions that operate in settlements.
Mesika said that "targeting products from Judea and Samaria will, first and foremost, hurt the Palestinians and the [Jewish-Arab] coexistence." Dagan's comments focused on the funding the Palestinian Authority provides to terrorists who have targeted Israelis.
Expressing concern over the possibility of increased rocket attacks against Israel, Shaked was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as telling the MPs, "Europe is forcing us to cede land in order to achieve the type of agreement it sees fit for the Middle East, and this will only mean that missiles will continue to rain down on Israel not only from Gaza, but from Qalqilya and Ramallah as well."
According to the report, Shaked told the forum, "If Europe thinks Jews will return to the days where we were forced to mark our products -- you can forget it. Delegitimization of parts of Israel by Europe is the new anti-Semitism. The old anti-Semitism led to the destruction of our people in gas chambers. We will not allow the new anti-Semitism to hurt us."
Habayit Hayehudi's MK further warned that "such conduct creates a sense among Israelis that Europe is lost, [that] it is occupied by the forces of radical Islam. If that's the message you've been trying to send, you're doing a good job in getting it across. I want you to understand that you are important to us. We hold your support in high regard, but you cannot push us to commit suicide," she was quoted as saying.
Over the weekend U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with EU foreign ministers on Saturday, urged the EU to postpone its planned funding ban on the settlements.
A senior U.S. State Department official told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that Kerry called on the Europeans to consider postponing the implementation of EU guidelines on aid. "There was strong support for his efforts and an openness to considering his requests," he said.
Kerry, the official said, planned on stressing that "it's important for those parties who have an interest in a successful outcome [to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] that they be supportive of this effort and that they find a way to embrace the negotiators and encourage them to move forward, rather than, as it were metaphorically, bang them over the head."
Asked for her response to Kerry's request, Ashton told reporters the guidelines were simply "putting down on paper what is currently the EU position."
Ashton announced, however, that the EU would send a team, headed by a senior EU diplomat, to Israel on Monday to make sure the implementation of the new guidelines was done sensitively. "We of course want to continue having a strong relationship with Israel," she said.
The EU team would talk to the Israelis about implementation of the new guidelines but not about renegotiating them, an EU source said.