The European Union will look at ways on Monday to press Israel to ditch a plan to build settlements in a highly sensitive area of the West Bank, but hold off on tough action soon despite international outrage over the decision.
Some officials say that options for robust steps against Israel are limited due to a lack of unanimity in the 27-member EU and diplomatic protection of the Jewish state by its cast-iron superpower ally the United States.
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The prospect of punitive EU measures would rise if Israel continues to flout world opinion, but noises from Britain, France and Germany do not point to strong action for now.
Still, several options are open to the EU – one of Israel's biggest trading partners – to pressure the Jewish state into ditching the settlement plan that Palestinians protest would rob them of territory crucial to their bid for a viable state and further dim chances of reviving frozen peace negotiations
E1 area (Photo: AP)
Europe's political view of the Mideast has changed profoundly because of Israel's plans, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Monday.
Bildt said the Israeli plans, and in particular the E1 project, had caused "extreme concern" in the European Union. "What the Israelis did on E1 has shifted opinions in Europe," Bildt said as he arrived for the meeting. "I don't think the Israelis are aware of this."
Britain's foreign secretary said Monday that the European Union's foreign ministers will discuss the "urgent need to restart the peace process" in the Middle East. "I expect the entire EU will be strongly opposed to that," said Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Some advocacy groups want the EU to prohibit the sale of goods made by Israeli settlers from being labeled as made in Israel. The labeling issue may come up but is not specifically on the agenda.
The 27 EU foreign ministers will also consider the crisis in Syria and plans to send an EU military training force to Mali.
Israel's construction plans for the E1 area sparked international criticism and Israeli ambassadors in Egypt, France, the UK, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Ireland and Finland called by their respective capitals for clarifications.
Washington and the United Nations have also expressed their discontent from the plan, saying it would cripple the Israeli-Palestinian peace process even further.
Abbas said that new settlement construction constitutes "a war crime," and threatened that the Palestinian Authority will see ICC action against Israel.
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