'Israel's isolation may affect financial ties with Europe'
State officials warn of political isolation following European nations' support of Palestinian bid to condemn settlement construction in Security Council. 'Every tender for settlement construction distances us from Europe. Some countries boycott Israeli goods and things can deteriorate,' one official says
State officials said Saturday that the US veto which prevented a UN condemnation of settlement construction is not a reason for celebrations. "Israel is becoming increasingly isolated from West European countries which consider settlements a red rag," one element said. The senior officials said they do not rule out financial consequences as a result of Israel's isolation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU foreign affairs chief Catherin Ashton publicly opposed the continuation of settlement construction and the existence of settlements. Germany, Britain and France were among the 14 supporters of the Palestinian proposal in the Security Council vote Friday.
"Every time Israel issues another tender for construction in the settlements it distances the friendly European nations. We have a very serious problem and the fact that there is no peace process makes it harder to get Western European nations to support Israel. Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are angry with Netanyahu and do not accept the fact that the prime minister did not extend the freeze for an additional three months," the state official said.
Sources in Jerusalem also warned of the possibility of damage to Israel and Europe's financial relations. "It is estimated that the weekend vote will have financial consequences in relation to Europe. There are countries which already boycott Israeli goods and things may deteriorate further.
"The Europeans notice the fact that Ashton's policy is equivocally anti-settlements. Settlements and construction contribute to Israel's de-legitimization in all of Europe. In the past, European countries could have been influenced, but today it's virtually impossible."
Securing European support
After their draft was blocked in the Security Council, the PA threatened to take their draft to the General Assembly which may also discuss recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Senior officials in the Foreign Ministry said that despite tense relations with Europe, Israel will try to form a group of 20 or 30 European countries to vote against the Palestinian draft in the General Assembly.
"It's clearly obvious the Palestinians have an automatic majority but we're currently trying to secure the support of Eastern European nations and possibly some Western states," one Foreign Ministry official said.
"Should the Palestinians present a harsher statement it will make it easier for us to get England or France on board. But should the statement be in the same format as it was in the Security Council it is possible that Israel will suffer another condemnation, which has no practical consequences."
Meanwhile, state officials noted that the fact that the prime minister has not held a visit outside Israel over the past few months. Merkel and nine German ministers may have recently visited Israel but Netanyahu himself has not met with his European counterparts for many months. In fact, the prime minister has not met with any major European leader outside Israel since the peace process's stalemate.
Peace process stalemate
Jerusalem officials estimated that following the Palestinian announcement regarding upcoming elections and recent international events, it wasn't likely that the peace process would be renewed in the coming months. A senior state official said: "We estimate that the peace process will remain unchanged in the upcoming months. The Palestinians won't want to negotiate during their election period so as to not be seen as negotiating about concessions with Israel."
The officials noted the fact that the US continues its dialogue with Israel and said they believed the peace process can be resumed.
During his last visit to Washington, US officials told Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the current situation in the Middle East will enable peace talks to renew and that they are working to reignite them. Sources close to Netanyahu remain skeptical and said that "at this moment the dialogue with the US is underway and they're looking for new ways to renew negotiations."
In the past few days, rumors have spread in the political arena that Israel and the US are trying to form a political plan, both together and separately, which will be presented by US President Barack Obama.
The plan aims to bring both sides back to the negotiating table. However, instability in the region prevents the process from progressing at this point, as it is yet unclear which regimes will be leading the Middle East in the future.
Government senior officials, including top ministers, recently said: "Initiative should be taken to advance the political process. The current stagnation isn't good for Israel in any way and we must do everything to return to the negotiating table."
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