Source: The Jerusalem Post
By Herb Keinon
Ireland, perhaps Israel’s harshest critic inside the European Union, assumed the position of the EU presidency on Monday at a time when Israel is already bracing for a rocky period with the body over the stalled diplomatic process and construction beyond the Green Line.
While the importance of the EU presidency has waned significantly in recent years as Brussels has increased its power and the EU’s foreign policy chief – and not the EU presidency – now chairs meetings of its foreign ministers and represents the body internationally, the EU’s rotating president still can wield influence and push issues important to it.
One Foreign Ministry official said that if Dublin decides to turn its extremely harsh criticism of Israel and the settlements into an “obsession,” it could present Jerusalem with considerable problems in its new role. At the same time, he stressed, the EU presidency does not carry with it the same authority it had some four years ago.
Ireland is replacing Cyprus, which held position for the last six months.
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, in a November letter to the chairman of the Irish parliament’s committee on foreign affairs and trade, said Ireland would – when it assumed the EU presidency – “push for a strong EU role in seeking progress on the MEPP [Middle East Peace Process].”
However, Gilmore said that “we have to be realistic about the scope available to the rotating presidency under the new arrangements relating to the CFSP [EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy].”
He pointed out that it is Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who chairs the meetings of the EU’s foreign ministers and that she and the EU’s External Action Service determine the agenda of the meetings. In the past these functions were carried out by the rotating president.
Irrespective of Ireland’s new role, Israel is expecting the EU to adopt a more assertive role in the coming year in trying to break the diplomatic stalemate with the Palestinians, and take an even more critical stance on Israel’s positions, especially its settlement policies.
Gilmore, perhaps in a sign of what is in store, wrote in his letter withering criticism of the settlements, saying the “illegal Israeli settlements” are “now a major impediment to the achievement of peace in the Middle East.”
According to Gilmore, “The ongoing settlement project inherently involves injustice to Palestinians and misappropriation of their resources, especially land and water. The priority accorded both in Israeli law and in practice to the settlers, their security and their interests, is the basis for most of the restrictions under which Palestinians labor.”
The Irish foreign minister said he has gone on record in the past as saying that the EU should, were it deemed necessary to get Israel to end or reverse its settlement policy, consider a possible ban on settlement products from entering the EU.
Such a ban, Gilmore wrote, “would be consistent with EU values and positions… I believe that there is a moral case for banning settlement products, and I agree it could have a symbolic impact.”
He said, however, that the “problem” was not settlement products, but “the settlements themselves, and their relentless expansion.”
Gilmore was reportedly one of four EU ministers who sparked former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s ire last month, when they argued at the last EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels against including a tepid denouncement of recent Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel in their statement slamming Israel for announcing planning and construction of settlements in E1.
In addition to Gilmore, the other three foreign ministers were from Portugal, Denmark and Finland.