EU mulling how to dissuade Israel from settlement expansion

Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:20am EST
 
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By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - 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 occupied 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.

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.

European foreign ministers, at a meeting in Brussels, were to discuss how to respond to the latest settlement plan.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague last week distanced the prospect of sanctions, and instead spoke of negotiations and formulating "incentives and disincentives" for peace talks.

France too discounted sanctions and has lowered expectations of tough measures, saying the onus must be on "persuasion" and reminding Israel of "principles and condemnations".

"There are ideas on the table, but let's see whether the Israelis actually go ahead with construction and what happens in the elections," said a French diplomatic source.   Continued...

 
A section of Israel's controversial barrier runs in front of Qalandiya refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad