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Europe's big powers unify to push against Israel settlement plans (+video)

Observers are struck by the degree to which the UK, France, and others in Europe have acted together to criticize Israel's plans to expand settlements.

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Mr. Levy points to increasing cooperation between the so-called E3 – comprising the UK, France, and Germany – most notably last year during a UN Security Council vote over a settlements resolution, which was vetoed by the US.

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“I think in general there is an attempt to come together, especially around something like this, where they are saying: 'How do convince Israel to reverse this?' or over [Israeli's] withholding of Palestinian tax revenue.”

Tentative steps by the EU's three largest states to pursue a united diplomatic front would continue, he suggests, particularly if the US “continues to be paralyzed by its own domestic politics on this issue.”

Denmark, Sweden, Spain too

As in London and Paris, Israeli diplomatic representatives in Denmark, Sweden, and Spain were summoned for discussions about the settlement plans while the French president, François Hollande, and the Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, issued a joint statement.

Speaking at a press conference with Mr. Monti, Mr. Hollande didn’t rule out tougher measures, adding, "We don't want to shift into sanctions mode. We are more focused on persuading. It's an important moment, but I appeal for responsibility."

Other options open to major European players such as Britain and France, whose foreign ministers will discuss events in the Middle East on Dec. 10, include suspending strategic dialogue meetings with Israel.

Britain recently hosted one of the meetings at the beginning of November, when Foreign Office staff and a high-level Israeli delegation discussed various issues, including preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and the conflict in Syria.

No radical shift

Levy meanwhile cautions against reading the latest diplomatic movements as the beginning of a more radical change in European foreign policy towards Israel.

“I would argue that Britain, along with other European states, has so deeply embedded itself in a position over the years that ultimately gives Israel impunity, and Israel has seen ultimately over time that there is no cost or consequence for a policy that has already put 600,000 settlers over the Green Line,” he says, referring to the demarcation line established between Israel and its neighbors after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. 

“This week may be a gradual shift away from that, but it does not look decisive because you are still talking about things that are in the realm of the largely symbolic and rhetorical.”

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