Germany Distances Itself From EU Ban

YERUSHALAYIM -

Germany will not be the point man for the new European Union ban on Israeli businesses beyond the Green Line, a German government spokesman told the Bundestag on Friday, the day the ban was officially announced.

Germany will distance itself from the “controversial European Union guidelines” banning economic cooperation in the region, said MP Philipp Missfedler, the Bundestag spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and its coalition partner the Bavarian Christian Social Union, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Missfedler dismissed the guidelines as “pure ideology and symbolic politics” and asserted that they will not serve the cause of peace.

The new EU directive, calling for withdrawal from Israeli projects in Yehudah and Shomron, east Yerushalayim and the Golan Heights, is slated for implementation on January 1, 2014.

He added that the European regulations are not “objective requirements” because over the last seven years of the approximately 800 million euros of financial aid from Brussels to Israel, only 0.5 percent was funneled into projects covering the territories in question.

“Israel is the recognized administrative power in the territories, without which approved development projects like solar energy or sewage works could not be installed,” Missfelder stated.

It was unclear what impact the German position will have on the EU action.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials were fuming over the EU decision, which was, they say, adopted under a cloak of secrecy. While relevant documents circulated among EU members, Israeli diplomats were kept in the dark. And when EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Yerushalayim just three weeks ago, she made no mention of the coming policy shift.

“We spoke freely about everything,” recalled an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “and did not know that she was concealing the great secret.”

Israeli Embassy officials in Brussels who are responsible for contact with the EU were thwarted in their attempts to ascertain the content of a document that they knew was in the works. Sources in Brussels said a small coterie of diplomats in the European Commission’s Middle East Department had denied anyone access to the document.

The EU has since tried to downplay the directive. Ashton said that it was not meant to “prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” though that is exactly what Israel has been saying is the effect of the directive.

Last Wednesday, Netanyahu held talks with a long list of European leaders to protest the development, stressing that it could interfere with the renewal of peace talks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also enlisted to try to persuade the EU to postpone announcement of the ban on the basis that it could jeopardize the peace process. Kerry, said to be taken aback by the news, contacted the EU but to no avail.

The government issued no official statement on the matter, but various officials  have begun questioning Europe’s utility as a player in the peace process given its latest “one-sidedness and clear bias,” as Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said Friday in an interview on Israel Radio.

The EU has invited Israel to participate in discussions on how the ban will be implemented and suggested that its economic effect will not be as extensive as Israel fears.

However, Israeli experts said that the policy could have a major impact on how Israel does business with the EU. For example, Holocaust survivors who have accounts in banks in areas like Ramat Eshkol — considered “occupied” under the EU guidelines — may find that their reparation payments are held up since Germany, an EU member, would refuse to transfer money to such banks, Yisrael Hayom reported.

In the worst-case scenario, any bank or company doing business over the Green Line could be disqualified from EU backing or cooperation.