Israel threatened on Monday to review its cooperation with European Union projects that benefit Palestinians in Yehudah and Shomron, citing the bloc’s labelling of exports from Jewish communities in the region.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that Israel was suspending its contacts with European Union bodies involved in peace efforts with the Palestinians, condemning the EU guidelines published on Nov. 11.
With talks on Palestinian statehood frozen since 2014, there seemed to be little peace diplomacy for this decision to affect.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon seemed to expand the scope of Israel’s steps against the EU, a major donor to the Palestinian Authority, by saying it could be frozen out of some initiatives in Palestinian areas.
“It is true that there is no peace process … but the European Union wants to be involved in a variety of projects, some of them … regarding Palestinian welfare,” he said.
“With all those projects, we will need to re-examine whether it is feasible to consider the European Union as a partner while it is using measures of discrimination and boycott against the state of Israel.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki called the Israeli move a “stupid threat” that he said exposed arrogance and enmity towards the EU.
Criticism came from the opposition as well. Zionist Camp MK Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu’s move was foolish and would only invite more condemnation of Israel around the world. She said the decision was intended to win votes in Israel at the expense of the state’s image internationally.
“He wanted to say to his voters ‘we showed them,’” Livni said. “Netanyahu merely added another brick in the wall of Israel’s isolation.”
In a sign that the Israeli move stopped short of any boycott of officials representing the bloc, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday in Paris, on the sidelines of the global climate conference.
“EU-Israel relations are good, broad and deep and this will continue,” a European Commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels while announcing the meeting had taken place.
However, a spokesman for the prime minister belittled the “meeting,” which he said amounted to Mogherini approaching Netanyahu in the hallway and greeting him.
It would be difficult for Israel to block funding for EU projects in towns and villages under Palestinian Authority control, but plans for “Area C,” where the Israeli military is solely in charge, could be another matter.
The bloc has set aside 10 million euros for housing and other projects for Palestinians in Area C and Israel has to approve or turn down such ventures. Some 100 initiatives are in the pipeline, with only a handful ratified so far.
Israel’s Economy ministry estimated the new labelling would affect goods worth about $50 million a year, including grapes and dates, wine, poultry, honey, olive oil and cosmetics made from Dead Sea minerals
That is around a fifth of the $200-$300 million worth of goods produced in Yehudah and Shomron each year, but a small fraction of the $30 billion of goods and services traded annually between Israel and the EU.
Meanwhile, in a private commercial move, Galeria Kaufhof, one of Germany’s largest department store chains, removed Israeli products from its shelves, Globes said on Monday.
Galeria Kaufhof has over 100 branches, 21,000 employees and annual sales of €3.1 billion. The manager of a main branch of Galeria Kaufhof in Munich told an Israeli reporter: “The EU is waging a religious war against Israel; it is one big political madness.”
Earlier this month, German department store chain KaDeWe removed Israeli products from its shelves, but reversed its decision and apologized for its actions after a wave of criticism.