Gaps Emerge Between Britain and EU over Trump Middle East Plan

LONDON (Reuters) -
trump middle east peace plan
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Chris Jackson/Pool via Reuters)

Days before it leaves the European Union, Britain put itself at odds with European allies on Wednesday in warmly welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan while France and the wider E.U. warned that it must respect international law.

The plan envisages a Palestinian state but demilitarized and with borders drawn to meet Israel’s security needs. It accords U.S. recognition of Israeli communities in Yehuda and Shomron that most of the world regards as illegal.

The French Foreign Ministry welcomed the fact the Trump administration was putting forward ideas to resolve the conflict and said it would study the 181-page plan closely, but added that any agreement must “conform with international law.”

That line was reiterated by the European Commission, which said the proposals needed to respect “all relevant U.N. resolutions and internationally agreed parameters.”

But Britain, which has played a key role in the Middle East since World War One, offered no words of caution, instead welcoming the plan as a “serious proposal” and encouraging both sides to give it “genuine and fair consideration.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in Parliament on Wednesday that “No peace plan is perfect but this has the merit of a two-state solution, it is a two-state solution, it would ensure that Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and of the Palestinian people.”

The gap could signal a split on a critical area of foreign policy just before Britain formally leaves the E.U. on Friday.

The French reference to international law is important given that Israeli government officials have interpreted Trump’s plan as giving them a green light to move quickly in applying Israeli sovereignty over nearly a third of the region by formally annexing it.

“The European Union has been clear that it cannot support a U.S. plan that runs counter to internationally agreed parameters, international law, and past U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“The U.S. plan is at odds with all these things.”

At a time when the International Criminal Court has already opened an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, Israel could face sharp and wide condemnation if it acts to annex territory.

“The EU and its member states must warn that such action will have grave consequences,” said Lovatt, suggesting that the bloc might decide to give more serious backing to the ICC investigation if Israel proceeds with annexation.

The problem for E.U. member states is that they have limited leverage over Israel, despite the historical role France and Britain have played in the region.

If the EU were to decide to impose sanctions or other measures against Israel over annexation, it would require unanimous approval of all 27 member states after Britain’s departure. Similar steps have failed in the past as Hungary and other smaller member states have sided with Israel.

Britain, too, is reluctant to set itself at odds with Israel as it looks for trade deals after Brexit, including closer ties with Israel’s leading high-tech and defense industries.

Moreover, some analysts see Britain shifting closer to U.S. foreign policy positions after Brexit, in part to help smooth the way for a major free trade deal with the United States.