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Palestinians urge EU to stick with settlement boycott
The Times of Israel

Palestinian officials expressed concern on Monday that the European Union would rescind its policy of banning cooperation with Israeli settlements, and declared that such a decision would affect negotiations with Israel.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi confirmed to The Times of Israel that US Secretary of State John Kerry was pressuring the EU to revoke, postpone, or “water down” a decision taken in July to outlaw all cooperation with Israeli entities over the pre-1967 lines.

`The US should stop being Israel’s lobbyist,” Ashrawi said.

The EU guidelines, adopted in mid-July, bar the use of EU funds for projects in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They also require that any contracts between EU member countries and Israel include a clause stating that East Jerusalem and the West Bank are not part of the State of Israel.

Nabil Shaath, a member of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, on Sunday told Chinese news agency Xinhua that Europe’s failure to implement its decision on settlements would frustrate Palestinian hopes in the recently restarted peace process.

“If Europe doesn’t implement what it had decided regarding the settlements, it will be impossible for the negotiations to make any progress,” he said.

In a statement published by Palestinian establishment daily Al-Ayyam on Monday, Ashrawi said the European guidelines were an important element in the Palestinian decision to resume talks with Israel in the first place. She told The Times of Israel that she was confident the EU would stick by its decision despite American pressure to revoke it.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, told The Times of Israel that the EU has been discussing the implementation of the guidelines with the Israelis, while “taking into account the sensibilities” of the parties involved.

Kocijancic refused to comment on whether American pressure is being exerted on the EU, but confirmed that the guidelines would take effect on January 1, 2014, as planned. No comment was available from the US State Department at time of publication.

The European Union was set to dispatch a team to Israel this week in an effort to assuage concerns over its funding ban, Ashton announced on Saturday.

In a news conference with Kerry, she said that the EU would not be rescinding the new directive, which last month prompted the Israeli government to declare it would sever a string of joint projects with the European body.

Ashton asserted, however, “We, of course, want to continue to have a strong relationship with Israel.” She said the EU would send a team to Israel on Monday to make sure the implementation of the ban is done “very sensitively.”

The EU team is to be headed up by Pierre Vimont, the director of the European External Action Service, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Notwithstanding the European position on settlements, a number of Palestinian officials stated that Israeli settlement activity could terminate peace talks currently underway with Israel.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat stated on Sunday that the Palestinian leadership had informed the international community that it could not carry on negotiating while Israel continued releasing tenders for construction in the settlements.

“Israel’s argument that the so-called settlement blocs will remain part of Israel in any final status agreement is despicable. It amounts to dictations, not negotiations,” Erekat said in a press statement.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary of the PLO Executive Committee and one of only two Palestinian officials appointed to comment on negotiations, expressed his frustration with Israeli policies, which he claimed prevented any progress in negotiations.

Israel, he asserted in an interview with Palestinian radio, wished “to cover up the negotiations so that Palestinian and international public opinion doesn’t realize that the negotiations are a vicious circle that achieves no progress due to Israel’s policies.”

Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.
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