EU says Israeli move to annex cannot 'pass unchallenged'

EU says it remains committed to a two-state solution based along the 1967 lines, US initiative "departs from these internationally agreed parameters."

BRUSSELS - The European Union rejected parts of the new US peace plan for the Middle East on Tuesday, saying the plan broke with "internationally agreed parameters", and any Israeli annexation of Palestinian land would be subject to challenge.

President Donald Trump's plan, announced last week, was warmly welcomed by Israel and rejected outright by the Palestinians. It would give Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including nearly all Palestinian land on which it has built Jewish settlements that are considered violations of international law.

The EU, which often takes time to respond to international developments because of a need for unanimity among its 27 members, had said last week that it needed to study the Trump plan before it would give its verdict. It made its conclusions public on Tuesday in a statement from the High Representative of the EU, Josep Borrell.

Borrell underlined the bloc's commitment to a two-state solution, based along the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps, made up of the state of Israel and “an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable state of Palestine.”

"To build a just and lasting peace, the unresolved final status issues must be decided through direct negotiations between both parties," Borrell said. "This includes notably the issues related to borders, the status of Jerusalem, security and the refugee question.”

"The US initiative, as presented on 28 January, departs from these internationally agreed parameters," Borrell said.

“We are especially concerned by statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank,” Borrell said.

He suggested that the EU might consider legal action by saying that any "steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”

Israel responded sharply to the remarks by Borrell, a Spaniard in office since the start of December.

"The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrell, chose to use threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office & only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least, odd," tweeted Israeli Foreign ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat.

"Pursuing such policies & conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU's role in any process will be minimised."

EU policy in the Middle East tends to be cautious, as the bloc includes members with varying degrees of sympathy towards the Palestinians and Israel. Some EU members have already recognised a Palestinian state, although the bloc as a whole says this is a matter to be resolved in peace talks.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state and the removal of more than 700,000 Jewish settlers from these areas.

But the Trump plan sides heavily with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line, nationalist vision for the region and shunts aside many of the Palestinians' core demands.

The EU condemned Trump's decision in 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying Washington had compromised its position as a mediator for peace.

EU foreign ministers have discussed in recent months whether the bloc should modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that settlement activity and US unilateral moves, like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, are undermining the chances of a two-state solution.

Ireland and Luxembourg are among a small group of countries that support a change of position but no heavyweight member country is backing them.

In a letter to Borrell, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn wrote that hopes for a two-state solution are “being dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” and that it is time to consider recognizing Palestine as a state.

Borrell has noted that member countries are “very much divided” over how to handle Middle East peace moves. In Tuesday's statement, he also underlined the EU's “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel.”