High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell has made several harsh statements about Israel in recent days.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
The top EU diplomat refused a request from Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Tuesday to cancel a European Parliament debate entitled the “Deterioration of Democracy in Israel and Consequences on the Occupied Territories.“ Minister Cohen also conveyed Jerusalem’s outrage over interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
Relaying portions of the conversation at the start of the parliamentary discussion, the EU Foreign Policy Chief complained that Cohen had unfairly blamed him for both the title and his appearance at the event, which he claimed was mandatory.
“I had to come. It is not me who put this title …. It is the political groups. And this parliament is able to discuss everything they consider important and that’s what I tried to explain to the Israeli Minister, very friendlily,” he said.
Minister Cohen also criticized his EU counterpart for equating Palestinian terror attacks and IDF operations – including the terrorists themselves , in an article he published in the Project Syndicate last week.
“It is normal that the parliamentarians are concerned for the growing spiral of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and the need for all sides to deescalate the situation. I mentioned this agreement that we reached, the 27 member states, where we of course condemn terrorism. Of course, we fully recognize the Israeli right to defend itself and we certainly never draw comparison between operations by the Israeli military and actions of terrorists, but we have to call for the proportional use of force,” insisted Borrell.
Going on to reject allegations that the EU has funded Palestinian activities that encourage incitement, Borrell said, “Of course, we are strong believers in the Two-State solution and there is no, we believe, a viable alternative to that. And, with our international partners, we will continue to work for that peaceful solution to the conflict and I’m using this parliament to say that; I suppose you agree that European Union has to engage in looking for peace in the Middle East,” he asserted, adding, “So, I hope that today will be a good discussion to show to Minister Cohen that the parliament is ready to discuss what’s happening in the Middle East and how we can contribute to the peace process, and this is not at all to have an anti-Israeli position, not at all.”
While Israel will not bar Borrell from entering the county, a Jerusalem official told local media that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not host him for an official visit due to his comparison between victims and terrorists.
His comments are “outrageous,” an Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post, confirming a report first published on Army Radio yesterday morning.
It is important to stress that while High Representative Borrell claimed he is obliged to come whenever the European Parliament calls on him to discuss an issue, in an assertion that is seemingly untrue, as he has previously and repeatedly shunned such debates if apparently deemed contrary to his publicly known positions – particularly regarding Iran.
“The European Union is a key player when it comes to Iran and our High Representative is the coordinator for the nuclear program and the nuclear negotiations with Iran… So, what we do here matters for the future of Iran and the Middle East – and the European Parliament has a role in that. Yet, for three times now the High Representative did not show up for a debate with this parliament on the issue of Iran despite the fact that he was in town. On November 9, he couldn’t be there. So, we rescheduled the debate for November 22 where, right when we started the debate, he walked out of the plenary,” said MP Hannah Neumann, explaining, “So, we had unanimous message to the conference of President, to him, that he better be here for the debate yesterday. Yet again, yesterday, Mr. Borrell was in Strasburg, but he wasn’t here in the evening and colleagues we are talking about one afternoon a month where he, where we ask him to adjust his schedule to our plenary debates. And I have to say I find it difficult not to interpret this behavior as a sign of disrespect to the parliament.”
In addition, contrary to Israel’s own position, the EU Foreign Policy Chief continues to obsessively maintain that the JCPOA Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal is the only framework that could viably constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations – despite clear statements by experts such as the International Atomic Energy Agency – that has warning that the 2015 agreement no longer provides adequate restraints to curtail Iran’s wide-ranging nuclear advancements.