Israel meets ambassadors over EU plan

Israel met the British and French ambassadors and Germany's deputy envoy over EU plans to ban its 28 members from dealing with Jewish settlements, a top official said on Friday.

The envoys were warned of a serious crisis between the European Union and Israel over the move, the high-ranking foreign ministry official told AFP.

"The British and French ambassadors and German number two were invited yesterday to the ministry... for discussions on the EU guidelines," he said.

"We asked the ambassadors to tell their capitals that no Israeli government would accept these conditions, and they could provoke a serious crisis with Israel," he warned.

The guidelines, published in the EU's Official Journal Friday morning, forbid EU member states from funding or dealing with entities in territories occupied by the Jewish state in 1967.

Germany and France confirmed the Thursday meetings but the British embassy did not immediately comment.

Christophe Bigot, France's ambassador in Tel Aviv, said the Israeli foreign ministry's director, Rafi Barak, had called the meetings.

"The Israelis informed us of their concerns" over the EU plan, he said. "I reminded them that the new guidelines were a continuation of European policy on settlements."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also said in a Friday statement that the guidelines simply "reiterates the long-held position that bilateral agreements with Israel do not cover the territory that came under Israel's administration in June 1967."

But an Israeli spokesman gave the guidelines greater significance, saying in a statement the Jewish state "rejects the attempt by the European Commission to coerce positions on issues which belong at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations table."

Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor further questioned the "political wisdom that lies beneath these measures, regarding both their content and their timing."

Palmor's statement came as US Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting in Ramallah with Mahmud Abbas, in a final attempt to salvage his Middle East peace bid after the Palestinian leadership rejected his proposals for a framework to guide the relaunch of peace talks with the Israelis, stalled for nearly three years.

"It would have been preferrable if the energy put in drafting these guidelines had been invested in peace promoting measures," Palmor added in his statement.

The preamble to the guidelines says that "the EU does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over... the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem... and does not consider them to be part of Israel's territory, irrespective of their legal status under domestic law".

The guidelines apply to "grants, prizes and financial instruments," it adds.

"Only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel's pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible as final recipients" of this kind of funding.

Of particular concern to officials was a scientific cooperation deal with the EU, "Horizon 2020", which would generate investments worth hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in Israeli technology companies, Haaretz newspaper quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.

More than 80 percent of Israelis are opposed to the new EU guidelines, according to a survey published Friday by pro-government newspaper Israel Hayom.

Settlement building in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War is considered illegal under international law.

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