After European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell harshly criticised Israel on several occasions in recent weeks, Israel has signalled that he is not welcome to make an official visit to the country, officials said last Wednesday.
“He is not banned from coming,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel, “but we don’t see the purpose of such a visit right now, and we’re not helping to coordinate such a trip.
“We don’t think it’s a good time to come,” the official said.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen blasted Borrell last Tuesday for allegedly drawing a comparison between Palestinian terror attacks and IDF operations in an article he wrote.
Cohen also asked that the EU refrain from meddling in Israel’s internal political issues. In a press conference last Monday night with Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Cohen asked his counterpart to work to prevent European involvement in Israel’s domestic matters and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In speech last Tuesday at the EU Parliament, Borrell acknowledged that Cohen “was not very happy about this debate”.
“This Parliament is free to discuss everything they consider important,” Borrell insisted. “And that is what I tried to explain to the Israeli minister [in a] very friendly [way]: ‘Look, it is normal that the parliamentarians are concerned for the growing spiral of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and the need for all sides to de-escalate the situation.'”
Borrell stressed that the EU recognises Israel’s right to defend itself, and would never compare IDF operations and terrorist attacks.
The EU told The Times of Israel that it was “not aware” of any restrictions on Borrell visiting Israel.
“Israel has not communicated to us anything official implying that the High Representative/Vice-President could not visit Israel,” said the EU spokesman in Israel.
“We are keen to keep open all channels of communication with Israel, taking into account our level of cooperation in many fields and its strategic importance in the region,” the spokesman continued.
The incident marked the latest sign of deteriorating relations between Israel’s new far-right government and some of its closest allies.
Borrell upset Israel with an article published last week that Israeli officials said equated the Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks with terrorists killed in Israeli army operations.
“Being honest means acknowledging that extremism is rising on both sides. Indiscriminate attacks and violence are taking many lives,” Borrell wrote on the global commentary website Project Syndicate.
“Violence on the part of Israeli settlers in the West Bank is increasingly threatening Palestinian lives and livelihoods – almost always with impunity. Moreover, Israeli military operations frequently cause civilian Palestinian deaths, often without effective accountability,” he added.
Cohen condemned the comments in a conversation with Borrell last Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said.
“There is no room for comparison or balancing between the victims of terrorism on the Israeli side and the Palestinian terrorists supported by the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
In Brussels, European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said Borrell’s comments reflected the official positions of the 27-nation EU.
Israel has close political and economic relations with many European states. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Germany last Wednesday, a week after he made an official visit to Italy.
But Israel and the EU have repeatedly differed over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, Israeli settlement construction and the lack of progress in peace talks.
Borrell’s article lamented that “neither the Israeli side nor the Palestinian side is ready for peace.” He called on Palestinian factions “to renounce terrorism and overcome their political divisions”, while urging Israel to stop building settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians, to halt settler violence and to offer to negotiate an independent Palestinian state.
Borrell said he was not announcing a European peace initiative, and instead called “for exploring what we can all contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peace once it comes”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
TIMES OF ISRAEL