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European allies of Israel against Hezbollah, but also against annexation

Israel’s traditional allies in Europe promote resolutions against Hezbollah but also express clearly their objections to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plan.
Houses in the Israeli settlement of settlement of Kedumim are seen in the foreground as part of the Palestinian city of Nablus is seen in the background (far left) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 20, 2020. Picture taken February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun - RC2R7F9HN66O

Austria’s parliament adopted on May 29 a resolution urging the government in Vienna and the European Union to take decisive actions by reassessing Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terrorist movement and not just its military branch. Hailing the nonbinding resolution, Israel’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi stated on May 31 that “this is an important decision against Hezbollah. I hope that the Austrian government will adopt their parliament’s decision and will join the UK, Germany and the Netherlands who have all recognized Hezbollah in its entirety as a terror organization.”

Jerusalem received with enthusiasm the Austrian parliamentarian resolution, but its reaction to another Austrian statement that very same day was quite different. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned Israel on May 29 against its West Bank annexation plan, stressing it would contravene international law. Schallenberg’s statement clarified his country’s position on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions, leaving no room for ambiguity. “The unilateral expansion of territory is against international law and numerous resolutions of the United Nations Security Council since 1967. There are no doubts about the Austrian position regarding annexation," said Schallenberg, who added that he had relayed the same message to his Israeli counterpart.

Israel chose not to react officially to Schallenberg’s statement. Still, diplomats in Jerusalem expressed disappointment over the Austrian position, especially on the backdrop of Vienna blocking a European Union resolution against the annexation plan just two weeks earlier. Austria, together with Hungary, Romania and some other EU members, opposed on May 15 an initiative by France, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg for threatening Israel with sanctions should its government advance implementing sovereignty over West Bank settlements. Without a consensus on the issue, EU foreign ministers could not publish a joint statement. Thus, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell issued his own statement against annexation.

Jerusalem’s disappointment was all the more apparent given the fact that Vienna is traditionally among the staunchest allies of Israel within the EU — an alliance that has strengthened in the past few weeks over the coronavirus crisis. Both countries have been busy lately creating a pact of countries less infected by the virus, with the hope of opening soon mutual space borders and airways.

Speaking with Al-Monitor, Israeli diplomats noted that the Austrian case of these two statements reflects a similar modus operandi to that of Germany. On April 30, Germany banned Hezbollah from carrying out any activity on its soil and declared the group a terrorist organization. Then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz hailed the decision by Berlin, stating almost emotionally, “I would like to express my appreciation to the German government for the move. I am certain that many governments in the Middle East and victims of Hezbollah terrorism share in my thanks.’’

Katz was obviously less thankful on May 19 when Germany and the Palestinian Authority released a joint statement, noting with "grave concern" the agreement between coalition parties in Israel to advance annexation plans. In this case too, Jerusalem chose to keep mum. And in this case too, diplomats in Jerusalem expressed disappointment over Germany, considered Israel’s most important friend within the EU.

Adding to Jerusalem’s discomfort, Czech Republic’s Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, another Israel friend within the EU, published on May 24 an op-ed against the annexation plan. Not only did the Czech minister argue that the plan violated international law, but he also wrote that it raised serious questions about the future of Israel as a democracy.

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