Condemn terror, not settlements, Peres tells EU President rebuffs EU designation of West Bank building as obstacle to peace, calls for Hamas and Hezbollah to get terror label
By JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH
President Shimon Peres pushed back against recent European Union condemnation of Israeli settlements Wednesday, saying terror, not construction, was the real obstacle to peace.
Peres, in Brussels for a Holocaust ceremony and meetings with EU leaders, called on the European body to aim its opprobrium at anti-Israel violence.
“The EU can help us in putting an end to terror by condemning Hamas because they are the center of terror, the same for Hezbollah,” he said during a joint press conference with EU President Herman Van Rompuy.
Van Rompuy had begun the press conference by noting “illegal expansion of settlements.”
“I don‘t take this criticism, that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution,” Peres said, though he agreed with Van Rompuy’s statement that there was need for action on a two-state solution.
Along with harsh condemnations, voices within the EU have called for the body to sanction Israel for settlement building in the West Bank. A non-binding report by EU consuls in the West Bank recently called for the organization to cut funding to Israeli companies with assets in the West Bank, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week threw her weight behind an initiative to have settlement goods labeled.
However, the body has also come under pressure to label Hezbollah a terror organization, especially after a report by Bulgaria last month fingered the Lebanese Shi’ite group as behind a terror attack that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian near the resort city of Burgas in July.
The case may get a further boost Thursday when the trial of a Hezbollah-linked man arrested in Cyprus for tracking Israeli tourists is set to come to a close. A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.
It was not known if Peres or Van Rompuy discussed the Burgas bombing report with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, who was also in Brussels Wednesday.
Peres praised the EU for being a symbol of European unity after centuries of war, saying he hoped the Middle East could emulate the model.
“I hope the time will come when the Middle East will become a peaceful, united region like you,” he said.
On Tuesday, Peres and the crown prince of Belgium recognized 11 families who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The president is currently on an 11-day tour to Belgium and Strasbourg for meeting with European leaders and lawmakers as well as Jewish groups.
JTA contributed to this report.