US Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the European Union to postpone a planned ban on financial support for Israeli institutions operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Kerry made his request at a meeting with EU foreign ministers in which he also called on them to support the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which were resumed on July 29 after a three-year hiatus.
A senior State Department official told reporters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, that Kerry contacted the Europeans to discuss the issue. "There was strong support for his efforts and an openness to consider his request," the official said.
The EU's funding guidelines have angered the right-wing government in Israel, which accuses the Europeans of damaging the peace efforts. In response, the Israelis have restricted European development projects planned for the benefit of thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians themselves praised the EU move as a tangible step against Israel's illegal settlement construction, which they fear is depriving them of land for a viable state.
According to EU foreign policy head Cathy Ashton, the guidelines simply "put down on paper what is currently the EU position". She announced, however, that the EU would send a team to Israel on Monday, headed by a senior EU diplomat, to make sure that the implementation of the new guidelines is done sensitively. "Of course, we want to continue having a strong relationship with Israel," she added.
An EU source said that the delegation will talk to the Israelis about the implementation of the new guidelines but not about renegotiating them. The state department spokesman suggested that the EU guidelines, "metaphorically, bang [the peace talks] over the head."
Jewish settler leaders say that the aid they receive from Europe is minimal but many in Israel worry about possible knock-on effects from the EU move, especially for Israeli companies which do business in the settlements, which are regarded as illegal under international law.