BRUSSELS (AFP) - EU countries are planning to issue Israel with a warning not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, to try to head off a diplomatic clash.
The bloc is alarmed by the incoming Israeli unity government's plans to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which it says would violate international law and harm the chances of peace with the Palestinians.
But there is no agreement among EU countries over what punitive action to take should Israel press ahead with the move, which has the support of US President Donald Trump.
In an interview with AFP, Luxembourg's veteran Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said he had discussed a declaration with his EU counterparts during video talks on Friday (May 15).
"A very large number of countries on Friday supported a draft text that we drew up with my Irish counterpart Simon Coveney in which we warn against an annexation that would be a violation of international law," Asselborn told AFP.
He said Austria and Hungary had refused to sign the declaration, so it could not be issued in the name of all 27 EU states.
"But the fact that a very large number of countries support this line is a success," he said.
His comments followed that of the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell who said Friday the EU would use "all our diplomatic capacities" to try to dissuade Israel's incoming government from going ahead with the move.
The Israeli unity government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz is due to be sworn in on Sunday, and the plan is for the statement to be issued after that, on Monday.
"We are not talking about sanctions. We're talking about prevention. This text is not aggressive," Asselborn said.
The four-point statement welcomes the new government and recalls the EU's close ties with Israel, but warns annexation would violate international law.
"The European Union wants to cooperate with neighbouring states and countries in the region and reiterates its support for a negotiated two-state solution for a viable peace perspective between Israelis and Palestinians," Asselborn said.
"There is no alternative to this solution. No-one has presented another viable solution," Asselborn said.
The EU has criticised Trump's Middle East peace plan, unveiled in January, which gave Israel the green light to annex key parts of the West Bank.
"If we don't succeed in convincing Israel to give up its project, the hardest part will be ahead of us," warned Asselborn.
After Friday's talks, the Borrell had said he would make a concerted diplomatic push to try to steer Israel away from annexations.
But he admitted there were deep divisions among the EU states, as some like Asselborn push for a tough line and others argue for dialogue.
A European official insisted that options for punitive measures were in place: freezing bilateral agreements, suspending scientific cooperation, cancelling trade preferences and recalling ambassadors.
But adopting such measures would require unanimity among the 27 EU countries.