Israel Warns EU to Tone Down Its Criticism


netanyahuIsrael warned the European Union today to tone down its criticism of the new Israeli government or risk forfeiting the bloc’s role as broker in Mideast peace efforts.The warning came after EU’s commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, this week criticized Israel’s refusal to endorse a Palestinian state. She said an upgrade in Israeli-EU relations would depend on Israel’s commitment to the “two-state solution.”It also came ahead of a planned trip to Europe next week by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman – his first official trip abroad. Lieberman’s comments about Arabs and Mideast peace have raised international concerns about the new Israeli Cabinet’s intentions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor today called Ferrero-Waldner’s comments “very militant” and contrary to understandings with other EU officials.

He said her remarks threatened to undermine understandings with the EU to maintain a “quiet dialogue” until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu completes the formulation of his foreign policy.

“If there is no coherence in the European position … this will not be useful and will not help the EU in playing a role here,” Palmor said.

The Haaretz daily reported today that Foreign Ministry official Rafi Barak has been calling European ambassadors in the country to tell them that public criticism of Israel could undermine Europe’s influence here.

The EU is one of four members of the so-called Quartet – the international body charged with promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The other members are the U.S., Russia and the United Nations.

Netanyahu, who took office in March, has so far refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state – a cornerstone of the West’s policy in the region. He is expected to unveil his foreign policy before heading to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama in mid-May.

Reflecting the sensitivity surrounding Israel-EU relations, the 27-member bloc accepted an Israeli request to delay a high-profile summit to give Netanyahu more time, Palmor also said Thursday.

Instead, the EU-Israel Association Council, which is to be attended by Lieberman and his EU counterparts, will meet June 15 – a month later than the planned May summit.

The annual gathering is a forum to upgrade Israel’s trade and economic relations with Europe. Upgraded ties would give Israel better access to EU markets, closer cooperation in areas such as energy, environment and battling crime and terrorism, and more educational exchanges.

In June 2008, the EU said a “closer partnership with Israel” must happen in parallel to “the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the implementation of the two-state solution.”

The Palestinians have repeatedly urged Europe to freeze the upgrade.

An EU diplomat said the bloc is divided over whether the upgrade should be linked to progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential policy information, the diplomat said there is a “complete standoff” in the EU on the issue, since any upgrade would require a unanimous decision.

Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beitenu, has raised concerns in the West with his fiery statements. In his first speech as foreign minister, he said concessions to Palestinians only invite war and criticized U.S. peace efforts last year.

Lieberman’s European trip next week will take him to Italy, France and the Czech Republic. Officials said Lieberman would not go to EU headquarters in Brussels.

{Yair Israel/Haaretz Daily, AP}


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