24th Mar 2018

Netanyahu comments put EU relations in doubt

  • Netanyahu, in a speech in Washington earlier this month on the Iran nuclear talks, already soured US ties (Photo: John Boehner)

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said that if he is re-elected there will be no Palestinian state, putting in doubt the future of EU-Israel relations.

He made the announcement in a video clip for Israeli news agency NRG on Monday (16 March), on the eve of general elections on Tuesday.

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“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel … there is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders”, he said.

Asked explicitly if he rejects the two-state solution, he answered: “Correct”.

He gave the interview in Har Homa, a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, on the other side of Israel’s 1967 border. He added that he gave the green light to Har Homa’s construction in his previous time as PM in order to prevent Palestinian statehood.

"I thought we had to protect the southern gateway to Jerusalem by building here … there was huge objection, because this neighbourhood is in a location which prevents Palestinian [territorial] contiguity”.

Netanyahu’s comments are an attempt to win right-wing votes to improve his position in post-election coalition building.

His Likud party currently trails the centre-left Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog, by four points, meaning the Israeli president would appoint Herzog to launch coalition talks if the result stays the same.

Herzog, also on Monday, took the opposite line on the Palestinian conflict, saying: “I promise: I will be a prime minister to everyone … for right and left, for settlers, Haredim, Druze, Arabs, Circassians; I will be prime minister for the center and for the periphery”.

But the elections have been dominated by internal issues - such as housing, the economy, and the personalities of the leaders - indicating fatigue and lack of faith in the peace process.

Meanwhile, other politicians on the right have come out with even more radical statements.

"Those against us, it cannot be helped, we must lift up an axe and behead them - otherwise we will not survive here”, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, said last week on the loyalty of Arab Israelis.

If Netanyahu does retain power, his anti-Palestine comments pose fundamental questions for EU relations.

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, also on Monday, named a senior EU official, Fernando Gentilini, the architect of the Kosovo-Serbia normalisation pact, as her new envoy for the Middle East Peace Process.

She said his task is to “work towards the resumption of meaningful negotiations with the aim of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution”.

In practice, EU diplomats are waiting for the US to restart talks in the final months of president Barack Obama’s second term in office.

But the prevailing mood in Washington is that there’s no point if Netanyahu retains office, meaning the two-state idea would be put on hold for years to come.

The new status quo could see the EU impose mini-sanctions, such as publishing a code on retail labels for settler goods.

It could also see an increasing number of EU countries, including France, recognise the state of Palestine.

But without US engagement, neither EU restrictive measures nor diplomatic recognitions would change facts on the ground.

The two-state solution, in any case, involves moving, by force, more than 110,000 Israeli settlers from East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The number of settlers in sensitive places has grown by some 10,000 a year on Netanyahu’s watch.

“I think what he said tonight [in the NRG clip] was stating the essence of his true policies - he was never a man of the two-state solution,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told the New York Times.

“I hope his statements tonight will be an eye-opener”, he added.

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EU diplomats are hoping Israel’s PM didn’t mean what he said on the two-state solution. But if he did, they have few ideas how to change his mind.

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