16th May 2021

Israel's hard-right foreign minister begins European tour

  • Israel says it remains committed to the peace process, despite its criticism of the two-state solution (Photo: Wikipedia)

Israel's hard-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, begins his European tour on Monday (4 May) in a bid to soothe European Union concerns over the new government's commitment to the peace process.

Mr Lieberman's trip comes amid tensions between the Czech Republic, currently chair of the EU's six-month rotating presidency and the European Commission over a freezing of an upgrade in EU-Israeli relations until Tel Aviv reaffirms its commitment.

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His main message is expected to call for the Europeans to be patient until the new Israeli government drafts its foreign policy, a spokesman said.

Mr Lieberman, known for his radical anti-Arab views, was scheduled to meet with all 27 European Union foreign ministers this month at a summit meeting, but he asked for a delay so the government could come up with its policy guidelines – a move that the EU agreed to.

"The government of Israel, because of our democratic tradition and because of the continuity principle, is going to abide by all previous commitments the former government took, including the acceptance of the road-map to peace, which will lead to a two-state solution," deputy foreign minister Daniel Ayalon said on Sunday, ahead of Mr Lieberman's tour.

Previously, Mr Lieberman had said that the new government would not have to be bound by previous government decisions and hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until now not endorsed the two-state solution to the decades-long conflict.

Mr Lieberman, a former settler in the West Bank, has already caused a stir on his first day in office when he announced that Israel was no longer bound by the decision that the previous government took at a conference in Annapolis, US in November 2007 to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

"People try to simplify the situation with these formulas: land for peace, two-state solution," Mr. Lieberman said. "It's a lot more complicated." He added that the real reason for the deadlock "is not occupation, not settlements and not settlers." Nor, he said, is it the Palestinians. The biggest obstacle, he said, is "the Iranians."

Ahead of his planned meeting with Mr Lieberman on Monday, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said that if Israel wanted to continue enjoying Italy's support in Europe, it had to take 'suitable positions' and declare its support for continuing the peace process.

Mr Frattini also called on his new Israeli counterpart to "lower the tone" of his declarations and to work toward an atmosphere of cooperation.

Mr Lieberman's tour will not include a stop at the European Commission in Brussels, where EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferero-Waldner last week said the bloc's planned relations upgrade would remain frozen until the "new Israeli government shows a clear commitment to pursue peace negotiations with the Palestinians."

Her comments prompted Tel Aviv to question the EU's mediation role in the region.

"Israel is asking Europe to lower the tone and conduct a discreet dialogue," deputy director for Europe at the Israeli foreign ministry, Rafi Barak, told European ambassadors in Israel, local media reported.

"However, if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process, and both sides will lose," he said.

Mr Barak said it was unclear what gave Ms Ferrero-Waldner the authority to make the statement on delaying closer ties as EU member state governments had not made a formal decision on the matter.

The Czech EU presidency also criticised Ms Ferrero-Waldner for her position. Caretaker Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the statement was "really hasty".

"At this given moment, I would not really attribute to it more weight than just a statement by a commissioner. The action plan continuation is a political decision that is to be made by the European Council, and I am still the president of the European Council and I should know something about it," Mr Topolanek said.

Israel threatens to end EU diplomatic role

Israel is deeply unhappy with comments made by EU officials regarding its government and the Palestinian peace process and has threatened to end the bloc's mediation role in the region.

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