25th Aug 2019

Israel and EU clash over handling of Arab-Israeli conflict

  • Peace talks with Palestinians are 'a matter of urgency' due to regional instability, says the EU (Photo: Reham Alhelsi)

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has said there is "no link" between the Arab uprisings and the Arab-Israeli conflict, even as the EU presidency called on him to re-engage in peace talks as a matter of urgency.

"I don't see any linkage between our dispute with the Palestinians and the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya. The main reason is poverty, misery and inefficient governments," Mr Lieberman told journalists after an EU-Israeli meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (22 February).

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He went on to say that his country is "a strong democracy ready to share" its "knowledge" and "techonology" with any government that may come to power in neighbouring countries, so long as they respect peace treaties signed by their predecessors.

Speaking moments later at the same press conference, Hungarian foreign minister Janos Martonyi, representing the rotating EU presidency, said the "dramatic changes and regional instability" make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "more imperative and more urgent than ever before."

"Time is pressing, for both parties. The EU wants to help as much as it can with direct or indirect talks, and the parties can't avoid discussing the core issues," he added.

A defiant Mr Lieberman threw the ball back in the EU court, however: "We hope to see more activity from the EU, we need your assistance to bring the Palestinians to the table," he said.

When pressed by Brussels-based journalists on Israeli settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land, seen by the EU and the Palestinians as a major obstacle to talks, Mr Lieberman said this is a "prejudiced view".

Whenever Israel withdrew from occupied territories, as in southern Lebanon or the Gaza strip, Islamist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas took over and started firing rockets at Israel, he argued.

"I think Israel is the only country contributing to stability in the region," he added.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed just weeks after they restarted last September when Israel ended a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction.

The EU in 2009 froze a proposed upgrade of its relations with Israel, in part due to its bloody attack on the densely-populated Gaza strip and in part due to settlements. Last week, all four EU members of the UN Security Council - France, Britain, Portugal and Germany - backed a Palestinian resolution denouncing the settlements as illegal. Washington vetoed the measure.

Speaking to EUobserver in an interview last week, Syria's ambassador to the EU, Mohamad Ayman Soussan, took the opposite point of view to the Israeli minister.

"The sources of danger of a regional conflict [in the Middle East] do not reside in the stability of this or that Arab country, they reside in Israeli politics," he said.

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