Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed for Germany Wednesday morning, where he was expected to push the message that if the Europeans want to prevent Israel from responding further to the recent Palestinian victory at the UN, they should “encourage a positive Palestinian dynamic” and keep the PA from “further provocative actions,” diplomatic officials said on Tuesday.
Israel has right to respond to PA provocation
Netanyahu is scheduled to dine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and hear sharp criticism of plans to build 3,000 housing units in the settlement blocs and east Jerusalem, as well as push forward the planning of E1 in Ma’aleh Adumin.
Netanyahu gave an indication of what he will say in Europe, telling a gathering of the National Public Diplomacy Forum that met on Tuesday to summarize Operation Pillar of Defense, that the Gaza “war” was over Israel’s existence.
“We left territories we took during the Six Day War, such as Gaza, and they fire rockets on us,” he said. “The root of the conflict is not the settlements, not the territories; it is the very existence of Israel and their desire to wipe us off the map.”
The prime minister’s message, according to the officials, will be that if the Palestinians continue with provocative steps, Israel reserves the right to respond.
He will say that it is important for the Europeans to use their influence with the Palestinians to encourage a positive dynamic, not a negative one.
This message is one that Israeli officials have been telling their European interlocutors since the tidal wave of criticism over the recent settlement plans began: The ball is in the EU’s court, and they should get the Palestinians to avoid further unilateral steps.
John Gatt Rutter, the EU representative in the West Bank and Gaza, said at a briefing with journalists that the Palestinians made clear before the vote at the UN General Assembly last Thursday that afterward they would be willing to negotiate with Israel without preconditions.
He also said there were “positive signals” from the PA regarding the issue of hauling Israel before the International Criminal Court, something that Israeli officials have indicated would elicit an even tougher Israeli response than the one already taken.
Gatt Rutter said that Israel’s decision to withhold NIS 450 million in tax revenue it collected for the PA places the PA in difficult economic straits. It was not clear whether this was a “prolonged measure” or just “one shot,” he said. If it is sustained, the “impact on the PA would be devastating.”
While that is an immediate concern, the EU official said the intention to build in E1 was a “strategic” concern that would call into question the viability of the peace process and the two-state solution.
He also said that the EU was supporting PA reconciliation efforts, and hoped Fatah and Hamas “can move foreward in a meaningful way on the basis of what the EU can support.” He reiterated that the EU still stood by its demands that Hamas accept the Mideast Quartet’s conditions for engagement – recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements and forswearing violence. While some Hamas leaders have made comments in that direction, the EU was awaiting more clarity, Gatt Rutter said.
Andrew Standley, the EU’s ambassador to Israel, said he knew of no European plans to take immediate action against Israel, and that the EU’s foreign ministers would discuss the matter Monday in Brussels. The EU’s goal was to get the sides back to negotiations, and it wanted to create an environment that made that possible.
His comments were echoed by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who told Parliament in London that European sanctions against Israel in response to the settlement plans were not an option, though the EU’s foreign ministers were discussing formulating “incentives and disincentives” to bring the sides back to negotiations.
“I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union… about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back to negotiations,” Hague said. “Nevertheless, if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take.”
France on Monday also dismissed the prospect of European sanctions against Israel.
Nevertheless, according to Standley the furious reaction by a number of EU states over Israeli moves was a reflection of frustration that consistent messages conveyed by the EU regarding settlement construction had gone unheeded.
Despite European calls for Israel to “reconsider” the recent measures, the messages coming out of Jerusalem did not indicate any intention to do so, he said.
“Rather we hear statements that Israel will act according to its strategic interests,” Standley said.
Among the EU countries, Finland and Ireland called in Israel’s ambassadors on Tuesday to protest the settlement plans, following Britain, France, Sweden, Denmark and Spain that did so the day before. Australia also called in the ambassador to protest, as did Brazil and Egypt.
Even before Israel’s recent announcement of settlement plans, Merkel has been a consistent critic of Israel’s settlements policy. Germany abstained last Thursday at the UN vote, even though over the weekend Merkel expressed unstinting support for Israel’s security.
Before traveling to Germany for the annual government-to-government meeting, Netanyahu will stop in Prague to thank the Czech government in person for its support at the UN vote last Thursday. The Czech Republic was the only EU country to vote with Israel and against the Palestinian move at the UN, and Netanyahu decided after that vote to add a Czech leg to his previously scheduled trip to Germany.
“The history of Israel and the Czech Republic has taught us that there is a need to adhere to truth even when the majority is not with you,” the prime minister said on the eve of his trip.
In addition to the PA move at the UN and the settlements, a number of other issues will be on the agenda of the talks in Berlin, including Israel’s unhappiness at the German sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia and of submarines to Egypt, and the situation in Syria.
Netanyahu will be accompanied on his two-day trip by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians wrote a letter to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday accusing Israel of planning to commit further “war crimes” by expanding settlements.
The letter said Israel was behaving “in a rogue, hostile and arrogant manner, contravening all principles and rules of international law and reacting with contempt to the will of the international community.”
According to the letter, written by PLO UN observer Riyad Mansour, “A clear message must be sent to Israel that all of its illegal policies must be ceased or that it will be held accountable and will have to bear the consequences if its violations and obstruction of peace efforts.”