The recent recognition by some countries of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood “does not do any good whatsoever,” Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Rosenthal’s comments came before an afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, during which Netanyahu stressed that a unilateralist track would “kill negotiations with the Palestinians.”
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In separate meetings with both Rosenthal and visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez, Netanyahu said that if the Palestinians believed the unilateral option was getting closer, “this will push negotiations farther away.”
While the Dutch parliament recently passed a resolution calling on the government to work against EU recognition of a Palestinian state, Spain is considered in Jerusalem to be one of the countries that could conceivably follow several South American countries that have done so.
Rosenthal, however, said he had not heard of any European countries on the verge of following the Latin American lead.
“If that would be part of the discussion in the EU framework, I would definitely not be in favor of such steps,” Rosenthal said. “We have to be very prudent and careful about what we are doing.”
While saying that “on the one hand, steps should be taken” to move the diplomatic process forward, Rosenthal said the approach adopted by the Latin American countries “doesn’t help at all to bring the Middle East process to a higher level.” Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was characterized recently by Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg as one of the two most active supporters of Israel among EU foreign ministers – the other being Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov.
Rosenthal said he was not uncomfortable with that characterization, adding that he was “among the ones” inside the EU who “regularly try to warn against unnecessarily inflammatory language” regarding Israel.
“We have seen over the last few months some events where some of the EU partners were eager to engage in straightforward initiatives, and I was among those who said, ‘Lets keep a little bit more restrained attitude, and look especially at whether this will be conducive to the Middle East peace process at large.’” He said that this had also been the case concerning discussions about the situation in Gaza.
“If you take a positive stance toward Israel you might expect from Israel something in return,” he said. “I’m happy to say that in the last few months Israel has taken an open attitude toward the requests made by the Dutch government to be more lenient on exports and goods from Gaza. That is a subtle game.”
On Friday – as part of a package of steps taken after intensive consultations with Quartet envoy Tony Blair – Netanyahu announced a number of measures to improve the Palestinian economy, including easing exports from Gaza.
Rosenthal said his government has been active against trends to delegitimize Israel, countering Israel-bashing and “the use of inflammatory language that is disproportionately expressed in the direction of Israel.”
But at the same time, Rosenthal – who arrived Monday for two days of meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah – rejected the description of Israel’s standing now in the EU as being the lowest it has been in decades.
“I think this is an exaggeration,” he said. “When you look at the conclusions of a series of council of foreign affairs ministers’ meetings, you will see balanced conclusions vis-a-vis the Middle East peace process.”
Rosenthal also dismissed reports that the US was interested in the EU taking a tough stand on Israel, since domestic political constraints prevented Washington from doing so itself – a kind of good cop/bad cop arrangement.
“I hear that story over and over again,” he said. “I would not like to be placed in the position of the bad cop; I don’t think the Europeans like to placed in position of bad cops.”
Rosenthal diplomatically declined to weigh in on the debate whether it was “undemocratic” for the Knesset to establish a committee to investigate where certain NGOs were getting their funds, saying this was “for the Knesset to decide.”
The Netherlands is among the European countries that donate to NGOs operating in Israel and the PA.
“There is no reason to hide anything,” he said of the establishment of the Knesset panel. “I am in favor of transparency.”
He also said that a “vivid and lively civil society, where NGOs are a part of it, is very important.”