Lieberman thoughtful 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman left Sunday for Brussels and a meeting with
the EU’s foreign ministers, where he is expected to hear both impatience toward
Israel because of lack of progress on the diplomatic track, but also some
readiness to take the oft-discussed EU upgrade out of the deep freeze where it
has been for the last two years.
On Tuesday, Lieberman will participate
in the EU-Israel Association Council meeting, along with some 27 EU foreign
ministers. The Association Council is the central forum governing Israel-EU
That meeting will be divided into two parts, with the first
dealing with diplomatic matters. During this section he is likely to be grilled
about the settlements, and pressed about the EU’s perception that Israel needs
to fill the present diplomatic vacuum with some type of diplomatic
Regarding the diplomatic process, all four of the EU countries on
the UN Security Council – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – voted against
Israel on Friday and in favor of the Palestinian resolution sharply condemning
While that resolution was vetoed by the US, Lieberman is
expected to argue that such moves only build up Palestinian expectations that
they can impose a settlement on Israel, something that will push negotiations
The second part of the daylong meeting will deal with
Israeli-EU bilateral issues, with the focus expected to be on the long delayed
EU upgrade, announced in the winter of 2008, and then froze in the spring of
2009 following Operation Cast Lead and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
electoral victory and formation of a new government.
In December 2008 the
EU foreign ministers agreed to the upgrade of diplomatic ties with
The proposed package called for an ad hoc summit meeting between
Israel’s prime minister and all EU heads of government, something that has never
taken place before. It also called for Israel’s foreign minister to meet
together with all 27 EU foreign ministers three times a year. It called for a
strategic dialogue to discuss issues such as Iran, the diplomatic process and
Syria. It also called for the inclusion of Israel in EU peacekeeping forces, and
for an EU commitment to help Israel better integrate into UN
The plan, however, was suspended in April 2009. At the time,
the EU spelled out three main hurdles that had to be overcome to move forward on
the upgrade: Israel’s agreement to the notion of a two-state solution, ending
the Gaza blockade, and stopping settlement expansion.
Since that time
Netanyahu has come out in favor of a two-state solution, and the Gaza blockade
is less of an issue as Israel has significantly eased up both on what is allowed
in and out of Gaza.
That leaves only the settlement issue – a major
irritant between the two sides nonetheless.
The expectation from
Tuesday’s meeting is that although the association parley won’t lead to the
beginning of full implementation of the upgrade, some progress in that direction
will be signaled.
Last year the annual meeting of the Association
Council, scheduled for March, was canceled soon after Israel announced new
construction in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem during the visit of US Vice President
Lieberman has planned bilateral meetings in Brussels Tuesday
with two of Israel’s most supportive foreign ministers in the EU: Holland’s
Uriel Rosenthal and Bulgaria’s Nikolai Mladenov, as well as with two ministers
from among the more friendly countries in the EU toward Israel: Denmark and
Despite Friday’s vote on the settlements in the UN Security
Council, the main focus for EU foreign ministers at this time is the upheaval in
the Arab world, with the EU’s foreign ministers scheduled Sunday evening to hold
an informal meeting on the developments in the region.
This meeting will
come two days before EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited
Israel and the PA last week, heads for Egypt – the first high-profile foreign
official to visit Cairo since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.