PM evokes Sudetenland when deflecting EU criticism

Czech foreign minister told ‘Post’ 'the analogy doesn’t work'; Netanyahu says in interview that "settlement issue has to be resolved."

February 27, 2011 01:35
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu speech 311 . (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu evoked Sudetenland – and the world’s abandonment of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in 1938 – to deflect European criticism of Israel’s settlement policy during an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph published on Saturday.

Asked why Israel persisted with construction in the settlements in the face of world condemnation, Netanyahu was quoted as coming “straight back” with Sudetenland as a historical parallel.

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According to the report of the interview (the transcript was not published), Netanyahu said that “people, especially the leading British media,” considered that Czechoslovakia’s possession of the German-speaking Sudetenland was “the barrier to peace with Hitler.”

“It didn’t work out quite like that,” he said.

According to the report, the “international ganging-up on Israel” over the settlements issue was an example of changing the terms of the argument – what he termed “the reversal of causality.”

Netanyahu, pointing out that there were no settlements before Israel was attacked in the Six Day War, said, “So what was all that about? “Even moderates don’t say that, if the settlements end, we’ll make peace with Israel.” By the same token, Netanyahu said a deal could be reached with the Palestinians. “It is not impossible to resolve it, to make the necessary compromises. The settlement issue has to be resolved.”

Sudetenland refers to the regions in western Czechoslovakia that in the first half of the 20th century were inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, and which British prime minister Neville Chamberlin, along with the leaders of France and Italy, agreed – after meeting with Hitler in 1938 – would be ceded to Germany. This act is widely considered a quintessential act of appeasement: in March 1939 Hitler invaded the rest of the country.

Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech Republic’s foreign minister, has rejected the Sudetenland analogy regarding Israel, telling The Jerusalem Post in an interview in January that “It is a totally different situation.

“First of all,” he said, “the balance of power is different. Czechoslovakia in 1938 had no friendly neighbors, not a single one, expect for Romania, but it was small and slowly changed its orientation under German pressure. We were left alone – totally.” Israel, he said, has “quite an important ally” in the US.

Regarding the idea that now, as then, much of the world believed that ceding territory would ensure peace, the Czech foreign minister – one of Israel’s strongest friends in the European Union – said that the West Bank “belongs” to the Palestinians.

“They are the main inhabitants. The analogy doesn’t work,” he said.

Netanyahu, asked in the Daily Telegraph interview, whether he has “despaired” of persuading Britain of Israel’s positions, replied, “Do you know our Israeli expression ‘to look for the keys under the lamp-post?’ People look under the lamp-post where there is light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the keys are there.” In other words, Telegraph reporter Charles Moore interpreted Netanyahu as saying, “it is easier to scrutinize Israel than to explore the darker places where the keys lie.”

Saying that he was “worried” about Britain, Netanyahu said there were two streams of British attitudes toward Israel and the Jews, and that he was concerned about the stream that viewed Israel through Britain’s own spurned “colonial prism,” and as a result saw Israel as “neo-colonialists.” But that is wrong, he said. “We are not Belgians in the Congo! We are not Brits in India!”

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