The EU should adopt policies toward Israel similar to those taken by the moderate Arab states in the region, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini at a meeting in Davos on Thursday.
His comments came just days after the European Union Foreign Affairs Council adopted resolutions on the Middle East that were sharply critical of Israel.
An improvement in the EU’s ties with Israel would lead to an improvement in Israel’s ties with the Palestinians, the prime minister said. The longheld position in Jerusalem is that the sharp disagreement between the EU and Israel gives the Palestinians a false hope that if they just hold out long enough, the EU will somehow be able to “deliver” Israel.
This was the first meeting between the two since a brief encounter in Paris at another international gathering.
Netanyahu said at the time that Israel was suspending contacts with the EU regarding the diplomatic process because of its decision to label products from the settlements.
Before his meeting with Mogherini, Netanyahu – during a public interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on center stage at the World Economic Forum – said he hoped that EU policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians would “merely reflect now the prevailing Arab policy to Israel and the Palestinians.
“We used to think that if we solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict it would solve the larger Israeli-Arab conflict,” Netanyahu said, adding that now he thinks the paradigm should be reversed.
By nurturing relationships that are developing now between Israel and parts of the Arab world, “that could actually help us resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we’re actually working towards that end,” he added.
As in the past, however, he did not provide any details.
Netanyahu took a swipe at Sweden, one of Israel’s most vocal critics in the EU, saying – when asked why more Palestinians have not been attracted to Islamic State – that “they’re probably more Swedes in ISIS than Israeli Arabs, and that’s good.”
In addition to meeting with Mogherini, Netanyahu met separately on the sidelines with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Those meetings also took place against the background of public criticism leveled against Israel on two occasions over the last two weeks by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
The Prime Minister’s Office characterized the meeting with Biden as “friendly,” saying it took place in an “excellent” atmosphere. The two men, the PMO said, discussed regional and security issues, as well as energy ones.
Similar issues – including Iran, Islamic State and the Palestinian issues – were discussed during the meeting with Kerry. Netanyahu showed Kerry a video clip of less than two minutes that he began showing his visitors this week demonstrating Palestinian incitement, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s part in it. He also met with the president of strategically important Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev; Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn; and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. In addition, he took part in a panel on cyber security with the heads of Sony, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Lenovo and Hitachi.
During the interview with Zakaria, Netanyahu rejected the premise that the settlements were making a twostate solution impossible, saying they “take up a very small amount of land, and in any case, it’s something to be negotiated. Let’s negotiate.”
Asked if he was comfortable with the tacit alliance emerging with a country such as Saudi Arabia, which chops off people’s hands and heads and has laws against blasphemy and apostasy, Netanyahu replied: “I see the world as it is, not as I’d like it to be, or not as we remember it nostalgically, and I work from that premise.”
Regarding the future of Syria, the prime minister said he “doubts” a unitary Syrian state can ever reemerge.
“I wish it could happen, but I’m not sure you could put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I’d say the best result you might be able to get is a benign Balkanization, benign cantonization in Syria. That’s as good as you’re going to get.”
On Iran, Netanyahu said he hoped he would be proven wrong in his fierce objections to the nuclear deal, “though I have my doubts, and we shall see very soon.”
Now that the deal has been signed, he said, there are three things that must be done, and on this he sees “eye to eye” with US President Barack Obama. The first is to keep the Iranians’ “feet to the fire” and ensure they fulfill their obligations under the agreement.
The second is to resist Iranian aggression in the region by bolstering America’s allies, “first and foremost which is Israel.”
And the third thing, the prime minister said, is the need to begin dismantling the terrorist network that Iran – through Hezbollah – has established around the world.
When asked what legacy he wanted to leave, Netanyahu quipped, “First of all, I’m not through yet. Let’s get that straight.”
Then he couched his legacy more in terms of securing Israel than as concluding a peace deal, more as defender of Israel than peacemaker.
“I have to make sure that the future of the Jewish state is safe and sound,” he said. “That’s my one goal. And I would like to be remembered as the protector of Israel. That’s enough for me. Protector of Israel.”