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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
Reuters contributed to this report.