French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is scheduled to arrive Saturday night, and the EU foreign ministers are to meet and discuss the current fighting on Tuesday as Israeli diplomats are trying to garner international understanding for the ground operation in Gaza.
Fabius will be the fourth European foreign minister to come to Israel this week, following his colleagues from Germany, Italy and Norway.
Diplomatic officials are attributing significance to Fabius’ visit, as France is among the group of countries interested in issuing an expansive statement following the foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday that would also deal with details of the diplomatic process, such as settlement construction, Jerusalem and Area C.
Israel is trying to avoid that type of statement at this time, wanting instead to see a short statement similar to the one issued by EU government heads this week. Germany is leading the group of states favoring that type of statement.
A wider statement now dealing with issues like Har Homa and building in E-1 between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim would be completely out of context and divert attention from the current situation, diplomatic officials said.
The statement issued by the European Council earlier this week condemned the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and said “Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks.”
At the same time, the statement said that in defending itself Israel “must act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.” The statement said the EU “deeply deplores the loss of innocent lives and the high number of wounded civilians in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli military operations and is deeply concerned about the rapid and dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation. “
Diplomatic officials said that while there has been understanding abroad for Israel’s actions, there will inevitably be more talk of “proportionality” abroad as the operation continues.
“The game changer has always been a ground operation,” one official said. At this point, however, there has not been – with the exception of the vitriolic criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – any condemnations from European capitals.
While Erdogan has long been acerbic and virulent in his criticism of Israel, the officials said that his recent outbursts are tied to the upcoming presidential campaign in Turkey, where this type of anti-Israel rhetoric plays very well on the street. On Thursday Erdogan said Israel was attempting a “systematic genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza. Ironically, the official said, Turkey actually thinks it could play a role in mediating a cease-fire.
There is some talk of re-calling Israelis working at the embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul as a result of the toxic anti-Israel atmosphere fanned by Erdogan.
On Thursday night protesters shouted anti-Israel slogans in front of the embassy and consulate. Israel’s diplomatic presence in Turkey is small since Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.
One diplomatic official said that at this point Israel’s representatives in Turkey remain in place.