LI chief tells PM to build ties with Syrian rebels

"Europe should back Israel," Liberal International president says after meeting Netanyahu at Knesset.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
January 5, 2012 00:42
2 minute read.
Liberal International president Hans van Baalen

Liberal International president Hans van Baalen 311 . (photo credit: Wikipedia)

 
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Israel should start building ties behind the scenes with Syrian opposition factions, Liberal International president Hans van Baalen told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week.

Van Baalen, a Dutch member of the European Parliament in Brussels, heads the London-based Liberal International (LI), a federation of dozens of liberal political parties and organizations around the world. He came to Israel to deliver an address in Tel Aviv this Thursday, sponsored by the Israeli Liberal Group – a remnant of the old Liberal Party that merged with the Likud in 1973.

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In a meeting with Netanyahu at the Knesset on Monday that lasted an hour and a half, van Baalen discussed what the West could do to better support Israel, including intensifying military, intelligence, economic and technological cooperation.

He told Netanyahu that he supported granting Israel observer status in NATO and an upgrade in relations with the EU.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, van Baalen said that while Netanyahu was very critical of many of the changes taking place in the region, he was open to increasing contacts with members of parliament in the Arab world. Van Baalen said the EU, The Netherlands and LI, which has member parties in Egypt, could assist with this.

“I told the prime minister to develop relations with the opposition in the resistance council in Syria,” he said. “There has to be some linkage. If you don’t have any contacts, it will be difficult to come to an understanding.”

He expressed optimism that whoever takes power after Bashar Assad in Syria will realize that it is in his country’s interests to have diplomatic relations with Israel, or at least not to be in a state of war.



“If there’s a new regime in Syria, they will have to have economic development, and if they are at war with Israel, they won’t have this,” he said.

The LI president describes himself as an admirer of Israel who has been to the country five times in the past 12 years. His bond with Israel was strengthened by relatives who made aliya after their Jewish father was murdered in the Holocaust.

“Like the Dutch built a country out of water, it always appealed to me that you [Israelis] built a country out of the desert after the Holocaust,” he said. “It’s not just a country. It’s a Jewish state, and that’s an ideal.”

He described the EU parliament as one-third pro-Israel, one-third anti-Israel, and one-third undecided and uninformed. He said more needed to be done to reach out to the undecided third.

“The EU parliament has a majority against upgrading cooperation with Israel, and I’m fighting against it,” he said. “Whatever your reason, from an economic point of view, there is not a reason not to upgrade the relationship. Preventing importing Israeli medicine to the EU is crazy, and it won’t help a single Palestinian. Only a strong and vibrant Israel will be able to make peace.”

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