Lieberman to face off with European foreign ministers

FM to attend first Israel-EU Association Council Meeting in two years.

Lieberman thoughtful 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Lieberman thoughtful 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman left Sunday for Brussels and a meeting with the EU’s foreign ministers, where he is expected to hear both impatience toward Israel because of lack of progress on the diplomatic track, but also some readiness to take the oft-discussed EU upgrade out of the deep freeze where it has been for the last two years.
On Tuesday, Lieberman will participate in the EU-Israel Association Council meeting, along with some 27 EU foreign ministers. The Association Council is the central forum governing Israel-EU relations.
That meeting will be divided into two parts, with the first dealing with diplomatic matters. During this section he is likely to be grilled about the settlements, and pressed about the EU’s perception that Israel needs to fill the present diplomatic vacuum with some type of diplomatic plan.
Regarding the diplomatic process, all four of the EU countries on the UN Security Council – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – voted against Israel on Friday and in favor of the Palestinian resolution sharply condemning the settlements.
While that resolution was vetoed by the US, Lieberman is expected to argue that such moves only build up Palestinian expectations that they can impose a settlement on Israel, something that will push negotiations further off.
The second part of the daylong meeting will deal with Israeli-EU bilateral issues, with the focus expected to be on the long delayed EU upgrade, announced in the winter of 2008, and then froze in the spring of 2009 following Operation Cast Lead and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s electoral victory and formation of a new government.
In December 2008 the EU foreign ministers agreed to the upgrade of diplomatic ties with Israel.
The proposed package called for an ad hoc summit meeting between Israel’s prime minister and all EU heads of government, something that has never taken place before. It also called for Israel’s foreign minister to meet together with all 27 EU foreign ministers three times a year. It called for a strategic dialogue to discuss issues such as Iran, the diplomatic process and Syria. It also called for the inclusion of Israel in EU peacekeeping forces, and for an EU commitment to help Israel better integrate into UN agencies.
The plan, however, was suspended in April 2009. At the time, the EU spelled out three main hurdles that had to be overcome to move forward on the upgrade: Israel’s agreement to the notion of a two-state solution, ending the Gaza blockade, and stopping settlement expansion.
Since that time Netanyahu has come out in favor of a two-state solution, and the Gaza blockade is less of an issue as Israel has significantly eased up both on what is allowed in and out of Gaza.
That leaves only the settlement issue – a major irritant between the two sides nonetheless.
The expectation from Tuesday’s meeting is that although the association parley won’t lead to the beginning of full implementation of the upgrade, some progress in that direction will be signaled.
Last year the annual meeting of the Association Council, scheduled for March, was canceled soon after Israel announced new construction in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem during the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden.
Lieberman has planned bilateral meetings in Brussels Tuesday with two of Israel’s most supportive foreign ministers in the EU: Holland’s Uriel Rosenthal and Bulgaria’s Nikolai Mladenov, as well as with two ministers from among the more friendly countries in the EU toward Israel: Denmark and Finland.
Despite Friday’s vote on the settlements in the UN Security Council, the main focus for EU foreign ministers at this time is the upheaval in the Arab world, with the EU’s foreign ministers scheduled Sunday evening to hold an informal meeting on the developments in the region.
This meeting will come two days before EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited Israel and the PA last week, heads for Egypt – the first high-profile foreign official to visit Cairo since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.