'Norway not about to recognize Palestinian state'

Norway's FM says sides should focus on talks; Israeli official: EU consuls' recommendations on J'lem 're-leaked' to gain from hotel demolition.

Norway FM Store 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Norway FM Store 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Norway is not on the verge of recognizing a Palestinian state inside the 1967 lines, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on the eve of a Middle East trip that will bring him to Israel on Tuesday.
Støre, in an interview that appeared on the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation (NRK) website on Sunday, said he was not ready to recognize a Palestinian state. He said this would only be a symbolic action and that the efforts now should be concentrated on negotiations that would bring about a “real result.”
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Over the last few weeks, officials in Jerusalem have broadly dismissed the idea that European countries would follow the South American lead and recognize a Palestinian state. That being said, Norway is often mentioned as the most likely candidate to grant that recognition, if any country in Europe would make such a move, partly because it is not a member of the EU.
But Støre said it was impossible for the Palestinians simply to declare that “now we are a state” without negotiating core issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and water.
Støre said that while not having any “magic wand,” Norway had an important role to play in the region because it “knows the parties well.”
Acknowledging past Israeli criticism of Norway’s role in the region, he said that it was possible to understand the criticism when placed in context, and that he was aware that Israel was exposed from a security point of view, “with Iran, an unstable Lebanon and Hamas.”
In addition, he said, Israeli society was going through “great change,” with a million immigrants from eastern Europe, something he said had led to changes in the country’s politics and political climate.
Last month, Israel protested Norway’s upgrade of the Palestinian presence in there from representation to delegate status, with the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Western Europe Naor Gilon calling in the Norwegian charge d’affaires to protest. Gilon said that in light of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate, this upgrade “does not contribute to promoting or advancing the peace process.”
Gilon also said at the time that the Norwegian move raised questions about whether Norway “has the balance required” of a country that chairs the Ad Hoc Liaison Group, or donor group to the Palestinians.
The issue is expected to come up in Støre’s meetings in Jerusalem. He is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Støre will also be travelling to Jordan, the PA and Syria during this visit. He was last in the region in August, when he went to Gaza. He did not ask to go there this time.
Støre’s visit comes at a time when some other dignitaries, such as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, have called off visits because of Foreign Ministry work sanctions. One Norwegian diplomat said Oslo had decided to go ahead with the visit – despite being contacted by the workers’ committee to postpone it – because the logistics of handling the visit for a delegation that “could fit into a couple of cars” could be handled sufficiently by the Norwegian embassy.
In a related development, Israeli diplomatic officials dismissed a report in the Independent saying that the European Union was “so troubled by the increased settlement activity of Israel it has proposed that EU officials should be present at the site of imminent house demolitions or evictions and intervene if non-violent Palestinians face arrest in East Jerusalem, according to a new confidential report.”
A similar report, based on an internal report sent by EU consuls in Jerusalem and Ramallah, appeared in Monday’s Haaretz.
Both Israel and EU officials, however, said Monday that there was nothing new in the EU report. Israeli officials said it was a document sent every year by the consuls in Jerusalem with their recommendations – never heeded by the EU – on what the organization’s policies should be toward Jerusalem.
One Israeli official said that linking the document and its recommendations to anything happening on the ground at this moment was especially misleading, since the report on Israel’s policies in east Jerusalem was issued annually, and very similar language had been used in the document for a number of years.
One Israeli official said AFP had reported on the document a month ago, but it had not been widely picked up. He speculated that it was being “re-leaked” now to get a bounce from the commotion surrounding the Shepherd Hotel demolition.
The official added that the document was routinely ignored in Brussels because it was seen as “wildly one-sided.”