Slamming of Europe stirs tempest in Israel

Barak and Lieberman trade jabs over efficacy of Foreign Ministry statement slamming European countries for their condemnation of Israel; Olmert blasts PM for allowing release of statement.

Lieberman and Barak 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Lieberman and Barak 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Foreign Ministry’s statement on Wednesday slamming four European countries for their condemnation of Israel stirred a mini-tempest on Thursday... but in Israel, not Europe.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an Israel Radio interview, characterized the angry Foreign Ministry statement as an example of being right, but not smart.
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This in turn elicited a snide remark by sources close to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, saying they don’t respond to comments made by heads of parties with fewer than six Knesset seats. Barak’s Independence faction has five.
The Foreign Ministry issued a sharply worded response on Wednesday to a statement put out by Britain, France, German and Portugal – the EU’s four members on the UN Security Council – saying they risked losing credibility and relevance with their reflexive condemnations of Israeli construction beyond the Green Line and selective interpretation of Quartet statements.
But Barak, in a relatively rare instance of a senior minister criticizing the actions of another ministry, said that while the European positions were mistaken, no Israeli statement was going to make those countries irrelevant.
“We don’t accept their position on these matters, [but] they are very relevant,” he said of the European countries.
Barak said he met recently with the national security advisers of both Britain and France, and that on an issue very relevant to Israel – sanctions against Iran – they were extremely supportive.
Barak said that the Foreign Ministry was correct in issuing a response to the Europeans, but that it should have been milder.
“We still need them for many things,” he said, adding that Israel turns to Germany on strategic issues, and to France and Britain to keep Israel from being brought before the International Criminal Court.
“I don’t think we have an interest in turning them into bitter and insulted foes,” he said, adding that Germany, France and Britain were not “Tanzania, Mauritania and Tripolitania. These are very important countries in the world, and we have no interest in increasing the tension.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, meanwhile, gave full backing to the Foreign Ministry.
Senior officials in the Foreign Ministry said that the initiative for the statement was taken by the top diplomats in the ministry, and not by Lieberman. A source close to Lieberman said that it was surprising that Barak, “with his great successes, continues to give advise to others.”
According to a Foreign Ministry official, what bothered the diplomats was that the four European countries backed the Palestinian interpretation of a Quartet statement from September 23 that laid down a formula for renewing Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The statement issued by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal called on the parties “to present as soon as possible to the Quartet comprehensive proposals on territory and security.”
This contradicted a statement put out by representatives of the Quartet – which includes the US, EU, Russia and UN – just last week, saying that these comprehensive proposals should be presented by the sides to each other in direct talks.
The Palestinians said earlier this month that while they have presented the Quartet with comprehensive proposals on security and territory, Israel has refused to do so, creating the impression that Israel was obstructing the process.
Israel’s position is that the comprehensive proposals that the Quartet discussed in September are to come out of direct negotiations between the sides, and not as result of an indirect process whereby the Quartet mediates between the two sides. The US has publicly backed this position.
According to Foreign Ministry official, if Israel would have left that comment unanswered, then Israel’s silence would have been interpreted as accepting this as the new frame of reference.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert blasted Netanyahu for not intervening and stopping the Foreign Ministry from releasing the controversial statement.
“I often ask myself whether Israel decided to declare war on the entire world?” Olmert said in a speech to the Farmers Federation of Israel in Ramat Gan. “Where is the voice of the prime minister to renounce these terrible words? Where is the policy that would enable these countries to stand by Israel as they did before?”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.