Back from US, Olmert looks to Europe

PM travels to France, England next month; Livni to address EU parliament.

olmert 88 (photo credit: )
olmert 88
(photo credit: )
The focus of Israel's high-profile diplomatic activity will shift from the US to Europe in the coming weeks, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana expected to arrive here during the first week of June, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert scheduled to travel to France and England in the middle of the month. In addition, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to make a two-day trip to Turkey on Sunday where she will meet Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. In the middle of June, Livni is expected to address both the European Parliament in Strasbourg and meet with European Foreign Ministers at the EU-Israel Association meeting in Luxembourg. While European spokesmen have come out in recent weeks against further unilateral steps, Israeli officials believe they will eventually come around and accept Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "realignment plan" because it includes an Israeli withdrawal from the majority of the West Bank. "When Israel says that it wants to remove tens of thousands of settlers and dozens of settlements, what are the Europeans going to say, 'No, you can't‚' one government official said. Israeli diplomatic officials said Israel wanted to "engage" the Europeans about the plan, presenting them with Israel's argument that it desired to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians, but that if this were not possible then it would be better not to let things remain "stagnant" and instead take action that would improve the current situation and not preclude a negotiated settlement in the future. In addition, diplomatic efforts are under way to get Europe on record as opposing the return of Palestinian refugees to the pre-1967 lines, something along the line of what US President George W. Bush put in his April 2004 pre-disengagement letter of commitments to Ariel Sharon, in which he said that the refugees should return to a future Palestinian state, rather than to Israel. Turning the focus toward Europe comes amid general satisfaction in Jerusalem that Europe has remained firm in demanding that Hamas recognize Israel, disavow terrorism and accept previous agreements before gaining international legitimacy. Part of the reason for the firm line Europe has taken on this matter, according to diplomatic officials, is because some European leaders believe this will strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel continues to try to impress upon the Europeans that its policy toward the Hamas-led PA is not an attempt to punish the Palestinians. The government's decision Sunday to release some NIS 50 million of money Israel has held up to the PA to buy medicine and medical supplies resounded well in Europe, one European diplomatic official said. The official said that Olmert and Livni's diplomatic style - which he described as "soft rhetoric but strong content" - was generally being noted positively in Europe. "What Olmert and Livni are doing is affirming their values in a non-confrontational manner," the diplomat said. "If Israel wants to be credible in the world, it doesn't want to take the risk that people will say it hasn't reached out its hand or opened up the doors." He said Olmert and Livni are taking pains to do this, and that this is well appreciated in Europe.