Europe unconvinced as Israeli FM ends maiden trip

9th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

During visits to France, the Czech Republic and Germany, there were no press conferences or meetings with heads of government.

Brussels -- Israel's outspoken Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman failed to convince Europe of his peacemaking credentials as he returned home Friday from his first foreign tour.

During visits to France, the Czech Republic and Germany, there were no press conferences or meetings with heads of government. Only in Italy did Lieberman, a sceptic on peace with the Palestinians, speak in public.

In a statement released Friday, Germany urged Lieberman not to back away from the peace process with the Palestinians.

During talks with Lieberman late Thursday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Israel must pursue a two-state solution in the interest of regional security and stability, his ministry said in a statement.

Steinmeier "underlined the government's expectation that the new Israeli government maintain its commitment to results produced in previous (peace) talks and the goal of a two-state solution," it said, adding that Germany would support Israel in the process.

In Italy, whose right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi welcomed him in person, Lieberman received five-star treatment. There he appealed for patience while Israel's new government hammers out a diplomatic strategy.

Lieberman had sparked unease among Europeans by saying ahead of his trip that the new cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not bound by the previous government's decision in 2007 to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.

The leader of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) entered Netanyahu's coalition government after elections which saw his party come in third place, campaigning on a hardline agenda against Israel's Arab minority.

Netanyahu has so far refused to publicly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, a bedrock principle of international plans to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After meeting Lieberman on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner insisted he regarded the creation of a Palestinian state as central to any chance of peace.

"Bernard Kouchner recapitulated France's expectations, in particular concerning the creation of a viable Palestinian state coexisting in peace and security with Israel," a foreign ministry statement said.

"He underlined the urgent need to restart negotiations with this objective in mind."

From there, Lieberman went on to Prague and a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

"It has been a meeting in which not much has been advanced as you would imagine (as) they are in a process of review... let us see what is the revision they present," he said.

"They know very well what our policy is, which is a policy encapsulated in the two states solution," he added.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner warned last month that a planned upgrade of bilateral relations could not come about until the Israeli government commits to the peace talks with the Palestinians.

Only Italy has opposed that call.

"What they call the upgrading between Europe and Israel must not stop because that way Europe can play a major role" in the Middle East peace process, Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a joint news conference with Lieberman who also called for stronger ties with the EU.

The Israeli prime minister has said all attempts at finding peace between Israel and the Palestinians had failed since the 1993 Oslo accords. Lieberman did not signal any change from that view.

"There was some disagreement but it was the first contact ... We hope that he will take account of what we have been saying and that the Americans are going to say the same thing," said one European diplomat.


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