Friday, April 24, 2009

Czech PM: We'll fight EU calls to freeze Israel ties

Barak Ravid

Czech Prime Minister Mirel Topolanek told President Shimon Peres on Friday that his country, which holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, would fight against calls within Europe to suspend the upgrade of relations with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday told the visiting Czech premier that Israel's relationship to the European Union should not be linked to its relationship to the Palestinians.

"Don't set conditions for us," Netanyahu told Topolanek during their meeting. "Peace is in Israel's interest no less than it is in Europe's interest, and there's no need to make the upgrade in relations with Israel conditional on progress on the peace process."

Topolanek is the first foreign government leader to visit Israel since the Netanyahu cabinet was sworn in three weeks ago. The talks between the two were reportedly conducted in a relaxed atmosphere. But Topolanek brought up the issue of construction in West Bank settlements and European concerns that this could prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"If Israelis can't build homes in the West Bank then Palestinians shouldn't be allowed to either," Netanyahu said in response. He told the Czech leader he has no intention of halting the expansion of existing settlements. "I have no plans to build new settlements, but if someone wants to build a new home [in an existing one], I don't think there's a problem." He characterized the West Bank as "disputed territory" over which negotiations must be held.

Topolanek asked Netanyahu whether he intended to evacuate the illegal outposts on the West Bank, as Israel has promised in the past in the road map and other agreements. Netanyahu said the outposts are both a domestic and foreign issue. "I intend to enforce the law with regard to the outposts," he said.

As rotating president of the EU, the Czech Republic is involved in the upgrading of Israel's relations with that organization. The upgrade was suspended after the formation of the Netanyahu government and his refusal to accept the "two states for two peoples" formula. A few weeks ago, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg announced the cancellation of a summit scheduled for June between Netanyahu and his European counterparts.

"We expect a clear commitment from the new [Israeli] government to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Brussels on Thursday. "We expect a stop of all activities undermining our objective to a two-state solution - and this includes in particular settlement expansion, which is continuing on a daily basis. The ball is now in the court of Israel."

No comments: