Netanyahu in Europe

The Europe visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attracted much attention. Key meetings feature in the four-day visit in the backdrop of the tensions governing US-Israel ties and Europe’s growing dissatisfaction over Israel’s dilly-dallying in restarting peace talks.

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Published: Thu 27 Aug 2009, 11:41 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:29 AM

Every statement by Netanyahu is being closely followed. Perceived as a double-edged trip, concerted efforts, seeking damage control of Israel’s worsening relations with European allies and Washington are high on the agenda of the visiting Israeli leader.

The meeting in London with the US Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, at the same time, is additionally significant for its emphasis on pushing Israel towards some formal commitment on restarting talks.

Though both sides have expressed desire to restart talks and make some headway in resolving the decades old conflict, Israeli actions, especially its obdurate refusal to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, has been the biggest impediment to any progress. Refusal to cede even to surprising US pressure on cessation of settlement expansion, Netanyahu’s government chose to stick to its guns, at the cost of a serious rift with Washington.

At the same time, Israel has been attempting to use the Middle East peace process card to extract a more forceful line on Iran from the US. Fearing that US President Barack Obama’s dialogue and reconciliation policy might play to Tehran’s advantage, Israeli warmongers have been crying hoarse about the existential threat from Iran. How Palestinian rights are linked to Iran’s pursuit or non-pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme defies all logic. But in the backdrop of hard bargaining typical of international relations, it is probably a key bargaining chip. Tel Aviv is likely to use it to the hilt, while determining the fate of the hapless Palestinians trapped in Gaza, ironically facing an existential threat of their own.

Netanyahu’s oft repeated statement—that the real problem in moving forward lies in Palestinians refusal to recognize the Jewish state and not in the settlements issue—is not expected to make much of an impact. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, under increasing attack over his placidity on the Lockerbie issue domestically, managed to say that he was ‘more optimistic’ about peace after his meeting with Netanyahu. But he could not help reiterate his reservations about the settlements issue as an impediment to resolution. The Palestinian side has categorically refused to enter talks unless Israel halts all settlement expansion. Meanwhile, there are reports that US efforts at persuading Israel to restart peace talks may materialise next month at the meeting of the UN General Assembly, but only after Washington adopts a harder position on Iran, including further sanctions. In such a case, Israel will have to show some flexibility on the settlements issue and review its position on Jerusalem, which remains the bone of contention in any future division.

In all likelihood, Washington is likely to pressure Palestinians to cede more ground on the settlements issue. Despite the impasse, it is hoped that the smallest breakthrough could lead to a real resolution if US and other world powers adhere to their commitment.

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