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Europe

EU Ties with Israel Under Threat Over Palestinian Statehood Policy

The European Union on Friday told Israel's incoming new government Friday that there would be "consequences" if it did not accept Palestinian calls for statehood.

A handshake in front of the EU and Israeli flags

The EU wants Israel to commit to a Palestinian state

"Relations would become very difficult indeed," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. "At one of our next ministerial meetings we would have to discuss what consequences the EU would draw from that."

Schwarzenberg did not elaborate but Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said after the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers at Hluboka castle in the southern Czech Republic that a long-mooted upgrading of EU-Israeli trade and political ties depended on Israel achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians.

"We must tell the Israelis that they are not allowed to walk away from the peace process... The upgrading process was always to be viewed from the perspective of the peace process having been completed," Asselborn told reporters.

"The foreign ministers must send a clear message saying that if this is not the case, the EU cannot accept it," he added.

"We Europeans are insisting that whatever the weighting is in the two governments (Israeli and Palestinian), the creation of a two-state solution must stand first and foremost," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "We should not always have to start from the beginning again -- that is my urgent appeal."

EU in the dark over Netanyahu's plans

Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu's plans for the Palestinians are unclear

Israel's hawkish prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, of the right-wing Likud party, plans to present his new government to parliament next week, following the Labor party's decision to join his coalition, which includes other right-wing and religious formations.

While he has shied away from backing the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Netanyahu's Likud party agreed in a coalition deal with the Labor party to respect all of Israel's international agreements -- a formula that includes accords envisaging Palestinian statehood.

The United States has warned that peace efforts, which have barely budged in recent years, will not be any easier under the hard-line Netanyahu, who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.

Last year the EU decided to enhance ties with Israel but the idea has been a dead letter since the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

EU support guaranteed if benchmarks are met

Earlier the European Commission pledged to support the new Israeli government as long as it accepts certain benchmarks, including the principle of an autonomous Palestinian state.

Jose Manuel Barroso

Barroso offered the EU's hand -- but with conditions

"The European Commission is looking forward to working with the new Israeli government in pursuit of a common agenda," the EU executive's head Jose Manuel Barroso said in a message to Netanyahu.

"It stands ready to assist and support you in your search for peace, prosperity and security for the people in Israel and the region, based on the vision of two states living side by side in peace and prosperity," he said.

The Europeans are the biggest donors of aid to the Palestinians but they hold little sway over Israel, which is backed firmly by the United States.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, on a visit to Brussels, said he hoped that the new government would tone down the rhetoric that its parties have used while they were in opposition.

"If those statements are carried on in the government and they become government policy, then I have to warn that things would turn for the worse and it would create more suffering," he told reporters.

"It is for that reason that I believe that the Israeli leaders, when they form the government, will act responsibly."

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