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Israel

Israel on the offensive over EU criticism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at criticism from the EU over Israel's plans to boost the number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, calling the EU's concerns hypocritical.

"The ambassadors to the EU were called in because of the construction of a few houses. When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel's destruction? When did the Palestinian ambassadors get called in to hear complaints about the fact that security officers in the Palestinian security forces are participating in terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis."

Those were Netanyahu's comments after a statement issued by the European Union's foreign policy coordinator Catherine Ashton, in which she called the latest settlement construction "illegal under international law" and "an obstacle to peace." Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman then summoned the ambassadors from Britain, France, Italy and Spain to "stress to them their perpetual one-sided stance against Israel and in favour of the Palestinians is unacceptable and creates the impression they are only seeking ways to blame Israel."

EU Israel Catherine Ashton Avigdor Lieberman 

Photo:Sebastian Scheiner/AP/dapd)

Not seeing eye to eye

Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig, deputy director of the school of political communications at Bar-Ilan University, said both parties were right.

"The EU is trying to press Israel to not talk about settlements at such a sensitive time in the peace negotiations, which makes sense from their perspective." Lehman-Wilzig said Israel was also right to criticize a pro-Palestinian view point as not helping the peace process.

Selling a myth?

Netanyahu told a gathering of foreign press at the end of last week that peace talks did not center around settlements. "It's a myth that when you get to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict the settlements are the core of the conflict - it's not true. When people tell me these negotiations are hampered by this, they forget that this was part of the deal - unspoken, unwritten, informal - everybody will say that they oppose it, but it was very clear. We don't add new settlements, we haven't added them since my first term as Prime Minister, nearly 20 years ago. The fact that you add a few houses to existing communities doesn't change the map one iota, I think this is a bogus claim, that we are constantly criticized over," said Netanyahu.

He said the conflict also wasn't about the absence of a Palestinian state. "We were willing to accept a Palestinian state in 1947 and successive Governments have been willing to accept a Palestinian state since and yet the Palestinians refuse. The real issue was and always will be the Jewish state - the persistent refusal to accept a nation state for the Jewish people. To be our peace partners they have to accept the Jewish people have the state here, in whatever form and so far they refuse to do it," Netanyahu said.

Lehman-Wilzig says the issues lies with whether the 1,400 homes will be built in Jewish settlements that could be evicted under a future peace agreement.

construction site

Photo: Dan Balilty, File/AP/dapd)

More homes, more controversy: The Israeli government is pressing ahead with its settlements plans

"The peace negotiations have so far been conducted in quiet, with only a few minor leaks of the details at hand. It's sensible to conduct the talks in secret to protect people's lives, restrict outbreaks of violence. Major concessions that are painful are being made and decided upon," Lehman-Wilzig told DW.

According to Lehman-Wilzig "Israel and the EU are doing a political, diplomatic dance but that dance hasn't crossed the major line Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon crossed with comments directs at the US last week."

Tensions between Israel and the US were forced into the open when Yaalon was made to apologize for suggesting US Secretary of State John Kerry is on a messianic quest of peace in the Middle East.

"He (Yaalon) should have been fired - if a US official did the same thing they were likely to lose their jobs. It's a personal attack of the greatest order - getting down on the ground and mud slinging is extremely harmful and I am convinced Netanyahu was not behind it. It was said very deliberately to damage Netanyahu's reputation, and to attract more support for Yaalon as a future leader," said Lehman Wilzig.

Peace agreement

Netanyahu stressed to the foreign media that future discussions with John Kerry and the Palestinians would be on how to ensure that any peace deal leaves Israel secure.

"I am willing to take a lot of hard decisions, but I will never compromise on Israel's security. The security issues are very dramatic and important, they relate also not only to Israel they relate to Jordan, which we have excellent relations with. We all want to see that secure border, that quiet border that we have between us, continue to be quiet and secure and tranquil. This is one of the primary requirements that we have."

Netanyahu also said he wanted to prevent weapons being smuggled across the border with Jordan. "What we certainly don't want to have is another Hamastan, right here next to Jerusalem, the last thing we want to have is another Afghanistan which is developing for example in Syria and we don't want to have another Hezbollahstan, which we have in Lebanon, we want to have a genuine peace, which means security, tranquility and the absence of terror attacks and that affords a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors."

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