Diplomatic Barbs EU Sharpens Tone Against New Israeli Government

Germany and the European Union are unhappy with the approach so far by Benjamin Netanyahu's government to the Middle East peace process. EU diplomats are increasing pressure on Israel to voice its support for a two-state solution that would see the creation of a Palestinian state.

In a series of diplomatic barbs, the German government has expressed its displeasure at the new, right-leaning Israeli government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) has delayed a joint meeting of the cabinets of both countries, initially planned for June, for an undetermined amount of time.

Right-wing Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu: Jerusalem is under increasing pressure from Europe to commit to the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Right-wing Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu: Jerusalem is under increasing pressure from Europe to commit to the two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the chancellor reaffirmed that the meeting would take place, but said a date could not be set before the government's summer break. At the same time, she also pressed Netanyahu not to abandon the so-called two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also distanced himself from the Israeli government. In his letter of congratulations to his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, Steinmeier admonished the new Israeli foreign minister to preserve the "momentum of the peace process." Nor did Steinmeier set any date for his first meeting with his Israeli counterpart, a step that is generally taken in such letters.

Meanwhile, the European Union is also discussing the possibility of diplomatic sanctions against Israel. In Luxembourg, for example, Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has proposed cancelling the Jerusalem government's planned participation in a number of EU meetings.

"Further diplomatic preferential treatment can not happen without conditions," Asselborn said. The new Israeli government, he argued, must "prove through its actions that it will accept a Palestinian state."

In Germany, Foreign Minister Steinmeier has said his country expects "constructive engagement" from the Israeli government and the Palestinians in the peace process. "We urgently need progress on the path to peace and a fair two-state solution," he told the Neue Presse newspaper.

During the Israeli election, Netanyahu was sharply critical of his predecessor Ehud Olmert's peace talks with the Palestinians. Since taking office last month, he has promised "full peace" with the Arab and Muslim world, but he has not yet committed to a two-state solution. On Sunday, at the first meeting of his cabinet, Netanyahu pledged to unveil his "policy guidelines for progress on peace and security" in the coming weeks.

Last Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman contributed to worries about Israel's commitment to the peace process after saying that the new government was not bound to the 2007 agreement to restart peace talks with the Palestinians that was reached in Annapolis, Maryland and which is backed by the United States, adding that his country only had to adhere to the "roadmap."

"We will never agree to skip any of the stages -- and there are 48 of them -- and go straight to the last stage on negotiations on a permanent agreement," he said.

In a newspaper interview last week, Lieberman also ruled out the possibility of returning the Golan Heights to Syria, a step viewed by many as essential in any effort to restore peace with the neighboring country.

dsl -- with wires


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