Czech PM: We'll fight EU calls to freeze Israel ties
By Barak Ravid Haaretz Last update - 21:45 24/04/2009
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
The visiting Czech premier's remark came one day after Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu told him that Israel's relationship with the European
Union should not be linked to its relationship with the Palestinians.
"Don't set conditions for us," Netanyahu told Topolanek during their meeting
on Thursday. "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."