European leaders were caught by surprise last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would attend a summit of EU Foreign Ministers in December, with many accusing the Israeli leader of concocting a diplomatic stunt behind their backs, Channel 10 news reported Wednesday.
Angered EU diplomats have since acquiesced to the visit, but warn that Netanyahu will face tough questions, and promise that Palestinian leaders will get a similar invite, the TV report said.
Netanyahu announced earlier this month that he would take part in the Brussels meeting on December 11 — the first time in 22 years that an Israeli leader has attended an EU meeting.
But the invitation has been revealed as far from official: Netanyahu was invited by Lithuania’s foreign minister to attend a breakfast before the meeting without the knowledge or agreement of other top diplomats, Channel 10 revealed.
The news was met with anger by more than one foreign minister, and several were said to initially oppose the Israel leader’s maneuver to essentially invite himself to the high-level forum.
“This is the European Union, not the US Congress, and Netanyahu cannot invite himself,” one EU diplomat told Channel 10, in reference to Netanyahu’s speech to the American legislature against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which was organized behind the back of the Obama administration.
But the TV report said that EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was herself incensed by Netanyahu’s move, has since formulated a deal with EU members that will allow Netanyahu to attend: this will include a similar invite in the near future to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a vow that the Palestinian issue will be at the top of the agenda when foreign ministers receive Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu got the meeting he wanted, but the foreign ministers at the summit will present him with tough questions about Israel’s policies” in the Palestinian territories, an EU official said.
It will be the first time that Netanyahu has met with all the foreign ministers of the bloc.
The prime minister’s visit to Brussels will follow his Paris meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on December 10.
Netanyahu’s relationship with the European Union has been frosty for many years, though a year ago officials vowed to improve ties.
In July, on a visit to Hungary, Netanyahu criticized the European Union in unusually harsh terms for its treatment of Israel, urging the leaders of four Central European countries to use their influence in the organization to ease its conditions for advancing bilateral ties.
“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said in a closed-door meeting whose content was accidentally broadcast to journalists outside the room. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy towards Israel.”
Earlier this month Israel forced a group of European lawmakers to cancel their trip to Israel, explaining that the 20 participants, including French parliamentarians and mayors, and members of the European Parliament, were planning to undermine Israel’s security.
The group was scheduled to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas on November 19-23 and had announced that its primary purpose was to visit and offer support to Marwan Barghouti and other Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.