Netanyahu interrupts German FM to downplay 2-state support
'I'd rather not discuss labels, but substance'

Netanyahu interrupts German FM to downplay 2-state support

PM cuts into visiting envoy Sigmar Gabriel’s comments on future peace deal to stress demand for security control in West Bank

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Wednesday, he publicly corrected him over Israel’s stance on a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians.

In statements after the meeting, Netanyahu interrupted Gabriel as he talked about a two-state solution to the conflict.

Gabriel said he was “very thankful to hear that, of course, also the government of Israel wants to have two states” with secure Israeli borders.

But Netanyahu interjected to reiterate his position that Israel would have to maintain security control in the Palestinian territories under any peace arrangement. “No, that we will control security west of the Jordan (river)… that is, I think, the first condition,” Netanyahu said.

“Whether or not it’s defined as a state when we have the military control is another matter, but I’d rather not discuss labels, but substance,” he added.

An IDF border guard post seen at Qasr el Yahud, near the Jordan River and the Israel-Jordan border, on January 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu abruptly canceled a meeting in April with Gabriel over the German minister’s meeting with Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli army veterans critical of the country’s military actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli leaders oppose the group’s work, citing the anonymity of its claims, which limits verification, and its outreach efforts abroad to foreign audiences. The incident sparked a rare diplomatic feud with Germany, one of Israel’s closest and most important allies.

A two-state solution has long been the ultimate goal of international efforts to mediate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. However, prominent members of Israel’s government openly oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, while some call for much of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, to be annexed.

Netanyahu says he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, but in recent months has declined to specify whether that would mean an independent Palestinian state or some diluted form of autonomy.

Gabriel was to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day.

Also on Wednesday, the European Union urged the US to not go it alone in any effort to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians and warned that doing so would end in failure.

Foreign Minister of Norway Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, left, and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini deliver a press conference before an extraordinary meeting of the International Donor Group for Palestine at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 31, 2018. (JOHN THYS/AFP)

“Any framework for negotiations must be multilateral and must involve all players — all partners — that are essential to this process. A process without one or the other would simply not work, would simply not be realistic,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

“Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone,” she told reporters in Brussels.

Mogherini’s comments came ahead of an emergency meeting of an international committee coordinating Palestinian development aid. Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi, US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and other regional officials attended the talks, which were chaired by Norway and ran for about three hours.

The meeting was the first of its kind since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with an international consensus that the city’s status should be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In his December 6 announcement Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, though he later said the declaration had taken the city “off the table” in future peace talks.

In the wake of that announcement, the Palestinians said the US could no longer serve as a peace broker, and turned to Europe as a possible chief mediator in its stead. Trump, in response, threatened to cut all aid to the Palestinians should they not engage in peace talks under his administration’s terms.

Mogherini said “this is a difficult moment” for the region. She said that Wednesday’s meeting would focus on ways to promote a two-state solution and expressed hope that it “could be an element of facilitation for restoring some trust and a level of confidence.”

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

As the Brussels talks began, the EU also announced a new funding package of 42.5 million euros ($52.9 million) to help the Palestinians toward establishing an independent state. It includes substantial support in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their future capital.

The meeting was also to look at ways to support the UN agency working with Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

The US has been the largest donor, giving one-third of the total budget. But the Trump administration withheld half of the first installment of payments this year, demanding reforms as a condition for future aid.

UNRWA says the move has sparked its biggest-ever financial crisis. It has called on donors to speed up their funding, and Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Kuwait, the Netherlands and Ireland have taken steps to do so.

UNRWA said it is seeking $800 million for emergency operations in Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip this year.

In Slovenia, meanwhile, officials have delayed a decision on whether to recognize the Palestinian territories as a separate state after pressure from Israel and the United States. Slovenia’s Parliament Foreign Policy Committee suspended its session on Wednesday pending official government position. The native country of US first lady Melania Trump could become only the second EU state to recognize a Palestinian state, after Sweden.

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