'I felt like a lion,' says elated Netanyahu of EU session

Skeptical Netanyahu to EU on Palestinian state: Would it be Costa Rica or Yemen?

In Brussels, PM tells European FMs their countries ‘spoil’ the Palestinians while Trump ‘told them the truth’ by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a breakfast meeting with EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

BRUSSELS — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cast doubt on the viability of a Palestinian state on Monday in a meeting with EU foreign ministers. Asked straight out whether he still supports a two-state solution, he responded by asking them whether such a state would be “Costa Rica or Yemen.”

Speaking to reporters on board his plane after the breakfast meeting, just before taking off from Brussels, he also said that the European nations “spoil” the Palestinians, while US President Donald Trump, in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, “told them the truth.”

Netanyahu said he spoke with the foreign ministers of “almost all of the 28 EU member states” and that the conversation was “respectful from both sides.”

He said he told them that it was high time for a more realistic discussion about where the region is headed, and said the current turmoil in the Middle East is due to a battle between “modernity and early Medievalism.”

Netanyahu said he argued against two misconceptions: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the region’s troubles, and that the settlements are at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I asked them, ‘Does anybody believe in this?’” he reported. “The poor guy who set himself on fire in Tunisia, did he really care about whether Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and I negotiate and reach an agreement?” he said.

“The argument that at the heart of our conflict are settlements is not true,” he went on. He said he pointed out that “the opposition to Zionism started before the settlements and it continues after they’re dismantled.” And he said his reasoning was widely accepted by the EU ministers.

Netanyahu said he was asked whether he accepts the two-state solution, and that he replied by asking the ministers what kind of state the second one would be: “Would it be Costa Rica or Yemen?” The former is a stable democracy in Central America, while the latter is in a state of war-blighted anarchy.

The prime minister said he told his audience that Israel insists on ironclad security arrangements and that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The refusal to recognize a nation-state for the Jewish people in any boundaries, he said, is the source of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s time to say these things,” Netanyahu told the reporters. “I said that without addressing the root of the conflict, we will remain without progress.”

“I asked [the EU foreign ministers]: How many times have you spoken about settlements? And how many times have you told the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?”

The Palestinians were “spoiled” by the Europeans, he said he told the ministers at the breakfast meeting. “Trump told them the truth,” he added.

Netanyahu said he was asked by the Europeans whether he was ready to take concrete steps or gestures to jump-start the stalled peace process. “I said we’re already doing it,” he said, referring to infrastructure projects meant to improve the quality of life for residents of the West Bank.

Netanyahu said that all the speakers condemned terrorism against Israel, adding that this was likely due to a statement he made Saturday evening accusing Europe of “hypocrisy” and a “double standard” after it condemned Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem but failed to denounce rockets fired at Israel from Gaza.

Netanyahu also said he told the EU ministers that they must not support anti-Zionist NGOs that promote terrorism. “I promised them a proper list of NGOs that do that,” he said. He did not mention left-wing Israeli NGOs Breaking the Silence or B’Tselem in the conversation.

Netanyahu’s aides earlier this week had described Brussels as a “lion’s den,” but Netanyahu said he didn’t feel antagonism during his visit. “I felt like a lion,” he enthused.

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