‘UK, Germany have held EU back from tougher stance with Israel’

Britain’s Philip Hammond warns Europeans are frustrated with Jerusalem, exasperated by Palestinians

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a joint press conference at the Israeli Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond during a joint press conference at the Israeli Knesset, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that Britain and Germany had been holding back the European Union from taking a tougher stance with Israel and expressed concern for the prospects of a two-state solution.

Hammond made the comments before a question and answer session at the Hendon United Synagogue in London on Tuesday, as Israel held national elections, the Jewish News reported.

Britain, he said, was willing to work with whichever government resulted from the elections, but he made it clear that the international community expects the next Israeli leadership to work towards a peace deal.

“The window [for a two-state solution] is closing because of settlement patterns as much as anything else,” Hammond said. “If we see restraint in terms of not settling new areas, areas that are critical to the coherence of a two-state solution, the window will be a bit bigger. But it’s I’m afraid what feels and looks like a deliberate campaign of trying to sabotage the delivery of a two-state solution that is causing most concern over the past couple of years. For many people that’s what it looks like.”

“Many of my European colleagues are becoming incredibly frustrated by the process,” Hammon said. “They want to support Israel but they need something back in return. They need some clear sense that Israel is at least willing to try to find a two-state solution. To be brunt, it’s only the really robust position that Britain and Germany take that has held the line from seeing the EU questioning more the position we collectively take.”

“We are frustrated by the lack of moving forward to a two-state solution but we’re also exasperated by the moves the Palestinians have made,” the foreign minister continued. “We told them not to do it [apply to join the International Criminal Court], we told them it would be not in their best interests, we told them it would have negative consequences they can’t control. They did it anyway. We’re often exasperated by things done on both sides.”

Hammond was speaking before the publication of results from the election that saw a resounding victory for Netanyahu and his Likud party. Netanyahu had caused alarm the day before the election when he declared that there would not agree to recognize a Palestinian state during a future term in office, a move Hammond painted as “in the context of a man who is behind in the polls”.

“If he leads the next government, we would expect him to recommit to a constructive engagement around the principle of a two-state solution,” he said. “We would expect that but the United States would expect that – and that’s an influence no Israel prime minister can afford to ignore.”

Although unaware of Netanyahu’s impending victory, Hammond remained optimistic that, despite the stalled talks and Netanyahu’s apparent lurch to the right, the Israeli leader could still deliver a peace deal.

“Often it’s those who look least committed to a course of action that are most able to deliver it.,” he said. “If Herzog were to form the next government he would come with an agenda which on the face of it appeared more open to forward movement on a settlement. He might actually find it more difficult to deliver. Netanyahu, if he was really committed to doing something, may find it easier to bring that to fruition.”

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