After talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso visited Monday Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum, dedicated to the six millions Jews exterminated by the Nazis during WWII.
JERUSALEM (EJP)---Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned Europe’s "disproportionate" treatment of Israel, during EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s "milestone" first visit to the Jewish State on Monday.
Talks between the two leaders focused on bilateral relations, Iran and Israeli-Palestinian talks, with Barroso’s official statement highlighting "the close nature of the political and economic bilateral relations" between the EU and Israel.
Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported however that Netanyahu expressed concern over Europe’s political stance on the Middle East conflict.
Quoting ‘unnamed officials’, the paper also referenced Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror’s concerns of the lack of balance when it came to Europe’s stance on Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza compared to its statements about vandalism against West Bank mosques, said the official. Amidror was present at the meeting with Barroso.
"Amidror recalled an incident in which he received a phone call from a senior European official who said that the mosque incidents were of grave concern to the EU, the same day that Palestinians fired scores of rockets at the South," the paper reported.
But the pressing issue for Europe that day was not the rocket fire, but the mosques, he said, according to the official in the meeting. On that same day, EU ambassadors also called the Israeli foreign ministry about mosque vandalism.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who also met with the EU Commission President, reportedly brought up the issue of a perceived Palestinian bias at the UN Human Rights Council, slamming the council’s appointment of a three-member panel to investigate Israel settlement activity that was announced on Friday, following a controversial vote earlier this year in which Belgium and Austria were the only two EU member states to support such an enquiry.
Rivlin is alleged to have rejected claims that Israeli settlement activity is responsible for stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, stating unequivocally: "The truth is simple: When the Palestinians want peace there will be peace. Neither the settlements, nor their evacuation, constitute an obstacle to peace," he said in a planned private meeting with Barroso.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has claimed he will only hold peace talks with the Israeli Prime Minister if Israel suspends its settlement building activity, whilst Netanyahu has called on the Palestinian administration to return to direct talks "without precondition."
The tone in the press conference that followed remained buoyant, as Barroso expressed continued EU commitment to "the so-called Middle East peace process" as well as "Israel living in peace," insisting that diplomatic progress in this respect "should not remain hostage to the Arab Spring."
Calling on Israeli and Palestinian leaders not to "miss this opportunity" for peace, Barroso reiterated his message of hope. "I am looking forward to deepening our cooperation between Israel and the European Union in all fields," he added.
Both leaders were also keen to emphasise strong trade links between the EU and Israel, with European trade accounting for 30% of Israel’s overall trade. Steering away from any direct analysis of the political dialogue between the pair, Netanyahu instead focused on the cooperation agreement both delegations signed for bilateral research and development in the fields of energy and water, stating:
"Europe is an advanced society; we're an advanced society. We're in a decade, in a century of innovations and the more we cooperate, the more it will benefit our societies."
The Action Plan concluded with Israel helps to gradually integrate Israel into European policies and programmes.
Israel is eligible for approximately €14 million in financial assistance in the current programming period.