Far-right Israeli minister on Europe trip

ISRAEL’S ultra-nationalist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, pictured, was to leave yesterday on his first official trip abroad, aiming to reassure the Europeans amid rising tensions over the stalled peace process.

The minister, who has triggered controversy over his virulently anti-Arab stance, will tell the Europeans to be patient while Israel’s new right-leaning cabinet draws up its official policy on peacemaking, officials said. “He will ask that the Europeans wait a bit until the government presents its new policy,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Lieberman’s five-day tour will take him to Rome, Paris, Prague and Berlin.

Tensions between Israel and the EU have risen over the past few months, with the bloc’s executive arm warning that ties would not be upgraded until the new cabinet recognised the principle of the two-state solution. Hawkish prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to publicly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, a bedrock principle of international plans for the settlement of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu insists the economy in the occupied West Bank be improved before discussion on other questions. He is due to present his government’s policy in a meeting with US president Barack Obama, expected to take place on May 18 in Washington.

“The programme will be based on Israel’s security and on improving the economic situation of the Palestinians,” Palmor said. Last week, Israel warned the EU to limit its criticism of Netanyahu’s cabinet or risk losing a role in the peace process which has been on ice since Israel’s war on Gaza in December-January.

Lieberman has been described as a “racist” over his anti-Arab diatribes. Immediately after taking office, he sparked criticism by saying the new cabinet was not bound by the previous government’s decision at a US conference in November 2007 to revive negotiations with the Palestinians. He has also lashed out at Iran, saying it is a key obstacle to resolving the Middle East conflict.

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