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German Official’s Visit Focuses On Israeli-European Relations

JERUSALEM — German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Israeli officials this week that he is worried by Israel’s deteriorating relationship with Europe.

Visiting Israel for the first time in 10 months, Fischer told Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Monday that he cannot “carry the burden alone” for concern for Israel’s position on the continent. He called on Shalom to devote thought and efforts to improving relations with the European community.

Shalom said he has made improving relations with Europe a top priority, but Israel believes Europe has turned pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.

Later, in a meeting with the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, Fischer said that the Palestinians must put an end to terrorism if they want to see progress achieved in the peace process.

“I have very long experience with Arafat,” Fischer said. “I have no illusions about him. There is a need for new, reliable leadership in the territories.” He added that it was important that this new leadership be chosen by the Palestinians themselves. “It is essential for there to be a democratic state with an open society facing Israel.”

Fischer reiterated his country’s commitment to Israel’s security and emphasized the friendly relations between Germany and Israel. He also stressed the strategic importance of Europe for Israel and urged the Jewish state to maintain and foster an open dialogue with European nations.

The chairman of the committee, Yuval Steinitz of Likud, told the visiting minister that many Israelis felt disappointed by the prevalent attitude toward Israel in Europe. According to Steinitz, Europe had prodded Israel to seek a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians, but showed little understanding for Israel’s plight once the peace process collapsed and the Palestinians again resorted to terrorism and violence.

Fischer also met with Prime Minister Sharon and the chairman of the opposition Labor Party, Amram Mitzna. He had been scheduled to meet as well with the justice minister, Shinui leader Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, but the meeting was canceled by Lapid after Fischer refused to attend the meeting at the Justice Ministry’s East Jerusalem office and Lapid refused an invitation to breakfast at Fischer’s hotel.

Most governments regard East Jerusalem as disputed territory and do not allow senior envoys to meet Israeli officials there, as it could be interpreted as recognizing Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

“You have to accept that there are status problems,” Fischer told journalists later. “As a foreign minister — not as Joschka Fischer, but as a foreign minister — I’m obliged to act according to our position of the E.U. and Germany and many other international partners of Israel.”

Lapid said he had nothing against Fischer or against Germany but he could not allow the visitor to set the venue for a meeting.

“He’s not going to dictate to me where my office is, nor dictate to us where Israel’s sovereignty lies,” he told Army Radio on Tuesday.

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