Israel to EU: Criticism of Netanyahu Government Unacceptable

Foreign Ministry official: Israel will block EU from participating in peace process if criticism continues.

A Foreign Ministry official has been warning European countries that unless they curtail criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu's government, Israel will block the European Union from participating in the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

The main target of the offensive is EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who recently called for a freeze in upgrading ties with Israel over its peace process policies.

Several days ago, the deputy director for Europe at the Foreign Ministry, Rafi Barak, began calling European ambassadors in Israel regarding the attitude toward the new government. The first conversations were with France's Jean-Michel Casa, Britain's Tom Phillips and the Charge d'Affaires of the German embassy.

Barak sharply protested the criticism by European ministers and senior EU officials about Israel's government.

Barak singled out Ferrero-Waldner in his rebuke and said her statements were troubling in their form, style and timing.

"For some weeks now, we have been telling everyone in Europe that Israel's government needs time to reformulate policies, and not to begin a war in the press," Barak told the diplomats.

He also noted that the European Union had not made an official decision on freezing the upgrading of ties, and therefore it was unclear what gave Ferrero-Waldner the authority to make her statements.

"We want the European Union to be a partner [in the diplomatic process] but it is important to hold a mature and discreet dialogue and not to resort to public declarations," Barak told the diplomats.

"A public confrontation was created that required Prime Minister Netanyahu, and even opposition head Tzipi Livni, to intervene. We have noted that the large European countries have respected our request and are granting the government time, but it is important that Europe be uniform in this matter," Barak added.

Barak concluded by "warning" that Europe's influence in the area would be undermined by such behavior. "Israel is asking Europe to lower the tone and conduct a discreet dialog," he said. "However, if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process, and both sides will lose."

In a telegram to the Israeli missions in Europe, Barak briefed the Israeli diplomats on his conversations and noted that the sole ambassador in Israel who backed Ferrero-Waldner was the French. He was quoted as saying that her statements reflect the European public's feelings.

A political source in Jerusalem noted that Ferrero-Waldner was sharply criticized by European officials, and one European foreign minister said in a private conversation that she "is causing damage to European foreign policy in her attacks on Israel."