Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store told Haaretz Wednesday that his country would reevaluate its position on recognizing a Palestinian state if no progress is made in the peace process by September 2011.
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Speaking from Jerusalem, where he is on a state visit, Gahr said Israel runs the risk of being seen internationally as a "permanent occupier" if the stalemate in the peace process continues. He said he was worried such a view would lead to a further delegitimization of Israel and would harm its security.
"I speak as a friend of Israel and Israel has many friends in Norway," Store said. "Europe is watching for results and initiatives toward a settlement of this conflict. The major challenge for Israel in this century is that it stands out as an occupier in breach of international law. This to me is a big challenge to the quality of Israel - which is to be a democracy and a player in the first division in the world. I think that in key European capitals the hope to see that change is thinner than it used to be."
In the last few months the Palestinian Authority has launched a diplomatic campaign around the world to muster support for a Palestinian state with UN recognition by September.
"Norway is recognizing facts and not visions," Store said. "I would like to be the first to recognize the state of Palestine when negotiations have been completed. I say so as long as there is a prospect for those negotiations. If it is clear to people that there is no such prospect we will have to reevaluate."
Store met yesterday with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Disappointed by Lieberman
He said he came out of the meeting with Lieberman very disappointed. "His message is clear: Forget it," Store said.
"His message is that GDP differences between Palestinians and Israelis is $3,000 to $30,000 so forget about peace. To me that is a message that there is no genuine wish to move forward. Because if you make this dependent on GDP ratios we are completely on a different calendar," he said, referring to Lieberman's claim that the gap between rich and poor would make peace impossible.
In his talks with Netanyahu, Store tried to convince him about the urgent need to present an Israeli diplomatic initiative. His main message was that "the occupation is the reason for the delegitimization against Israel."
"As long as there is credible progress toward a two-state solution the world would back that process," Store said. "Then, we will be in a kind of diplomatic state of emergency waiting for an agreement that would end this. If it becomes obvious even to the most optimistic that there is no prospect to this negotiations and that the two-state solution will depend on GDP somewhere down the road then the occupation will stand out in more brute terms. Then it will no longer be the image of something which is temporary, it is what Israel presents itself as the permanent occupier. That will raise discussions about the character of the one state solution with rights of minorities. This will be a nasty development."
Store said he is very carful not to use the term "apartheid state" when talking about Israel.
"I have never [used] this word," he said. "But increasingly more Israelis are doing so in the media, and politicians. I am quoting them. In such a situation you will have one state with people with different rights. You can label it however you want but in my opinion it does not correspond with the ideals of the Israeli democracy."