A diplomatic embarrassment preceded the departure Wednesday morning of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and six Israeli cabinet ministers for a summit meeting with the Polish government in Warsaw.
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After officials of both governments drafted the final version of the joint statement to be issued at the summit’s conclusion, the prime minister distanced himself from it. The Prime Minister's Office explained that low level staff members of the National Security Council had worked on the statement and had obtained Poland's agreement without Netanyahu or the council's director, Yaakov Amidror, ever reading it.
The Prime Minister’s Office had attached the statement to a press release Tuesday afternoon about Netanyahu’s trip to Poland together with the ministers. Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, were to read the statement on behalf of their governments at the conclusion of the summit in Warsaw.
Although non-binding, the statement falls into the category of written, official understandings between the two countries. It was rather moderate, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including some controversial points:
“Both governments agree on the urgent need for progress towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions.”
Poland and Israel will agree that the latter’s legitimacy, the security of its citizens, and the Palestinian right to a state should never be in doubt. “Unilateral steps by either party are counterproductive to achieving a sustainable, lasting peace.”
Both governments support the vision of a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, allowing for the self-determination of the Jewish and Palestinian nations, living side by side in peace and security.
The statement’s surprising wording aroused speculation that it was an attempt to repair the bad impression made by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon’s statements last week. In an interview with the Times of Israel, Danon said that the Israeli government did not support the two-state solution and that its ministers would do everything possible to thwart any attempt to establish a Palestinian state. In the wake of that statement, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called on the prime minister to distance himself from Danon and even made a veiled threat that her party would consider quitting the government if no progress were made on the peace process.
But all these speculations turned out to be inaccurate. The statement was not the result of a deliberate decision by the prime minister to send a moderate message to the international community. Rather, it was a case of negligence by Netanyahu and his high-ranking advisers, who apparently had no hand in the writing of the joint statement.
Officials of Netanyahu’s bureau tried to minimize the joint statement’s importance, saying that it was “only a protocol document” that did not represent the Israeli government’s position. “The government did not vote on the wording of the statement, nor was the statement coordinated with the ministers,” a source in Netanyahu’s bureau said. “It is not the Israeli government’s position - not because the government takes the opposite position but simply because the government has no official position on the Palestinian subject. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position is that he supports the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state that will recognize the Jewish state, with appropriate security arrangements.”
Meretz chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On said in response that in backtracking on the joint statement, "Netanyahu has shown his true colors. He has been deceiving the public … He has no intention of making peace [with the Palestinians]."
Diplomatic visits are normally organized through the Foreign Ministry but since its workers are on strike, the Prime Minister's Office took over logistics and planning.
The striking workers seized the opportunity to criticize the PMO over "mishaps" during the Poland trip, saying the involvement of "professional diplomats" from the Foreign Ministry would have ensured smooth sailing.
"I hope the PMO comes to its senses and realizes you cannot conduct foreign relations without the foreign ministry," Yair Frommer, chairman of the Foreign Ministry workers' committee, said in a statement.