Business as Usual for Netanyahu on Poland Trip: Diplomatic Blunders and Iranian Nukes

After snubbing official statement by Polish and Israeli governments, which included controversial wording on Palestinian statehood, PM tells hosts he is willing to resume peace talks.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off a two-day visit to Poland with a stern warning about a potential Holocaust from Iran, but his message was overshadowed by a diplomatic fiasco, in which he backtracked on an official joint statement by the Polish and Israeli governments.

The statement, which was to be issued at the conclusion of a summit between top ministers of Israel and Poland in Warsaw, recognizes the Palestinians' right to a state and calls "unilateral steps by either party counterproductive to achieving a sustainable, lasting peace."

On Wednesday, Netanyahu distanced himself from the statement released by his office a day earlier, claiming that it had been issued by junior staff of the National Security Council, with the agreement of Poland, before the prime minister or council director, Yaakov Amidror, had read it.

Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk were to read the statement on behalf of their governments at the conclusion of the Warsaw summit on Wednesday.

Although non-binding, the statement is considered a written, official understanding between the two countries. Its tone on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was moderate and included 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."

The statement also said that "the Palestinian right to a state should never be in doubt" and expressed support for "a just and lasting solution...allowing for the self-determination of the Jewish and Palestinian nations, living side by side in peace and security."

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."

However, after distancing himself from the statement, Netanyahu clarified to his Polish hosts that his government is willing to resume talks with the Palestinians without preconditions and that it's high time both sides stopped insisting on preconditions.

Speaking alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Netanyahu contrasted the painful Jewish history of the past in Poland with the current strong relations between Poland and Israel.

"The histories of our peoples are intertwined over thousands of years, in great achievement and also in great tragedy," Netanyahu, whose father was born in Warsaw, said. "We are both shaped by our past and we are both focusing together on shaping our future."

Tusk concurred, saying "we speak a common language with Israel."

Netanyahu was to travel to Auschwitz, where he was to inaugurate a new pavilion meant to educate visitors about the Holocaust.

Speaking of Iran, Netanyahu said: "This is a regime that is building nuclear weapons with the expressed purpose to annihilate Israel's 6 million Jews. We will not allow this to happen. We will never allow another Holocaust."

Netanyahu said the upcoming "so-called" Iranian presidential election will "change nothing" in the Islamic republic's quest for nuclear weapons and that the regime will continue to pursue a bomb aimed at destroying Israel.

Netanyahu and a team of six ministers met with their Polish counterparts and discussed security, including the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, the conflict in Syria and a series of bilateral issues such as Poland's possible purchase of Israeli armaments. Israel has been urging Poland, as a member of the European Union, to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Netanyahu's backtracking on the joint statement prompted Meretz chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On to say that "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.

"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.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk attend a press conference on June 12, 2013 in Warsaw.Credit: AFP
Netanyahu (L) and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk sharing a word during a welcome ceremony in Warsaw.Credit: AP

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