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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Threatened Arab boycott upsets Europeans

From Ha'aretz:
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said he plans to attend the Mediterranean Union summit in Barcelona next month, despite threats that Arab states would boycott if he is present at the meeting, Israel Radio reported.

Arab countries are threatening to boycott the June meeting of leaders of Mediterranean countries if Lieberman attends.

The threat to boycott the Barcelona summit, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also scheduled to attend, was initiated by Egypt and Syria. They have informed both their Spanish hosts and France, which co-chairs the sponsoring organization, the Union for the Mediterranean, that Arab leaders will stay away if Lieberman shows up.

The Union for the Mediterranean was established in July 2008 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in an effort to promote economic, scientific and cultural projects among countries bordering the Mediterranean. Egypt co-chairs the organization with France. The summit was scheduled for June 8 in Barcelona by virtue of Spain's rotating presidency of the European Union.

Netanyahu has already confirmed his attendance, and Lieberman had been expected to join him.

European diplomats told Haaretz that the threat to boycott the summit constitutes an intensification of the boycott Arab countries have imposed on contact with the Israeli foreign minister, given that Netanyahu, not Lieberman, is heading the Israeli delegation. They added that there is disappointment and even anger in Europe over the Arab countries' stance.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed the threat of a boycott. "The Arabs are not prepared to be in the same room with Lieberman, or to take the risk that they would have to be photographed with him or shake his hand," said one.

The feeling at the Foreign Ministry is that the Arab threat could lead to the summit either being canceled entirely or convening at a lower level, with officials of ambassadorial rank only. If this is the result, it would be seen as a humiliation not only for Spain and France, but for the European Union as a whole.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.