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Israel warns European critics

Benjamin Netanyahu
The Netanyahu government has yet to make clear how it will negotiate

Israel has told the European Union to stop criticising Benjamin Netanyahu's government or risk being excluded from future Middle East peace negotiations.

A foreign ministry official called EU envoys in Israel after a commissioner in Brussels suggested freezing a move to upgrade EU-Israeli relations.

The commissioner said Netanyahu should commit to talks with the Palestinians.

The warning comes ahead of the first European trip by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's new foreign minister.

Israeli media say the warnings have been issued by the deputy director for European affairs at the Israeli foreign ministry, Rafi Barak. His main target the EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

If these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process
Rafi Barak

The UK embassy in Tel Aviv has confirmed it was contacted by Mr Barak but refused to disclose details of the conversation.

"We want the European Union to be a partner but it is important to hold a mature and discreet dialogue and not to resort to public declarations," Rafi Barak reportedly told diplomats, according to a report in Haaretz.

He concluded by "warning" that Europe's influence in the area would be undermined.

"Israel is asking Europe to lower the tone and conduct a discreet dialogue," Rafi Barak is quoted saying. "However, if these declarations continue, Europe will not be able to be part of the diplomatic process, and both sides will lose."

Correspondents say it is far from clear whether Ms Ferrero-Waldner was expressing an official view of the European Union towards Israel .

Israeli officials have told the BBC that they requested a month-long postponement of a ministerial-level meeting in May which discusses the EU-Israeli Association agreement regulating bilateral ties.

The postponement "is to allow the new government time to formulate its policies" before the meeting, foreign ministry officials said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to back the principle of a Palestinian state while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a "dead end".



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