JERUSALEM - Danish Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft blasted Israel in a newspaper interview published yesterday, saying that the EU should institute economic sanctions against Israel because of its settlement policy.
"Israel's establishment of new settlements in the occupied territories and expansion of existing settlements is one of the most serious barriers to peace in the Middle East," Lykketoft told the Berlingkse Tidende newspaper. "Israel's new settlement activity is in breach of the Geneva conventions and will only lead to a further escalation of violence."
The paper wrote that Lykketoft's harder line stems from a report about to be published by the UN Human Rights Commission, which proposes setting up an "international mechanism" to "oversee the situation in the territories and determine how to protect Palestinian human rights."
One source in Jerusalem noted the irony of Lykketoft's concern about Palestinian human rights being published a day after a 10-month-old girl was murdered by a sniper in Hebron, and on the same day that two bombs exploded in Jerusalem. The source said that Lykketoft has a record of hostile statements against Israel.
He made similar comments last month telling Denmark's TV 2;
"This insoluble and tragic conflict is locked up by exactly the settlement policy. The illegal settlements in occupied territories which Israel has implemented and which Sharon and his followers have been behind make it very difficult to give the Palestinians the possibility of creating their own state."
According to yesterday's newspaper report, Lykketoft intends to propose to his EU colleagues that Israel's actions have consequences in its trade relations with the EU.
Zalman Shoval, former ambassador to the US and a foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said that "it is a sad day for Denmark when its foreign minister finds fit to besmirch the proud and courageous record of the Danish people with regards to the Jewish people in World War II - when he proposes to punish the State of Israel, which is defending itself against daily Palestinian acts of bloodshed and murder."
An EU official responded to Lykketoft's statements by saying that they did not reflect the official position of the EU.
"When any foreign minister speaks, and it is not the foreign minister of the country holding the rotating EU presidency, he is reflecting the policies of his own government only," the official said.
The official said that EU heads of state issued a statement on Mideast policy early this week in Stockholm, without any mention of economic sanctions against Israel or downgrading its association with the EU.
That statement reaffirmed the "union's determination to make its contribution to peace, stability, and future prosperity in the Middle East. As an immediate step, in order to avoid economic and institutional collapse in the Palestinian territories, it calls on other international donors urgently to join the EU in pledging funding in support of the Palestinian budget."
The statement called on Israel to lift closures "and pay overdue revenues," and declared that the Palestinians "must adopt without delay an austerity budget and take effective measures against corruption and towards more democratic transparency."
The EU said it will also work with the US and other international actors in "seeking a way forward which will see an end to the violence and the resumption of negotiations for an agreement within the framework of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338."
The statement called on EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana to "remain in close touch with all the parties involved" and to report back to relevant EU bodies by June on how the EU can play an enhanced role in "promoting the resumption of the peace process."