Norway, Israel in Policy Clash

Norway’s Foreign Minister is the first EU official in nine years to meet the PA in eastern Jerusalem. Lieberman told him: It's off limits.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 11:17

Orient House
Orient House
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store that Israel will keep the Orient House in eastern Jerusalem closed to the Palestinian Authority. During the same visit to Israel, Store became the first European Union emissary in nine years to meet a PA delegation in eastern Jerusalem by holding talks at the Augusta Victoria hospital near the Mount of Olives.

Store met with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ chief of staff Rafiq Husseini at the hospital after Abbas hosted him in Ramallah. No attempt was made to hold discussions at the Orient House, which has become a symbol for the PA’s effort to claim sovereignty over all of eastern Jerusalem where it wants to place the capital of a PA state. Israel barred the PA from the building in 2001, after the Second Intifada, also known as the Oslo War, which began a year earlier.

The EU and Russia last week called on Israel to reopen the Orient House and other PA institutions in eastern Jerusalem as a “goodwill” measure to coax Abbas into returning to talks on forming a new Arab state.

                                                                               Photo: Foreign Ministers Store and Lieberman  At a joint press conference of the Norwegian and Israeli foreign ministers, Lieberman asserted, “There will be no more gestures. There is simply no room to talk about opening Orient House, freezing the construction in Jerusalem or any additional gestures. Now it is time for a gesture from the Palestinians.”

The meeting at the hospital was not considered overly significant by Arab think tank analyst Dr. Mahdi Abdel Hadi, who told The Irish Times, “Israel is prepared to close its eyes to a meeting in Augusta Victoria. It’s a hospital; the meeting can be justified on medical grounds. But an Israeli government under [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and Lieberman will never allow Orient House to reopen. No one is taking this seriously.”

Store spoke in mild diplomatic terms at the press conference despite his endorsement last month of a book authored by Norwegian doctors who accused the IDF of purposely tracking down Gaza children in order to kill them in the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign.

See Israel National News opinion article "Growing Norwegian Hostility" by Isi Leibler.

The visiting foreign minister and Lieberman also took opposing views at the press conference concerning the Norwegian government's decision to celebrate the 150th birthday of Nazi admirer and author Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian Nobel Prize winner.

Store told reporters that Norway contemplated whether it is “possible to commemorate literature without combining the one who wrote the literature with his political views.” He said, "That was the question facing Norway as we were approaching 150 years of the birth of Knut Hamsun, a great author and a hopeless politician.”

Although the reporter had addressed to Store the question on Hamsun, Lieberman volunteered to take issue with him. “I cannot accept the fact that a man who gave away his Nobel Prize in Literature to Goebbels and delivered a eulogy for Hitler should be legitimized in any sort of way, not as a man and not as a writer," Israel’s foreign minister said. “Any attempt to separate his personality from his literature, I think, is an artificial attempt and another try at changing and disregarding history.”

Norway was a close friend of Israel in the 1950 and 1960s, but turned against the Jewish state's presence in Judea and Samaria after the Six-Day War in 1967. The first of the failed Oslo, Norway Accords was signed in 1993. Norwegian historian Hilde Henriksen Waage wrote in 2002, “Surprisingly enough, it might seem, it was Norway's traditional position as Israel's best friend that made the remote country suitable and attractive as a possible mediating partner. And, even more surprising, at least at first glance, it was Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat who took the initiative and brought Norway's name forward. Already in 1979, Arafat considered Norway an important channel because of - rather than in spite of - its close relations with Israel.”

The conservative Brussel Journals wrote last year that Norwegian government officials' public statements backing a boycott of Israel left its role as mediator in jeopardy and concluded, “With friends like Norway, who needs enemies?”