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Danish Speaker Downplays Decision to Skip Visit to Israel

Row with Israel over visit is "a storm in a cup of water", says Danish parliament speaker.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 2/11/2014, 6:16 AM

Mogens Lykketoft
Mogens Lykketoft
Reuters

The Speaker of the Danish parliament downplayed on Monday a row with Israel over his visit to the Middle East.

The Speaker, Mogens Lykketoft, arrived in the region but decided to skip Israel, choosing to visit only Ramallah and Gaza.

Speaking during his visit to Ramallah on Monday, where he met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Lykketoft called the incident with Israel "a storm in a cup of water," according to The Associated Press (AP).

He said he didn't meet with Israeli officials because of scheduling. "We have tried hard to find a common time with the Israelis," he said, according to AP.

Nevertheless, Israel was still upset on Monday, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told AP that Lykketoft had insisted on visiting now, even though his Israeli counterpart, MK Yuli Edelstein, had made it clear he wasn't available due to prior commitments.

"It's not accepted practice between friendly countries like Israel and Denmark for an official to come and not visit," Hirschson told the news agency.

Last Thursday, the Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the decision of the Danish Speaker, telling Channel 10 News, “It seems as though the Danish Speaker finds it more important to please his voters in Denmark who identify with the Palestinians, while ignoring Israel.”

Edelstein himself said that he regrets the fact that, unlike other world leaders such as French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Danish Speaker decided not to include Israel in his visit to the region.

"This is very serious," he told Channel 10. "I do not understand how a visit to Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, goes along with Denmark's democratic values.”

The incident with Lykketoft follows recent tensions with Europe, which has condemned Israel over its construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem and has approved guidelines which boycott entities operating in these regions.

Danske Bank, which is the largest bank in Denmark, is one of two Scandinavian banks that have decided to boycott Israeli banks because they operate in areas located beyond the Green Line.

In response to the boycott, a group of artists, musicians, and poets petitioned Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to change the name of a central square in Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood that is named after Denmark.