Polish premier pulls out of Visegrad Israel summit after Nazi comments

Poland has threatened to pull out of the Visegrad Group summit in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested "Poles cooperated with the Nazis." The four-state group is a key element in Israel's diplomacy.

A dispute between Israel and Poland about alleged Polish collaboration with the Nazis in World War II is threatening to overshadow a two-day meeting of central European countries in Jerusalem.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he would not attend the Visegrad Group summit in Israel, Morawiecki's office said Sunday.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was then scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and the leaders of the other three Visegrad members, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic instead.

On Monday, however, Chief of Staff Michal Dworczyk told Polish broadcaster Jedynka that the Polish delegation may not participate at all.

Read more: This is how the Visegrad Group works

'Poles cooperated with the Nazis'

The move came after Poland's nationalist government criticized Netanyahu for saying "Poles cooperated with the Nazis" to kill Jews during Germany's occupation of Poland.

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Netanyahu, who made the comments in Poland on Thursday, said he had been misquoted by Haaretz and other Israeli newspapers. His comments did not mean to implicate all Poles, he added.

Poland said the explanation was insufficient and summoned its ambassador to Israel in response.

Bad timing

Netanyahu has been seeking Visegrad support for Israel's policy toward the Palestinians amid signs that their attitude on the matter is diverging from the rest of the European Union.

Hungary and the Czech Republic reportedly blocked a joint EU statement in May 2018 that would have criticized the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At the United Nations, all four Visegrad states have frequently abstained from voting against Israel in the General Assembly.

A history of the Middle East peace process

UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Camp David Accords, 1978

A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Madrid Conference, 1991

The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinians — not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Oslo I Accord, 1993

The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Camp David Summit Meeting, 2000

US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to discuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002

The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt — all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.

A history of the Middle East peace process

The Roadmap, 2003

The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.

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Annapolis, 2007

In 2007 US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Washington, 2010

In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a ten-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Cycle of escalation and ceasefire continues

A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Paris summit, 2017

Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as "rigged" against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. "A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.

A history of the Middle East peace process

Deteriorating relations in 2017

Despite the year's optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump's plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say "the measures ... undermine all peace efforts."

Nazi crimes against Poles

The latest dispute between Poland and Israel broke out a year after they sparred over a Polish law that banned anyone from accusing Poland of collaborating with the Nazis.

Amid mounting pressure from Tel Aviv and Washington, the government changed the law so that no one found guilty would be sent to prison.

The law was part of the government's efforts to highlight Nazi crimes against Poles during World War II. Some 6 million Polish citizens, including 3 million Jews, died during the 1939-1945 German occupation.

amp/jm (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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