ZURICH (Jan. 7)
Swiss legislators are criticizing their government for offering financial and logistical support to the “Geneva accord” initiative for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey came under fire Tuesday from some legislators and a group called the Swiss Taxpayer Association.
“The support of the so-called Geneva initiative is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” the association’s president, Alfred Heer, told a Zurich news conference Tuesday.
In addition, he said, government backing for the accord harmed Swiss-Israeli relations, Heer said. The initiative, which was negotiated by Israeli opposition figures and Palestinians close to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, was strongly repudiated by the Israeli government.
Heer estimates that Switzerland’s government spent more than $4 million to support and promote the proposal, which was launched Dec. 1 at a gala ceremony in Geneva. The figure could not be confirmed.
“This contradicts the Swiss Constitution and the so-called Swiss neutrality,” Heer said.
“By supporting the initiative, the Swiss foreign minister harmed the reputation and political and economic interests of Switzerland,” added Christoph Moergeli, a prominent member of Parliament and an adviser to Christoph Blocher, the country’s new justice minister.
Other legislators told JTA that Parliament soon will discuss the government’s backing for the initiative.
Swiss government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Switzerland’s small Jewish community is divided on the issue. Most fear that criticizing the government’s move could harm their ties with Calmy-Rey. But a segment of the community has been openly critical about Switzerland’s role promoting the accord, which critics say undermines Israel’s elected government.
“The initiative of the foreign minister, Mrs. Calmy-Rey, can certainly not be seen as ‘Swiss solidarity with Israel,’ as she put it,” Arthur Cohn, a prominent Jewish leader from Basel, wrote recently in an article on Israel’s Arutz Sheva news service.
“There is no doubt that the Foreign Ministry has, in secret negotiations, been supporting, both financially and logistically, unauthorized Israeli private initiators whose views are far removed from the Israeli political center,” Cohn continued. “At the same time, the Foreign Ministry has been knowingly forgoing any cooperation with the Israeli government, even to the point of not informing the Israelis of their intentions.”
He concluded with a question about Jura, a Swiss canton where a group recently talked about seceding from Switzerland to become part of France.
“How would Switzerland react if, without the knowledge of the Swiss government, a foreign minister of another country had invited a handful of Jura separatists to his country to take part in secret negotiations over a period of time, offering financial and logistical sponsorship to thrash out a settlement deal for a new canton of Jura?” he asked.