The European Union is willing to provide financial compensation for Palestinian refugees and their descendants who renounce their “right of return” in a final peace deal with Israel, the EU’s ambassador to Israel indicated Monday, in what appears to be the first time a senior EU official publicly endorsed such an offer.
An Israeli diplomatic official, however, dismissed the idea, suggesting the Palestinians would likely be unwilling to accept it.
Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen also said that, in the framework of an “unprecedented new partnership” the EU is offering Israelis and Palestinians if they sign a permanent peace treaty, Brussels would be willing to significantly upgrade commercial and trade cooperation with both sides. The could help stabilize the new Palestinian state, thus preventing a “failed state” that would become a “launching pad” for attacks against Israel, he said.
“We would also be, of course, very ready to assist in the implementation of any final peace agreement, be it with compensation of refugees, be it on the security front,” Faaborg-Andersen said.
The Palestinian Authority’s refusal to relinquish the “right of return” to areas Palestinians inhabited before 1948 is one of the sticking points in the current US-brokered peace negotiations, as Israel fears being flooded by refugees and thereby losing its Jewish majority. Financial compensation for refugees or their descendants who waive the “right of return” has often been proposed as a possible solution to the problem.
Speaking at a conference on EU-Israeli relations in Jerusalem, Faaborg-Andersen cited a decision made in mid-December by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council that offers Israel and a future state of Palestine a so-called “Special Privileged Partnership” with the EU. The offer, unanimously endorsed by the EU’s foreign ministers, was understood as a major incentive to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders into signing a final-status deal.
Israeli officials at the time dismissed the offer as too vague and “meaningless,” arguing it contained no concrete content and seemed unrealistic.
“The EU will provide an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support to both parties in the context of a final-status agreement,” a December statement from the council read. “In the event of a final peace agreement the European Union will offer Israel and the future state of Palestine a Special Privileged Partnership including increased access to the European markets, closer cultural and scientific links, facilitation of trade and investments as well as promotion of business to business relations.”
The EU would also offer both states “enhanced political dialogue and security cooperation,” the foreign ministers declared.
“This is no mean feat,” Faaborg-Andersen said Monday at the conference, which was co-organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. “This is a very, very strong signal from the biggest trading bloc in the world of a willingness to strengthen and improve an already very close relationship between the EU and Israel.” In a time during which Israel is facing uncertainty, he said, “it needs its friends and partners around the world. This is the spirit in which this particular offer is put on the table.”
The Special Privileged Partnership “is the next best thing to membership,” the ambassador had said during an interview earlier this month. “It’s a status akin to Norway and Switzerland, across a gamut of areas — security, politics, economics, trade, science and technology, and so on.”
Faaborg-Andersen on Monday acknowledged Israeli criticism that the offer contained no concrete steps, inviting the government in Jerusalem and civil society to start discussions with the EU on what such an enhanced partnership could look like.
Increased trade with the EU would clearly be a boon for Israel, but “beyond the bilateral benefits Israel would be able to obtain through such a partnership, I think there would be a couple of other aspects to it which are involved,” he said.
“We could try to allay some fears in the Israeli public that a future Palestinian state could very well turn into something very unstable, something that could easily turn into a failed state and therefore develop into a launching pad for attacks against Israel, as has been the case with Gaza following the unilateral withdrawal,” Faaborg-Andersen said, referring to the 2005 disengagement.
“I think that one of the things that we from the EU side would be able to offer would be to ensure, through economic, trade and other kinds of assistance, a greater stability in a future Palestinian state, also by trying to strengthen the links between Israel, Palestine and the regional players — Jordan, Egypt and so on — in order to give them a stake also in stability in a future Palestinian state.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry was not available for comment on the matter, but a diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity, mocked Faaborg-Andersen and the EU for its promises.
“How exactly will that be incorporated in a future peace agreement? I can’t even see how this would be implemented,” the official said regarding the idea of the EU paying off Palestinian refugees. “Compensation means that if you get the money, you don’t get the land, that you stop claiming you have a right to return. Ask the Palestinians whether they’re willing to do that.”
The diplomatic official ridiculed Faaborg-Andersen’s suggestion that the EU could in any meaningful way contribute to securing Israel’s borders, be it by means of security personnel on the ground or enhanced trade relations with the Palestinians. “How can they ever stabilize a Hamas-run Gaza and a Fatah-run West Bank? And if they have a way to stop rockets from being fired at Israel, what’s stopping them from doing this now? Why aren’t they working their magic right now?”
The official also attacked the EU’s offer of a Special Privileged Partnership with the Palestinians. “Are they offering them full access to the Eurozone merely based on good will? The PA doesn’t qualify for anything on EU criteria, only for charity. How can they even say that nonsense? Such statements only cast doubts on the seriousness of EU policy,” the official concluded.