Abbas urges EU to swiftly recognize Palestine, says it will encourage peace
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Abbas urges EU to swiftly recognize Palestine, says it will encourage peace

Palestinian leader says Ramallah is committed to agreements with Israel; EU reassures him of ‘continual support, including financial’

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018.  (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference prior to attending a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday urged the member states of the European Union to “swiftly” recognize the state of Palestine, arguing such a move would preserve the Palestinians’ hope for peace.

“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend, and therefore we call its member states to swiftly recognize the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas said in an address in Brussels.

The Palestinian leader argued that such a move “would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace, and to wait until peace is brought about. It will open the doors to peace and it will encourage the Palestinian people to keep on abiding by the culture of peace that has disseminated through it for generations.”

The Israeli government has argued in the past that unilateral recognition of the state of Palestinian will toughen the Palestinian stance and make it harder to reach a final peace deal between the two sides.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prior to attend a EU foreign affairs council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Abbas, who gave his remarks alongside EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, called on the EU to play a larger role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The EU should play a political role in this Middle East peace process in order to reach a just solution on the basis of internationally recognized terms and decisions,” Abbas said.

Abbas was speaking in Brussels at the same time as US Vice President Mike Pence was addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem, vowing that the US would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of next year.

The plan to move the embassy, together with US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, led the Palestinian leadership to declare that Washington could no longer fulfill the historic and central role in the peace process it has held for over two decades.

Instead, Abbas is now seeking some kind of international framework through which the Palestinians can win an independent state. The main players in that arena now, from his point of view, are the EU, the UN, Russia and China.

The Palestinians have said the US could also participate in this international process to establish a Palestinian state.

“We are keen on continuing on the way of negotiations because we believe it is the only way forward to reach a negotiated solution and peace between us and Israel,” Abbas said.

Mogherini said the EU remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, saying it’s “the only viable way to fulfill the aspirations of both sides.”

Illustrative: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

“We have already invested a great deal in the Palestinian state-building project, and we are also looking at what options we have to strengthen our support from the European Union,” she said.

Mogherini added the two sides needed “to show more than ever before their engagement with the international community” to work for peace.

In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Brussels, PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said the EU recognizing the state of Palestine would be “a way to respond” to Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

But diplomats and officials in Brussels said Monday that recognition for Palestine is not on the cards — the EU leaves recognition in the hands of individual members — and the best Abbas can hope for is progress toward an “association agreement” with the bloc.

Some countries, notably France, are understood to be keen to give Abbas something concrete to take away, but others are more cautious.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said he was open to starting discussions on a possible agreement, but warned that Abbas must tone down his rhetoric, following his outburst against the United States.

“I think what we must ask him to do is to moderate his response to decisions that we have ourselves criticized,” Dastis told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

Malki told AFP that while the Palestinian Authority was “very serious” about an association agreement, they also expected to be formally recognized as a state.

Abbas also declared Monday that the Palestinians remain committed to agreements signed with Israel.

That stood in apparent contrast to a decision he voted for last week in the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Committee — the second-highest decision-making body of the PLO — that said the Oslo accords, which govern relations between Israel and the Palestinians, “no longer stand.”

“We are committed to agreements between us and the Israeli side. But at the same time, we call upon the Israeli side to comply with those agreements… It is not possible that these agreements will be complied with by one side and not the other,” Abbas said.

EU committed to financial support to Palestinians

One of the key aims of Abbas’s trip to Brussels is to ask for increased financial aid from the EU in the face of threats by the United States, the largest single donor to the Palestinians, to end its aid to Ramallah.

Mogherini reassured Abbas of the EU’s “continual support, including financial.”

Abbas’s visit to Brussels also comes just one week before a committee of key groups who donate to the Palestinians are to convene in the EU capital for an emergency session. The 15-member group, called the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, includes the US and the EU.

Mogherini added the EU would continue to support United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), whose work she called “invaluable.”

The US froze payments worth $100 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees earlier this month. Since then, Sweden and Belgium together donated $81.5 million.

The State Department denied the freeze was to punish the Palestinian Authority for cutting ties with US President Donald Trump’s administration following his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with a spokeswoman saying it was linked to necessary “reform” of UNRWA.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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