EU ready to take ‘central role’ in peace process alongside US
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EU ready to take ‘central role’ in peace process alongside US

Mogherini calls for a broad constellation of countries and organizations to help broker talks; says Abbas is ‘perfectly fine’ with US involvement

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

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

European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini is ready to take a “central role,” alongside the United States, expanding the international role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, she said on Monday, in Brussels.

The comments come after the Palestinians have refused the US its role as the main broker in peace talks, following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Speaking after a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Mogherini said the Palestinian leader agreed to the proposed dynamic.

“We affirmed our conviction that the framework has to be multilateral. We will continue working within the Quartet, which includes the US, Russia and the UN, enlarging this to a few Arab countries, and possibly Norway,” she told reporters.

“The Palestinian president was perfectly fine with this idea of not having the United States as the only interlocutor for the peace process, but of having a multilateral framework in which the European Union has a central role that is together with others, including our partners in the Quartet, including the United States,” she added.

“We will follow up in the coming weeks,” she said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud 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)

Following the US decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Palestinian leadership declared 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, from his point of view, are the EU, the UN, Russia and China.

Mogherini said it has long been believed in Europe that peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis could only work with the combined forces of the EU and the US, and neither side could succeed alone.

“There is a space for a common effort,” she said of working with the Americans. “This could be done in the coming months…if we join forces,” she said.

One of the key purposes of Abbas’s trip to Brussels was 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, in remarks alongside Abbas earlier in the day, reassured the Palestinian leader of the EU’s “continual support, including financial.”

In response to a question from a reporter over whether Brussels would be willing to increase the financial aid to the Palestinians as US aid to the Palestinians decreases, she said, “We have already increased our support in recent times and we’re looking into ways in which we can do more.”

She added that the EU expects the US to fulfill its financial commitments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

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)

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 that 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.

Association agreement with the Palestinians

EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini confirmed in her remarks to journalists in Brussels on Monday that EU member states are discussing the idea of raising relations with the Palestinians through an “association agreement.”

“There has been a discussion among member states in recent days and weeks on the possibility of launching negotiations for an association agreement,” she said, adding that the issue was not discussed with Abbas on Monday.

Abbas, in his remarks on Monday, asked EU states to “swiftly” recognize the state of Palestine, arguing it would help Palestinians hold out their hopes 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.

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

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.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (2ndR) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini (L) arrive for a meeting with EU Foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on January 22, 2018. (OLIVIER HOSLET / AFP)

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.

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.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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