EU to debate Mideast policy as 2-state solution hopes fade
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EU to debate Mideast policy as 2-state solution hopes fade

Divided European Union foreign ministers to hold talks amid growing concern settlement activity and US diplomatic moves undermining hopes for agreement

Palestinian demonstrators hold pictures of US President Donald Trump and and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near the West Bank city of Nablus, November 29, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Palestinian demonstrators hold pictures of US President Donald Trump and and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near the West Bank city of Nablus, November 29, 2019. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

European Union foreign ministers next month will discuss whether the 28-nation bloc should modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that Israeli settlement activity and US diplomatic moves are undermining hopes for a two-state solution.

“If we want a two-state solution we need to help and encourage both parties to enter into a serious and credible negotiation, and this is not the case” at the moment, new EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters Monday after chairing talks between the ministers.

Ireland and Luxembourg are among a small group of countries that want the issue put on the agenda. Borrell said the ministers “will deeply discuss the situation in the Middle East” when they meet again in Brussels on January 20.

The EU’s long-held stance is that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the notion of two states within pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as their shared capital. The bloc also opposes settlement expansion and believes it is illegal under international law.

The US said last month that it no longer considers settlements a violation of international law. The Trump administration has also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights.

Some EU countries are concerned more such US moves might be imminent, Borrell said.

In a letter to Borrell, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that hopes for a two-state solution are “being dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” and that it is time to consider recognizing Palestine as a state.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. European Union foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday Feb. 26 to debate ways to revive Middle East peace efforts and discuss the crisis in Venezuela. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

“The policy of settlement and demolition risks replacing the two-state solution with a one-state reality, marked by perpetual conflict, occupation and unequal rights,” Asselborn wrote.

He said that any EU decision to recognize Palestine “would neither be a favor, nor a blank check, but a simple recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to their own State. In no way would it be directed against Israel.”

It appears unlikely that EU policy would change much if at all. Borrell noted that EU countries are “very much divided” over how to handle Middle East peace moves.

Israel has long argued that recognizing Palestinian statehood before a peace deal is finalized will harden the Palestinians’ negotiating positions, making it more difficult to reach an agreement.

For the past several years, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has urged the international community, especially European countries, to recognize Palestine.

“We hope the states of the European Union… will recognize the State of Palestine,” he said at a press conference in Ramallah in February.

The PA president has also contended that recognition by the international community would encourage Palestinians to maintain hope for peace.

The Palestinians say the Trump administration is completely biased toward Israel and can no longer be viewed as an honest broker.

Since taking office in early 2017, the administration has taken a number of measures that have won plaudits from Israeli officials while infuriating Palestinians, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy in the Jewish state to the city, cutting funding to the United Nations organization that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, and closing the PLO representative office in Washington DC.

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