Europe seeks new influence in peace talks

Europe seeks new influence in peace talks

In Jerusalem, Federica Mogherini announces new EU peace envoy, who will live in Jerusalem full-time

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

President Reuven Rivlin meets with European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 21, 2015. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin meets with European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 21, 2015. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Thursday Europe would increase its efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and announced the appointment of a Jerusalem-based peace envoy.

Mogherini was in Israel this week for a two-day visit that included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other high-ranking officials in Israel and the West Bank.

Mogherini reiterated the European desire to jump-start peace talks during a press conference Thursday in which she introduced the EU’s Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process, Fernando Gentilini.

Gentilini, 53, arrived with Mogherini on Wednesday, after having been named to the position last month. The Italian diplomat previously served as director for Western Europe, the Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service.

Fernando Gentilini, the European Union's designated Middle East peace envoy (photo credit: CC BY ResoluteSupportMedia/Flickr)
Fernando Gentilini, the European Union’s designated Middle East peace envoy (photo credit: CC BY ResoluteSupportMedia/Flickr)

Unlike his predecessors, Gentilini will permanently live in Jerusalem, though it is not yet clear if he will reside in East or West Jerusalem. Previous envoys to the Middle East have shuttled between Brussels and the region.

“This appointment emphasizes the resolve of the Union to ramp up its involvement in the peace process,” Mogherini said. “Gentilini will work to renew negotiations with the goal of arriving at a comprehensive peace agreement, based on a two-state solution.”

On Thursday, Mogherini also spoke with Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who was appointed by Netanyahu the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.

“Israel wants to restart the negotiations immediately,” Shalom said.

“Europe can always have a central role in the Quartet,” he said, referring to the four-member diplomatic group, comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, that has served as a central body coordinating international efforts on the peace talks.

“However, [Europe] needs to adopt a balanced policy,” Shalom said, echoing a similar statement made by opposition leader Isaac Herzog earlier in the day.

Mogherini met with MK Herzog (Zionist Union) Thursday morning. “I am convinced that a more balanced position on your part would receive a more sympathetic ear in Israel,” Herzog told the European official.

At her joint press conference with Shalom, Mogherini stressed the importance of trust-building by both sides.

Shalom’s nomination as peace negotiator was denounced by Palestinian officials who noted the former foreign minister does not support the two-state solution. Shalom has returned the criticism, telling Mogherini that Palestinian leaders are not acting to build trust.

“It cannot be that at the same time [as they say they are seeking peace progress, the Palestinians] want to turn to The Hague, to the Security Council and now to FIFA to kick us out,” he said.

Shalom was referring to the ongoing Palestinian effort to remove Israel from the international soccer federation for restricting the movement of Palestinian soccer players.

Shalom asked the EU foreign policy chief to convince the Palestinians to drop their case against Israel’s participation in world soccer.

Mogherini also met with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence Thursday morning. Ahead of the meeting, Mogherini told reporters, “The friendship between our peoples is strong and well-established, and my message today is of the need to utilize this connection as a tool to help bring an end to the conflict.”

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