In a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, a group of former high-ranking European officials is calling on the union to adopt a proactive and more aggressive attitude to pressure Israel on the Palestinian issue.
The letter, published by The Guardian on Wednesday, is addressed to Mogherini and the foreign ministers of EU nations, with copies to US Secretary of State John Kerry, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
Among the signatories are former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Moratinos, a former UNs envoy to the Middle East; Javier Solana, who served as secretary-general of NATO; former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, former Dutch prime minister Andreas van Agt, and former Irish prime minister John Bruton.
Titled “A new approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the letter addresses the apparent political shift rightward in Israel, apparently referring to the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March and his establishment of a right-wing coalition with a razor-thin majority.
“We have for some time regarded the Oslo-Madrid process as effectively defunct. The opportunities it presented through its focus on the center ground in the substance for a settlement were suffocated by mutual distrust, by Palestinian disunity and by Israel’s lack of interest in an outcome of this kind, as evidenced by large-scale settlement expansion,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Netanyahu expressed various views on Palestine in and around the recent election campaign, most of them cold to the concept of an independent Palestinian state. We are convinced in our own mind that he has little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution within the terms of this incoming Israeli government. We also have low confidence that the US government will be in a position to take a lead on fresh negotiations with the vigor and the impartiality that a two-state outcome demands,” it continues.
Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution was thrown into doubt a day before the election in March, when Netanyahu said that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch should he be reelected, arguing that any areas that came under Palestinian rule could subsequently become a Hamas stronghold. Many commentators interpreted the statement as an appeal to hawkish voters.
The US administration refrained from responding to the comments before the election, but roundly attacked them the next morning, following Netanyahu’s decisive victory.
After the election, the prime minister walked back the statement, asserting that he still supported “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” He claimed that he had been misconstrued and had merely discounted the two-state solution for the moment, pending, among other things, a more accommodating Palestinian Authority.
The signatories to the letter proposed that the EU treat Israel and Palestine as separate political entities. The EU, the letter reportedly said, should allot a period of time for negotiations at the end of which the outcome must be a two-state solution.
They proposed that the EU’s relations with each party to the conflict be contingent upon their will to advance a two-state solution. European countries should support Palestinian efforts to join international treaties and institutions while on the other hand increasing the labeling of Israeli products made in the settlements, they said.
The authors suggested that the EU begin to play a larger role in peace negotiations, arguing that Washington, which chaperoned all previous rounds of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks — even those nominally co-sponsored by other parties — had failed to broker a solution.
“Europe has yet to find an effective way of holding Israel to account for the way it maintains the occupation,” the letter said. “It is time now to demonstrate to both parties how seriously European public opinion takes contraventions of international law, the perpetration of atrocities and the denial of established rights.”
In April, the acting foreign ministers of 16 of the European Union’s 28 member states sent a similar letter to Mogherini asking her to promote the labeling of settlement-made products in store chains throughout Europe.
The EU prepared to take a similar measure two years ago, but postponed it because of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. A leaked EU report earlier this year suggested that sanctions on Israel should be considered for its continued construction in “sensitive areas” of Jerusalem. One of the recommendations listed in the report was the labeling of West Bank products.
In a March interview with The Times of Israel, the European ambassador to the country, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, warned that if the incoming Israeli government continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and build in East Jerusalem, Brussels would increase its pressure.
Stuart Winer and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.