Spain says US losing Mideast mediator role due to ‘alignment’ with Israel

Foreign minister meets Palestinian counterpart and pledges to double UNRWA funding; says they talked about possibility of recognizing Palestinian state

Spain's new Foreign Minister Josep Borrell arrives to attend the first Cabinet meeting of the new government at the Moncloa palace in Madrid, on June 8, 2018. (AP/Francisco Seco)

MADRID, Spain — Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell and his Palestinian counterpart said Tuesday that Washington was losing its traditional mediating role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by “aligning” with Israel.

“I regret that the United States, which for many years played a role in contributing to the peace process… are unfortunately disqualifying themselves from playing a mediator role that has the confidence of both parties,” Borrell told a press briefing in Madrid with his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

“The minister told me of his serious concern with regards to the situation… as a consequence of the alignment of the United States on Israeli positions,” Borrell said.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to unveil a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace saying he wants to reach the “ultimate deal.”

But Maliki, echoing a longtime Palestinian position, said the US administration had decided “to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.”

“The United States see the conflict through Israel’s eyes, they have adopted the Israeli position,” he added, calling on the international community to “take measures to save the peace process.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki holds a press conference at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Istanbul on August 1, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Both ministers were reacting to the US announcement on Friday that it would end funding for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, UNRWA.

The US administration had castigated UNRWA for failed practices, and indicated that it rejected the unique criteria by which it defines Palestinian refugees, whereby the UN agency confers refugee status not only on original refugees but on their millions of descendants, including those with citizenship or rights similar to citizenship elsewhere.

The United States also announced last month that it was cancelling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, citing, among others, monthly stipends by the Palestinian Authority to terror convicts and prisoners and their families.

Borrell, who condemned the moves, said Spain would double its own, far smaller contribution to UNRWA, from one to two million euros.

He said he and Maliki had also talked about “recognition of a Palestinian state.”

On Sunday, an Israeli peace activist said Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had told her US officials working on a peace plan had asked him about forming a confederation with Jordan.

A confederation has been favored by some on the Israeli right as a way to avoid granting full statehood to the Palestinians for now.

Borrell dismissed this as speculation, saying: “I’m not going to believe it until I see a tweet from President Trump.”

The Spanish parliament voted unanimously in 2014 to recognize a Palestinian state, but that has remained symbolic.

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