Top EU diplomat calls for Palestinian state within 5 years

Ahead of her visit Friday, Federica Mogherini says actors in the region ‘need the European Union to be present to make steps forward’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Federica Mogherini at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on July 16, 2014. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Federica Mogherini at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on July 16, 2014. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90

The European Union’s new foreign policy chief called for the creation of a Palestinian state within the five years of her term, and announced that the EU intends to play a more influential role in the Middle East than it has in the past.

“What’s important for me is not whether other countries, be they European or not, recognize Palestine,” Federica Mogherini told the European press in comments published Tuesday, referring to Sweden’s recent recognition of a Palestinian state. “I’d be happy if, during my mandate, the Palestinian state existed.”

On November 1, Mogherini succeeded Catherine Ashton as the union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

This weekend, she is scheduled to arrive in Israel and the Palestinian territories for her first official visit. During her two-day trip, she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, President Reuven Rivlin, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and the chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. She is also expected to travel to Ramallah and the Gaza Strip, where she will meet with senior Palestinian officials.

Mogherini gave interviews to five European newspapers — Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, La Stampa, El Pais and Gazeta Wyborcza — this week, marking her first public comments in her new position.

“I want to forge a strategy, a vision and a common policy but I know the limits of this exercise: the question of recognition of a state is the competence of the member states,” she told the papers.

“But I surely intend to use the union’s political potential in this region. That’s why my first visit will be to Israel and Palestine at the end of this week. European action can be decisive during this important moment, probably the most difficult the region has ever seen.”

Europe cannot eternally be a payer without playing a political role, Mogherini said. Therefore, the EU intends to adopt a broad regional approach to the Middle East, seeing a possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a wider reconciliation of the Arab world with the Jewish state, she said.

“It will, in fact, be difficult to guarantee the security for this country [Israel] without a broader framework involving Arab countries. And an overall agreement of this kind would facilitate the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” she said.

It is important that all 28 EU member states speak with one voice regarding the Middle East, she said, adding that her first order of business will be “to listen.”

On the other hand, she said she feels that the actors in the region “need the European Union to be present in order to make steps forward at this time of their history.”

“This might not have been the case in the past. But at this date I get the same messages from the Palestinian side, from the Israeli side, and from the key Arab countries, exactly in the same terms — we do need at this time the European Union to move forward.”

Before joining the EU, Mogherini served in Italy’s center-left government led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is known to be generally friendly toward Israel and tough on Iran’s nuclear program.

So far, relatively little is known about Mogherini’s positions on the Middle East, but officials in Jerusalem are cautiously optimistic.

“She’s open and seems ready to listen to our positions,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re really hoping that she will have an open mind and try to represent a more balanced approached within the EU.”

The Renzi government has been relatively fair to Israel, and there is reason to hope that she will continue in this line in her new role in Brussels, the official added. “The fact that her first visit is to our region tells us a lot.”

On the other hand, it should be noted that the EU’s foreign policy chief by no means has the final word on the union’s foreign policy, which is determined by the member states. Nevertheless, Mogherini will be the EU’s face to the Middle East, and she does have a certain degree of influence over the way certain policies are implemented.

The EU’s relationship with Jerusalem has been thorny in recent months, and the Israeli government’s announcements of construction projects beyond the pre-1967 lines continue to anger the union.

Convinced that such plans are detrimental to prospects for peace, Brussels has signaled its readiness to reassess its ties with Israel if it continues to build over the Green Line.

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