9th Dec 2023

EU backs Israel-Palestine peace summit, Spain solo on ceasefire

  • Spanish acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez proposed an international peace conference. (Photo: European Union)
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Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has called for an international peace summit in six months to find a final solution to the long-standing conflict between Palestine and Israel — a proposal backed by the other EU member states in the summit conclusions.

But Madrid's efforts to include a humanitarian "ceasefire" reference in the text coming out of the first of a two-day summit in Brussels were ultimately unsuccessful.

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"We propose an international peace conference to be held within six months so the entire international community feels involved and we can definitively find a two-state solution to Israel and Palestine," Sánchez said on Thursday (26 October) ahead of the meeting with EU leaders.

Sanchez pointed out that efforts should be focused on the recognition of Palestinian as a state since "Israel is already recognised by the international community".

Although the conference proposal is still in an early stage, initial feedback from diplomatic sources indicates a lack of significant opposition from the international community.

EU leaders agreed to have this international peace summit "soon".

Sánchez's remarks come after last weekend's Cairo Peace Summit on the situation in the Middle East, where it was not possible to agree on a joint statement over a potential breakthrough on the Israel-Hamas war.

This is not the first time that Spain has come forward as a mediator in the revival of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Over a week ago, Spain's Sánchez offered the annual meeting of foreign ministers of the Mediterranean countries, taking place on 27 November in Barcelona, as a scenario to revive discussion over a long-term solution to the conflict.

Meanwhile, global discussions at the UN in New York have been setting the pace in Brussels.

'Windows' vs 'pauses' vs 'pause'

EU leaders were wrangling over semantics on Gaza for five hours during discussions on the Middle East on Thursday — amid unsuccessful UN calls for a ceasefire.

EU leaders finally agreed to call for "pauses" for humanitarian needs, although Spain had been pushing to include a call for a humanitarian "pause" or "ceasefire," according to different diplomatic sources.

"I would like to see a ceasefire for humanitarian purposes," stressed Sanchez ahead of the meeting.

Spain hoped to be at the forefront of the discussion at the council, in line with global developments at the UN, but it found itself isolated in its ambition. Except for Ireland, which previously backed the same wording.

Germany and Austria favoured using "humanitarian windows" instead of "humanitarian pauses".

Countries backed "pauses" instead of "pause" because it makes more sense as it means that every day you could do a pause, a diplomat said.

Last week, the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause and corridors to Gaza, arguing that they cannot accept any language that can somehow limit Israel's right to defence.

On Wednesday, they presented a resolution also calling for "humanitarian pauses" — which was vetoed by Russia and China.

Diplomatic relationships between Spain and Israel have been complicated during the past weeks over what Israel has deemed as "absolutely immoral" comments and statements from the leftist wing of the coalition government in Madrid.

Spain has been one of the first EU member states which has repeatedly said that while Israel has the right to defend itself from the Hamas terrorist attacks, it also has to comply with international humanitarian law.

"We need safe, unfettered access into Gaza so that we can feed and make sure that people don't starve to death because that's what's happening," UN World Food Programme chief Cindy McCain told Reuters on Thursday.

More than 6,500 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of Israel's response to Hamas' attacks on 7 October, according to UN figures from Wednesday.

Additionally, 1,600 people including 900 children are currently missing.

The death toll from the 7 October Hamas attack stands at 1,400 dead, and a figure of just over 200 people held hostage. Those include foreign or dual nationals, including US, French, UK and Thai nationalities.


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