22nd Oct 2016

EU statement fails to hide division on Palestine

  • The vote comes 65 years after a UN resolution which called for a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine (Photo: tomdz)

An EU declaration to be published on the day of a historic UN vote on Palestine does little to hide internal division on the subject.

The statement - a draft of which was seen by EUobserver - repeats the Union's previously agreed ideas on the conflict: that it must end with a two-state solution, that the EU is ready to recognise Palestinian statehood "when appropriate," and that future borders and the ownership of Jerusalem should be based on pre-1967 lines, unless Palestine and Israel agree to change them.

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Coming in the context of Palestine's bid to gain UN "observer state" status in the vote on Thursday (29 November), it also contains muted criticism of Palestine.

It says both sides should "refrain from actions that undermine the credibility of the [peace] process." It urges "avoiding of unilateral measures and acts on the ground which undermine confidence" in future Israel-Palestine negotiations and it says the talks must be resumed "without delay or preconditions."

The words echo the US and Israel's point of view on the UN bid.

Israel has said that if the UN backs Palestine, it will make negotiations harder by fixing its borders in a framework outside bilateral talks.

It has also urged EU countries to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to promise to restart talks without preconditions.

For its part, Palestine says there is nothing "unilateral" about its UN bid because the UN is a multilateral body. It has also reserved the right not to restart talks unless Israel first stops building new settlements on its land.

EUobserver understands the EU declaration was drafted at a time when Germany was still trying to get the 27 member states to vote as one bloc in a mass abstention.

But its efforts unravelled on Tuesday and Wednesday when first France and then Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Malta and Spain said they will vote Yes. Belgium and the UK indicated they will abstain, while Germany in the end said it will abstain or vote No.

"Germany will not vote for such a resolution," its government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told a press briefing in Berlin on Wednesday.

An EU diplomat told this website the draft declaration was tweaked on Wednesday morning, inserting a line to the effect that "the decision whether or not to recognise Palestine as a non-member [UN] observer state remains the sovereign right of each [EU] member state."

He added: "It's kind of silly. It looks like an attempt to pretend that there is EU unity when there clearly isn't."

Another EU diplomat noted: "It's an attempt to say something that is common to all the European countries and to anticipate the fact that there will be several different positions taken."

A third EU diplomat added: "It would have been better not to have any declaration at all given the situation."

Meanwhile, Palestine needs a simple majority of the 193 UN members to get what it wants. The result is a shoe-in because over 130 UN countries have already recognised its statehood on a bilateral basis.

It chose 29 November as a symbolic date because it marks the 65th anniversary of UN resolution 181, which called for the creation of a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state" in what was then the British mandate in Palestine.

Speaking to EUobserver on the eve of the vote, Israel's EU ambassador, David Walzer, said the UN bid "constitutes a clear violation of existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and there will be consequences to this unilateral move."

He added: "Many European countries recognise the severity of the Palestinian bid and do not support it."

Palestine's EU ambassador, Leila Shahid, said: "There is no reason whatsoever for the Palestinians to keep on negotiating while at the same time Israel is creating conditions on the ground [settlements] that destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state."

Correction: the original story said the EU declaration would be read out in New York. In fact, it was published online ahead of the UN meeting

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