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20th Jan 2020

Israeli president attacks French summit idea

  • Rivlin: "This striving for a permanent agreement 'now' is the chronicle of a predictable failure" (Photo: European Parliament)

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has poured cold water on France’s plan to host a Middle East peace summit by the end of the year.

He said in a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (22 June) that the initiative is premature and bound to fail, creating “despair” that could lead to more violence.

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“The attempt to return to negotiations for negotiations’ sake, not only does not bring us near the long-awaited solution, but rather drags us further away from it. This striving for a permanent agreement 'now', is the chronicle of a predictable failure, which will only push the two peoples deeper into despair”, he said.

He said the project is “fundamentally erroneous” because it assumes that outside “pressure” on Israel and Palestine would make them see eye to eye.

Rivlin said that, as things stand, there is “total lack of trust between the parties on all levels; between the leaderships and the peoples”.

He urged EU states to instead work, with “patience”, on “building trust between the parties, and creating the necessary terms for the success of negotiations in the future.

He said the EU should try to get “moderate” Arab states Egypt and Jordan to play a bigger role in the process. He said it should help to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza and sponsor joint Arab-Israeli projects, for instance, on renewable energy or tourism.

He also said it should help Arabs and Israelis to get to know each other better via educational and cultural initiatives.

The president compared the confidence-building measures to the post-WWII genesis of the EU.

“Cooperation in the fields of electricity, gas and coal started this miracle of a Europe living in peace with itself. Small steps created a great reality”, he said.

Mistrust

Israel currently has a hard-right ruling coalition in power.

Its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also rejected the French plan. He has overseen a surge in settlement expansion and a crackdown on government-critical Israeli NGOs.

Palestinian leaders have welcomed France’s proposal, with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to address the EU parliament on Thursday.

But individual Palestinians continue to attack Israelis in knife and car-ramming attacks that indicate lack of faith in future prospects.

The EU parliament president, Martin Schulz, said the way Rivlin ended his speech, by wishing Muslims in Europe and in the Middle East a happy Ramadan in the Arabic language, was a “really great moment in the life of the European Parliament”.

He added that, as a German, he felt “shame” at the growing anti-Semitic violence in parts of Europe.

He said the French initiative was a “small step” that “could perhaps help”.

No deadline

Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers in a joint statement “welcomed” the French summit and tasked the EU foreign service with drafting a list of economic “incentives” for Israel and Palestine in the event of a peace deal.

The original French idea was to launch the talks with a two-year deadline after which France and the UN would recognise Palestinian statehood even if there was no deal.

But the deadline and the UN resolution plan have now been dropped, a French diplomat said.

Meanwhile, EU foreign service chief Federica Mogherini is lukewarm on the French initiative.

EU sources said she is more interested in working on the basis of a new blueprint for peace to be published by the Middle East quartet on Thursday.

The quartet - which includes the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - is expected to echo Rivlin in calling for confidence building measures instead of new talks. It is also expected to criticise Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian violence.

NGOs

Both Rivlin and Schulz on Wednesday paid tribute to Israel’s democratic values.

But for their part, five senior MEPs in a letter addressed to Rivlin on 8 June voiced concern about the “mounting pressure and recent attacks against civil society organisations” in Israel.

They said an upcoming bill that would label foreign-funded NGOs as “foreign agents” and impose new tax and administrative burdens “may damage Israel’s democratic foundation and international standing”.

The five MEPs were the leaders of the centre-left, liberal, green and far-left groups in the EU assembly.

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