Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU stands by Palestine on Jerusalem

  • Abbas (centre) with EU hich representative Mogherini in Brussels on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU has restated its opposition to US plans on Jerusalem during a visit to Brussels by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

"I want to reassure president Abbas of the firm commitment of the European Union to the two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states," EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (22 January).

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  • Netanyahu met EU ministers in December (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

She spoke alongside the Palestinian leader, who urged the EU to "swiftly recognise the state of Palestine".

"This would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace and to wait until peace is brought about," Abbas said.

The meeting came in the wake of US president Donald Trump's decision, last year, to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mogherini referred to Trump's decision with disdain on two occasions on Monday, saying: "Clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. That is a very diplomatic euphemism".

The White House, on the same day as the Abbas visit to the EU, sent vice president Mike Pence to Jerusalem to press its line.

Pence promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019 and delivered a hardline speech.

But Mogherini urged Abbas to keep working with the US on the Middle East Peace Process despite the setbacks.

"The United States alone would not make it [end the conflict]. The international community without the United States would not make it. We need to join forces," she said.

Trump has said he was preparing a "deal of the century" to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Belgium voicing EU readiness to see the proposals.

"What would be ideal would be to undertake a peace initiative together with the Americans," Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders said on Monday.

"President Trump announced an initiative some time ago. We're waiting for it, and the European Union is ready to work on an initiative that would go in the direction of two states," he said.

French proposal

The Palestinian leader's appeal for EU recognition did not alter the bloc's position - that this should happen after a negotiated solution with Israel.

But France, on Monday, said the EU should open talks on an association treaty with Palestine as an "interim accord" ahead of its future statehood.

"We want to say to Mahmoud Abbas that we want to move towards an interim accord, towards an association agreement, and to start the process already," French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

Association treaties govern mostly trade relations, but are normally signed by the EU with sovereign countries.

The EU first proposed starting association talks with the Palestinian Authority in 2013 with a view to concluding the treaty after the formal establishment of the Palestinian state.

Mogherini said the French idea was not discussed in detail on Monday, but would be in future.

Martin Konecny, a Middle East expert from Eumep, an NGO, said on the French initiative: "It's a primarily symbolic upgrade and gesture toward recognising [Palestine]. It's not incompatible with member states, such as France, fully recognising Palestine at one time or another".

Symbolism

Mogherini's claim that the EU was united on Jerusalem was tested in December, when six EU states abstained from a UN resolution criticising Trump's decision.

Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told EUobserver on Monday that the US remained the EU's main strategic ally despite Trump's move.

"We [the EU and US] should really avoid unilateral, radical steps, or movements" on the Middle East Peace Process, he added.

The Abbas visit came after Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu met EU foreign ministers in Brussels last December on Lithuania's invitation.

Netanyahu urged the EU to follow Trump in recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and said Israel had foiled terrorist attacks against EU states.

"Israel is the strongest power in the Middle East that is stopping the advance of militant Islam," he said.

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