Wednesday

8th Feb 2023

Tension, confusion behind EU facade on Palestine

Hostility toward foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, confusion over what the Palestinians will ask for and how major EU countries will react marked behind-closed-doors talks of EU foreign ministers in Poland.

Briefing press in the town of Sopot on Saturday (3 September) after the talks on Friday, Ashton said there is a "strong EU position" and a "common belief" that the Middle East conflict can only be solved via Arab-Israeli negotiations.

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  • Ashton and Sikorski indicated that EU countries will not reach a common position before the UN meeting in New York (Photo: pl2011.eu)

She added: "We do not have the resolution before the UN at the moment and therefore this was not the time to discuss the EU's repsonse to such a resolution."

The EU meeting comes three weeks before Palestine is to submit a draft text to the UN General Assembly in New York asking the body to upgrade its status.

While EU countries agree on basic principles - the importance of Arab-Israeli talks and the need for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders - Europe is split on whether or not to back Palestine's unilateral bid for statehood.

Some ministers put a positive spin on the Sopot talks.

Sweden's Carl Bildt said they brought the EU "closer" to agreement on the issue. Estonia's Urmas Paet told EUobserver: "My feeling is Yes, the EU will eventually agree on its position and will not split into 27 or two or three different directions."

Other sources said the mood was not so friendly, however.

One EU diplomat said Bulgaria, the Czech republic, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands called for the EU to oppose Palestinian independence but that Ashton sided with more Palestinian-friendly countries.

"She's going her own way, freewheeling a bit. She is struggling to put forward her own opinion without taking into account the opinion of this substantial minority ... If you want to have an EU common position, it will be hard to do it like this."

On the pro-Palestinian side, Luxembourgish foreign minister Jean Asselborn broke the terms of an EU gentleman's agreement not to speak out before New York. The EU "cannot give nothing" to the Palestinians and should "give them dignity" he told Agence France Presse.

In a third camp, sources indicated Poland is happy to back any solution that has a realistic chance of broad EU and UN support.

For his part, German minister Guido Westerwelle added to confusion. Contacts said he was "almost silent" at Friday's talks, leaving colleagues unsure which way Berlin will go. "Maybe it's because of his difficult situation at home," the source added, referring to calls in Germany for him to resign.

A big problem was lack of knowledge of what the Palestinians will ask for.

Variables include Palestine asking the UN Security Council to become a fully-fledged UN member - an option that would see a US veto and a clash between the US and pro-Palestinian EU countries; Palestine asking the UN to become a "non-member state" like the Vatican - an option that could see Israel abandon previous peace deals; Palestine attaching supplementary clauses on recogntion of Israel or security issues which are unacceptable even for its EU friends.

A sudden split between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, an outbreak of Arab-Israeli violence or new Israeli settlement decisions could also influence EU swing countries in coming days.

"There were lots of 'buts, ifs, maybes and it depends'," Estonia's Paet told this website. "The process is moving so fast that what was true yesterday or today might be inadequate next week. So nobody is rushing to say what their position is."

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