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28th Feb 2024

EU peace plan ignores ceasefire, Israeli extremism

  • Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz (c) in Brussels on Monday with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (l) (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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The EU aims to launch new Middle East peace talks with Arab states, but doubts remain about how realistic the EU's proposal is, with some observers labelling it "bizarre".

"The EU, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the League of Arab States, should at the earliest opportunity organise a preparatory Peace Conference", the EU foreign service said in a proposal seen by EUobserver on Monday (22 January).

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Their working groups would then write "an initial draft framework for a Peace Plan ... within one year," it said.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would be invited to give input to the drafting process in separate but parallel meetings. The US should also be invited, the EU proposed.

And the final plan would be based on a two-state solution, with details to be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians in direct talks in 2025.

The last time Israel and the Palestinian Authority held peace talks was in 2014.

Previous plans centred around final borders, the rights of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and Israel's security guarantees.

"The absence of a peace process will prolong the current violence and provide a feeding ground for more radicalisation and conflict to come. This will endanger Israelis and Palestinians, but is also a major security, political and migratory risk for the region and Europe," the new EU proposal said.

"Palestinians will need a revitalised political alternative to Hamas, while Israelis will need to find the political will to engage in meaningful negotiations towards the two-state solution," it added.

"It is the responsibility of outside actors, i.e. their partners and neighbours, such as the EU, to help," the EU said.

The proposal was circulated the same day EU, Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss the Gaza war.

The Palestinian and Israeli foreign ministers also joined the EU27, but in separate meetings, in what amounted to a dry rehearsal of the proposed Peace Conference format.

The ministers spoke after Israel killed more than 25,000 Palestinians in Gaza in the past three and a half months.

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group which rules Gaza, killed 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 200 others on 7 October.

The Belgian, Irish, and Finnish foreign ministers warned of starvation and epidemics seizing hold in Gaza on Monday.

The Jordanian and Palestinian ministers, as well as several of their EU colleagues, pleaded for an Israeli ceasefire.

The Palestinian foreign minister also called for EU sanctions on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, showed the press a photo of an Israeli baby captured by Hamas, which he said must be "dismantled".

He also showed foreign ministers two videos — one about creating an artificial island next to Gaza, which could house Palestinians, and one about building a railway from there to India.

"I think the minister [Katz] might have made better use of his time ... it didn't have much to do with what we were discussing," said EU foreign relations chief Borrell.

Borrell also criticised Netanyahu, who repeated last weekend that he rejected Palestinian statehood.

"What are the other solutions they [the Israeli government] have in mind? Make all the Palestinians leave? Kill all of them? ... The way they are destroying Hamas is not the way to do it. They are sealing the hate for generations," Borrell said.

But if Katz's idea for a Palestinian island wasn't taken seriously, then the EU's proposed 2025 peace plan also looked fanciful to some.

Bizarre

"The EU paper looks like nothing has happened in the past three months, including the incredible bombardment and destruction of Gaza," said H. A. Hellyer, a Middle East security specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in the UK.

"It is rather bizarre to talk about a 'day after' plan like this, rather than focus on getting a ceasefire," he added.

The EU paper assumed Hamas would have vanished in 2025, even though its standing in Palestine was stronger than ever since 7 October and growing due to Israeli atrocities in Gaza.

The EU paper was also one-sided in its concern for a "revitalised political alternative" in Palestine, without asking Israel to mend its ways, Hellyer said.

"This seems most peculiar, to say the least, considering the clear statements of incitement to mass violence by a wide range of Israeli political leaders, and rejection of a two-state solution, very openly," he said.

The EU is planning to impose first-ever visa bans on 12 or so of the most violent Israeli settlers in "the next few days", French foreign minister Stéphane Séjourné said in Brussels on Monday.

But this would be a drop in the ocean, given that more than 700,000 Israeli settlers have stolen Palestinian land since 1967 when Israel conquered Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, for Edmund Fitton-Brown, the former British ambassador to Yemen from 2015 to 2017, the EU approach risked alienating Israel.

"My concern is that it's going to bring in too many participants objectionable to Israel ... and many who will seek to posture rather than seek constructive outcomes," he said.

"The US are certainly essential participants," he added.

"There is insufficient recognition in the [EU] text of the Hamas atrocity that started this round of conflict," said Fitton-Brown, who is now an adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit group based in Germany and the US.

"There is also insufficient recognition of Hamas' explicit commitment to treat any ceasefire as an opportunity to regroup and do it again; with the ultimate aim of killing Jews and destroying the state of Israel. This needs to be stated upfront," he said.

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