Sunday, 25 Feb 2018 - 10 of Adar, 5778

Mahmoud Abbas to meet EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels as EU envisages Association Agreement with the Palestinians

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BRUSSELS —The European Union is planning to launch negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) on a full Association Agreement but such an agreement would only enter into effect when there will be a Palestinian state, a senior EU official said on the eve of PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting Monday with the EU Foreign Ministers in  Brussels. 

Abbas will have an informal lunch with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the 28 ministers in the margin of the monthly EU foreign affaird Council meeting ‘’on the same pattern as the meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had at the EU last December,’’ the source said. The EU position on the Middle East Peace Process, on Jerusalem, on the two-state solution and on the status of the settlements is well known.’’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the EU Foreign Ministers during an informal breakfast in December in Brussels.

The official said the prospect of an Association Agreement with the Palestinians is part of the Action Plan agreed with the Palestinians. Israel has an Association Agreement wih the EU since 2000.

According to an EU source, the ministers are also to discuss Monday during their meeting ways to strengthen the realization of the two-state solution as part of the EU continues the state building project with the Palestinians. ‘’An Association Agreement can only be concluded with states,’’ it said.

Will the issue of an EU recognition of a Palestinian state – a demand that Abbas will reportedly make on Monday – be raised by the ministers ?

‘’It may be well that a minister will raise the question of a recognition of a Palestinian state, but such a recognition is a sovereign decision by every member state,’’ the official said. ‘It is not on the agenda at EU level.’’

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn declared this week that his country and other EU nations would recognize the Palestinian state were France to lead the way. He said Europeans “must show” that Palestinians deserve a state, he added. “We Europeans must show that Palestinians also have a right to their own state,” he said in an interview with German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia are also reportedly ready to recognize the Palestinian National Authority as a full-fledged national government.

In the interview, Asselborn acknowledged that the European Union is divided on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which makes it impossible to lead an active Middle East policy.

Since December, European countries are under strong pressure from the United States, after President Donald Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the US embassy in Israel would relocate to Jerusalem .   The US has called on the EU to also recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government.

But during Netanyahu’s visit to Brussels LAST MONTH, the EU said it was still “committed to the two-state solution,” and that nothing has changed in the official “viewpoint on Jerusalem.”

EU’s Mogherini reiterated that the only realistic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on two states, with Jerusalem as the capital of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.’’

‘’I know that Prime Minister Mogherini mentioned a couple of times that he expects others to follow President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem,’’ Mogherini said following the meeting in December.

‘’He can keep his expectations for others, because from the European Union Member States side this move will not come,’’ she added.

Six EU countries abstained during the UN General Assembly vote to oppose President Trump’s move on Jerusalem, all Eastern European countries: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Latvia.

‘’Since President Trump’s declaration on Jerualem,  statements by European ministers showed that they all are on the same line on this issue,’’ an EU official said.

Will the EU discuss President Abbas’s remarks in an address to the Central Council o the Palestiner Liberation Organization (PLO) in Ramallah where he attacked US President Trump, attacked the US administration’s bid to broker a peace deal with Israel and said that the State of Israel was formed as ‘’a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism, to safeguard European interests’’ ?

Asked this week to react on Abbas’s comments, an EU spokesperson referred to the EU’s position ‘’not to comment on comments.’’

A senior EU official said that despite the latest developments, the EU is to send a strong message to President Abbas that ‘’it expects engagement.’’ This message was also transmitted to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the official insisted.

‘’The EU has a role to play to push for engagement. We are expecting from both Abbas and Netanyahu ideas for further steps to support the peace process,’’ he said.

Another topic to be discussed Monday is the decision of the US to cut its funding of UNWRA, the UN body in charge of  the aid to the Palestinian refugees. Will the EU, the second largest donor to UNWRA after the US, increase its contribution like Abbas is reportedly asking.

The issue will be discussed later this month during an extraordinary meeting in Brussels of donor countries that provide financial assistance  to the Palestinians. The meeting, on January 31, will be chaired by Norway and hosted by the EU. It will also discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen Yoav Mordechai, will be representing Israel at the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC).

 

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