European Union Foreign Ministers are set to discuss US President Donald Trump’s peace plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the next meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in March. They will also most likely discuss a proposal of Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn for the EU to recognize a Palestinian state although such a resolution has no chance to reach unanimity among the 27 EU member states.
Despite the fact that the Trump plan was not at the agenda of the monthly EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels last Monday, they discussed it under the topic ‘’current affairs’’ but without going into details. ‘’It was not the purpose of the discussion to produce a new position, a new statement,’’ EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told reporters following the meeting..
‘’We will do it in the next Foreign Affairs Council. This will be the occasion to discuss in depth this kind of issues,’’ he said. ‘’The ministers requested to have a deep and thorough discussion on the next Foreign Affairs Council.’’
Borrell has briefed the ministers about the meetings he had earlier this month in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Trump.
The US peace plan for the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a divisive issue within the EU.
When it was first announced at the White House end of January, the EU reacted rather cautiously by saying that it ‘’provides an occasion to re-launch the urgently needed efforts towards a negotiated and viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’’, while reiterating the long-standing EU position in favor of a two-state solution. The EU said it would ”study and assess the proposals put forward.’’
Later, beginning of February, as Borrell realized at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers that he wouldn’t get a unanimity among them to oppose the peace plan, he issued his own sharp statement, saying that the plan ‘’departs from the internationally agreed parameters.” ‘’To build a just and lasting peace, the unresolved final status issues must be decided through direct negotiations between both parties. This includes notably the issues related to borders, the status of Jerusalem, security and the refugee question,’’ he said in his statement.
He also threatened that any move by Israel toward annexation of parts of the West Bank, incouding the Jordan Valley ‘’would not go unchallenged.’’ Israel criticized the threatening language of the EU top diplomat towards Israel.
Borrell answered a question about that statement at Monday’s press conference, telling journalists: ‘’It was a warning saying we cannot accept an annexation that from our understanding defies international law.’’
The EU is divided between those EU countries who have always been ready to “sanction’’ Israel for its settlement policy and the others who understand better that the security of the State of Israel is a priority in any peace deal with the Palestinians.
Among the first group of countries is Luxembourg whose Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, is reportedly willing to initiate a discussion over an EU recognition of a Palestinian state at the next ministerial meeting. He even held an event a day before this week’s Foreign Council meeting with his counterparts from France, Portugal, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Malta and Slovenia to try to secure their support for his initiative. Other EU countries – including Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic- are considered as more pro-Israel and have blocked EU moves opposed by Israel.
If the EU wants really to play a role in the Middle East, it must stop ‘’boycotting’’ the meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council. This high level body has not held a formal meeting since 2012 as some EU countries are blocking such a meeting as a way to mark their disagreement with Israel’s ”settlement policy”. This has unfortunately created distrust towards the EU in Israel. It’s up to the EU to restart a political dialogue with Israel within the Association Council and restore trust that can be helpful for both parties.