EU vows to push for two-state solution in Middle East conflict

Palestinian, Israeli, Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian officials arriving to attend talks in Brussels

Displaced Palestinians leave a makeshift camp in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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The EU has renewed pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there is “no space” for a Palestinian state.

Speaking before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell told Israel “peace and stability cannot be built only by military means”.

“Which are the other solutions they have in mind?” he added. “To make all the Palestinians leave? To kill off them? From now on, I will not talk about the peace process but about the two-state solution process. We are serious about that.”

Foreign ministers from Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will attend the meeting to discuss how to de-escalate fighting in Gaza and how the enclave should be governed after the war.

In an apparent rift between Israel and the West, Mr Netanyahu has publicly stated his rejection of a Palestinian state. A two-state solution is the only option on the table, US and EU officials say.

Mr Netanyahu's comments are worrying, said French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne. “There will have to be a Palestinian state with security guarantees for all.”

Mr Borrell added: “This solution has been approved by the UN and the whole international community is behind it.”

Israel “cannot just be left unaccountable” for rejecting a two-state solution, said Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

He called on the UN Security Council to adopt a binding resolution establishing a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Arab world demonstrated in 2002 with the Arab Peace Initiative that it was ready to establish ties with Israel in return for a Palestinian state, added Mr Safadi.

“The whole world has to decide: do we allow a radical racist agenda to dictate the future or do we all come together and say the path is clear, we want peace for everyone in the region?” he asked.

The EU's external action service, led by Mr Borrell, has reportedly prepared a 10-point plan for Gaza which it will present to the foreign ministers.

This includes “an independent Palestinian state, ironclad guarantees for Israel and full normalisation of Israel with Arab countries”, a high-ranking EU official said.

The US and EU want Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, to have no role in a future government. The militant group is designated a terrorist organisation by Washington and Brussels.

Israel's attempt to destroy Hamas in Gaza has failed and is likely to become an obstacle to peace in the region, said Mr Borrell.

“The way to destroy Hamas is not the way they are doing it,” Mr Borrell said. “They are seeding the hate for generations.”

The Israeli operation has killed more than 25,000 people in retaliation to Hamas attacks on Israel in which about 1,200 people were killed.

No concrete outcome is expected from Monday's meetings. European diplomats have said it is already an achievement that so many foreign chiefs from the Middle East have come in person to Brussels.

It is the first time in eight years that a high-ranking Israeli government member has attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers in person.

In what one senior EU official has described as a “complex ballet”, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz was meeting his European counterparts in the morning before they hold talks with the Palestine Authority's Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki.

On arrival in Brussels, Mr Katz showed journalists pictures of Israeli hostages in Gaza and said: "Our brave soldiers are fighting in very hard conditions for those two aims: to bring back our hostages and restore security for citizens of Israel." He took no questions.

In another sign of apparent tensions between the West and Israel, Mr Borrell on Sunday accused Israel of financing Hamas in an attempt to weaken the PA.

Such claims view which has previously been voiced by historians but rarely echoed by politicians. The Israeli government has denied such accusations in the past.

Attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels against commercial ships in the Red Sea, which the Yemeni militia has linked to the war in Gaza, are also expected to be on the agenda.

Sources say EU diplomats have agreed to expand on an existing French-led naval mission in the region, though no ultimate decision is expected on Monday.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on the EU and the US to recognise Palestinian statehood “to protect the two-state solution … considering that European and American recognition of the Palestinian state is what establishes the launch of the peace process”.

It also described previous remarks by Mr Netanyahu as racist and condemned the “repetition of colonial ambitions that are hostile to peace”.

“It is time for the international community to impose sanctions on Netanyahu and his coalition, and hold him fully and directly responsible for the spiral of wars, violence and humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen our people,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 10:25 AM