Joint declaration at Middle East peace conference in Paris reflects EU’s position on the conflict

The conference held in Paris last Sunday (15 January) resulted in a joint declaration that reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace.  The meeting took place after a preparatory ministerial meeting last Summer.

The Paris conference gathered representatives from 70 countries, including all EU member states, and was initiated by France out of concern for the stalemate in the peace process and the viability of the two-state solution which is undermined by continued settlement activity in the occupied territories, incitement and acts of violence and terror.

The statement emphasized the importance for the parties to restate their commitment to the two-state solution, to take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground and to start meaningful direct negotiations.

Both Israelis and Palestinians still subscribe formally to a two-state solution but have hardly done anything constructive to relaunch the peace process which has been dormant since 2014.

“A negotiated two-state solution should meet the legitimate aspirations of both sides, including the Palestinians’ right to statehood and sovereignty, fully end the occupation that began in 1967, satisfy Israel’s security needs and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

The participants at the Paris conference expressed their readiness to contribute substantially to arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a negotiated peace agreement, in particular in the areas of political and economic incentives and the consolidation of Palestinian state capacities, including a European special privileged partnership with both parties.

Disappointments for different reasons

While the declaration contains all the right elements, it emerges as a water downed document without any details or new ideas. It states the obvious when it calls on each side to refrain from unilateral steps that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues such as Jerusalem, borders, security, and refugees.

Expectations were high on the Palestinian side that the Paris conference would outline the two-state solution and determine a time-plan for its implementation. There is nothing of this in the statement. It ends with a promise that there will be a a follow-up of the conference before the end of the year in order to support both sides in advancing the two-state solution through negotiations.

Israel boycotted the conference and claimed that it would only harden the Palestinian negotiating position or even make them believe that a solution could be imposed on Israel without the need for direct negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked before the conference, at the start of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, that it was going to be a “useless conference”.

“It is being coordinated between the French and the Palestinians. Its goal is to try and force terms on Israel that conflict with our national needs. Of course it pushes peace further away because it hardens the Palestinian positions and it also pushes them away from direct negotiations without preconditions.”

In fact Israel was consulted by France about the preparations of the conference but chose to boycott it although its explicit intention was to promote a relaunch of direct peace negotiations between the parties.

Instead the Israeli government is waiting for “tomorrow’s world” – with Donald Trump as US president –to give it a free hand in continuing settlement construction.

By blurring the distinction between Israel proper and the territories occupied in the six-day war in 1967, the current Israeli government is undermining the two-state solution and endangering the legitimacy of the Israeli state.

The Israeli government has reason to feel relieved with the outcome of the Paris conference since its fears of an anti-Israeli resolution did not come true. However, the Prime Minister’s Office declined a request by The Brussels Times for comments. The same did the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, with Netanyahu as acting minister: “No reaction to the declaration”.

EU´s position

While the two parties to the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians, were disappointed, EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini stated at a press conference following the Foreign Affairs Council on the day after the Paris conference that the declaration fully reflects the EU’s “consolidated position”.

Mogherini and her staff at the European External Action Service (EEAS) did not respond immediately to a request by The Brussels Times to answer some specific questions about the Paris conference and the declaration.

The written statement on the outcome of the EU Foreign Affairs Council only stated that the Council discussed the Middle East peace process. “Building on the outcome of the international conference held in Paris on 15 January, ministers discussed ways to achieve a comprehensive peace deal, preserve viability of the two-state solution and reverse on-going negative trends on the ground.”

“We had a brainstorming on how we can try to bring forward the work, first of all, with the direct involvement of the parties,” said Mogherini at the press conference, without going into any details. She denied that Britain – that according to news reports had refused to sign the Paris declaration – had blocked a statement on the Middle East peace process.

EU´s foreign policy chief also said that EU will not move its delegation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “I believe that it is very important for us to refrain from unilateral actions, especially those that can have serious consequences in large of public opinions in large parts of the world.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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