European Union pushes for Palestinian statehood, rejecting Netanyahu’s insistence

Israel appears far from achieving its goals of crushing Hamas and freeing the more than 100 remaining hostages

January 22, 2024 06:02 pm | Updated 06:02 pm IST - Brussels

Smoke rises during an Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, as the conflict continues between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.

Smoke rises during an Israeli ground operation in Khan Younis, as the conflict continues between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. | Photo Credit: Reuters

European Union Foreign Ministers argued on January 22 that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only credible way to achieve peace in the Middle East, and they expressed concern about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's clear rejection of the idea.

“The declarations of Benjamin Netanyahu are worrying. There will be a need for a Palestinian state with security guarantees for all,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Sejourne told reporters in Brussels, where the EU Ministers met to discuss the war in Gaza.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, also were in Belgium's capital for the discussion. The issue of Gaza's future also has set Israel in opposition to the United States and its Arab allies as they work to mediate an end to the fighting in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas surpassed 25,000, the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported. Israel said Sunday that another of the hostages taken during the October 7 attack that triggered the war had died.

The EU is the world's top provider of aid to the Palestinians, but holds little leverage over Israel, despite being its biggest trading partner. The 27 member countries are also deeply divided in their approach. But as the death toll in Gaza mounts, so do calls for a halt to the fighting.

“Gaza is in a situation of extreme urgency. There is a risk of famine. There is a risk of epidemics. The violence must stop,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

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“We demand an immediate cease-fire, the release of the hostages, the respect of international law, (and) a return to the peace process, which must lead to the creation of two states living in peace side by side,” Mr. Lahbib said, describing a two-state solution as “the only way to establish peace in a durable way in the region.”

Israel appears far from achieving its goals of crushing Hamas and freeing the more than 100 remaining hostages. But Mr. Netanyahu rejects Palestinian statehood and appears to want open-ended military control over Gaza.

The dispute over the territory's future — coming as the war still rages with no end in sight — pits the EU, the United States and their Arab allies against Israel and poses a major obstacle to any plans for postwar governance or reconstruction in Gaza.

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The EU invited the Foreign Ministers of Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan and a representative of the Arab League to take part in Monday's talks. The Ministers from Israel and the Palestinians were not due to meet each other.

The European Ministers want to hear what other plans Israel might have.

“Which are the other solutions they have in mind?” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, asked. “To make all the Palestinians leave? To kill off them?”

Mr. Borrell condemned what he described as the atrocities committed by Hamas during its unprecedented October 7 attacks in southern Israel. Referring to the Israeli military action, he said: “They are seeding the hate for generations.”

“Peace and stability cannot be built only by military means,” he said.

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Spain has pushed for a peace conference to discuss what might happen once the fighting is over. A future meeting in Brussels is in the works, but the timing remains unclear. The plan has the backing of some EU member countries, but others say it can only happen with Israel's support.

“If Israel is not (at) the table, there is no use to have peace conferences,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Xavier Bettel said. He said that after recent discussions with Israel officials, it was clear to him that the country won't be ready as long as it believes that Hamas still poses a danger.

Arriving at the meeting, Israel's Mr. Katz refused to respond when asked about the possibility of Palestinian statehood. Holding up pictures of Israeli hostages, Mr. Katz said he had come to seek support for Israel's campaign to dismantle Hamas.

“We have to bring back our security. Our brave soldiers are fighting in very hard conditions,” he told reporters. The Israeli government's aims, Mr. Katz said, are clear: “to bring back our hostages and restore security for the citizens of Israel.”

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