EU pushes for Palestinian statehood

RELATIVES and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group attend a protest calling for their release outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Hebrew on the hands reads, “Time is running out.”
RELATIVES and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group attend a protest calling for their release outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Hebrew on the hands reads, “Time is running out.” AP

BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers argued Monday that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only credible way to achieve peace in the Middle East, expressing 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 ministers met to discuss the war in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Palestinian counterpart Riad Malki were also in Belgium's capital for the talks. The issue of Gaza’s future has set Israel in opposition to the United States and its Arab allies who are trying to mediate an end to the fighting in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas has surpassed 25,000, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Israel said Sunday that another of the hostages taken during the Oct. 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. Not all EU member countries agree on the cease-fire call.

Lahbib said a two-state solution was “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 Netanyahu rejects Palestinian statehood and seeks open-ended military control over Gaza.

Israel’s plans

The dispute over the territory’s future — with no end in sight to the war — poses a major obstacle to any plans for postwar governance or reconstruction. The European ministers had wanted to hear about Israel's plans for the future.

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

But Katz appeared reluctant to respond. He showed the ministers two videos: one about the creation of an artificial island off the coast of Gaza, the other a project for a rail linking the Middle East and India.

“I think the minister could have made better use of his time and focused on the deaths in Gaza,” Borrell said. Asked about persuading Katz of the merits of a two-state solution, Borrell conceded that “we weren’t able to get him to change his mind, but we weren’t expecting that.”

The Palestinian minister said a cease-fire is the most urgent need.

“We have to call collectively for a cease-fire. We cannot accept anything less,” Malki said.

He also called on the EU “to start contemplating sanctions against Netanyahu and others who are really destroying the chances for a two-state solution and for peace in the Middle East.

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