Palestinian leader seeks EU recognition as row with US persists

Abbas met with Mogherini and the 28 EU foreign ministers as US Vice President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament that Washington would move its embassy to Jerusalem by the end of 2019
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Monday urged the EU to “swiftly” grant official recognition to the state of Palestine as he sought support in Brussels amid a bitter row with Washington over the US plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Abbas told EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini that the Palestinians were still committed to the stalled Middle East peace process and urged the bloc to take a more “political” role.

His mission to meet Mogherini and the 28 EU foreign ministers came as US Vice President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament that Washington would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “by the end” of 2019, a step fiercely opposed by Palestinians.

In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Brussels, Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said the EU recognising the state of Palestine would be “a way to respond” to US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend, and therefore we call its member states to swiftly recognise the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas told reporters on Monday.

The 82-year-old Abbas met Mogherini for one-on-one talks before joining the bloc’s foreign ministers for lunch on the sidelines of their monthly meeting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar trip last month.

Abbas said the Palestinians were still “keen on continuing on the way of negotiations” and committed to “fighting terrorism, violence and extremism locally, regionally and internationally”.

– Recognition unlikely –

But diplomats and officials in Brussels say recognition for Palestine is not on the cards on Monday — the EU leaves recognition in the hands of individual members — and the best Abbas can hope for is progress towards an “association agreement” with the bloc.

Some countries, notably France, are understood to be keen to give Abbas something concrete to take away, but others are more cautious.

Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said he was open to starting discussions on a possible agreement, but warned that Abbas must tone down his rhetoric, following his outburst against the United States.

“I think what we must ask him to do is to moderate his response to decisions that we have ourselves criticised,” Dastis told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.

Malki told AFP that while the Palestinian Authority was “very serious” about an association agreement, they also expected to be formally recognised as a state. 

Mogherini said the two sides needed “to show more than ever before their engagement with the international community” to work for peace.

After Washington froze funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Mogherini told Abbas he could count on the EU to continue its funding.

The EU and its member states are collectively the Palestinians’ largest donors, Mogherini said, with nearly 359 million euros ($439 million) in support given in 2017.

The Palestinian leadership has said it will not accept the Trump administration as a mediator in peace talks with Israel and wants an internationally led process.

“The Palestinians are looking to move away from a US-led process to a more a multilateral process and there does appear to be a greater willingness on the EU side to look at such a process,” said Hugh Lovatt, Israel Palestine Project Coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working for months with a small team to develop a new US proposal to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but no details or even news of progress have emerged.

A senior EU official said Friday the bloc “believes a plan is in the making” but is still in the dark about “the content of this plan or the parameters”.

.