Palestinians seek EU support as row with US persists

Palestinians seek EU support as row with US persists

Brussels (AFP) – Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will seek EU support in Brussels on Monday amid bitter acrimony with the United States, but he looks unlikely to get much in the way of concrete commitments.

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

Abbas, who last week denounced Trump’s peace efforts as the “slap of the century”, will also “reiterate his commitment to the peace process” in the Middle East, Malki said.

The 82-year-old Abbas will meet EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers on the sidelines of their monthly meeting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar trip last month.

“Since Trump’s decision has altered the rules of the game, he (Abbas) expects the European foreign ministers to come forward and collectively recognise the state of Palestine as a way to respond back to Trump’s decision,” Malki said.

– No recognition likely –

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 Abbas must tone down his rhetoric, following his outburst against the US.

“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. 

Abbas meanwhile will urge the EU to take on a bigger role in trying to move peace efforts forward, Malki said, calling for a new “multilateral” framework.

Mogherini said Monday’s meeting would look at “ways in which the EU can support the restart of the process”.

Abbas’s mission to Brussels comes as US Vice President Mike Pence visits Israel during a tour of the Middle East with Arab anger still smouldering over Washington’s declaration on Jerusalem.

“It is an important coincidence. It will give a picture of a balance between the European Union and the United States in the area. That is an important image for Abu Mazen,” analyst Jihad Harb, of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told AFP, using a common moniker for Abbas.

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.

– Iran talk –

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”.

The meeting will be the first gathering of EU foreign ministers since Trump set a 120-day deadline on January 13 for fixing “disastrous flaws” in the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

Mogherini, who has been staunch in her defence of the landmark accord, will brief the meeting on the Iran situation but the three EU signatories to the deal — France, Britain and Germany — have not yet said how they plan to respond to Trump’s ultimatum.


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