Israeli, Palestinian ministers to attend EU peace meeting

January 22, 2024 4:34 pm

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz [Source: Reuters]

The Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers are to meet their European Union counterparts on Monday as the EU considers potential steps toward a comprehensive peace between the two sides even as the war in Gaza rages on.

Israel’s Israel Katz and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki will take part separately in a regular meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels largely devoted to the Middle East but also taking stock of the war in Ukraine.

Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the secretary-general of the League of Arab States will also attend as the gathering focuses on the consequences of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas from Gaza and Israel’s military response.

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Ahead of the meeting, the EU’s diplomatic service sent a discussion paper to its 27 member countries, suggesting a roadmap to peace in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the heart of the plan is a call for a “preparatory peace conference” to be organised by the EU, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the League of Arab States, with the United States and United Nations also invited to be conveners of the gathering.

The conference would go ahead even if Israelis or Palestinians declined to take part. But both parties would be consulted at every step of the talks as delegates sought to draw up a peace plan, the document suggests.

The internal document, seen by multiple news organisations including Reuters, makes clear one key goal of a peace plan should be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, “living side by side with Israel in peace and security”.

EU officials acknowledge Israeli officials and diplomats currently display no interest in the so-called two-state solution but insist it is the only option for long-term peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday after a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden that “Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty”.

The EU paper also suggests the peace conference participants should spell out “consequences” for both sides, depending on whether they accept or reject a plan approved by the gathering.

It does not say what these consequences might be, although the EU has some areas of potential leverage.

The bloc is a major provider of economic aid to Palestinians and has a broad cooperation agreement with Israel that includes a free-trade area. Some officials have privately suggested the latter arrangement could be used to influence Israel.

But whether the EU’s member countries would approve such an idea is very much open to question, with Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary all staunch allies of Israel.