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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The New European Initiative for Palestinian Statehood

Filed under: Europe and Israel, Palestinians, Settlements, U.S. Policy

The New European Initiative for Palestinian Statehood
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, on September 11, 2019. (Palestinian press)
  • Luxembourg has introduced a new initiative and is working to convince EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state.
  • The EU expects Israel to allow east Jerusalem residents to participate in the Palestinian elections. It is time for Israel to make it clear to European countries that Israel will not agree in advance of negotiations to an outcome that is detrimental to its security.

Europe does not intend to sit quietly following the U.S. recognition of the legality of settlements in the West Bank. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is advancing an initiative for all EU states to recognize a Palestinian state in response to the statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the settlements.

Last week, Luxembourg’s foreign minister sent a letter to the EU’s new foreign minister, Josep Borrell, and the EU’s 27 foreign ministers. The letter claimed that the way to rescue the two-state solution was to create a “more equitable situation” policy-wise between Israel and the Palestinians and urged the European states to hold a discussion as soon as possible with the participation of all EU member states regarding the possible recognition of a Palestinian state.

“In no way would it [such steps] be directed against Israel. Indeed, if we want to contribute to solving the conflict between Israel and Palestine, we must never lose sight of Israel’s security conditions, as well as of justice and dignity for the Palestinian people,” Jean Asselborn wrote in the letter.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is preparing to thwart Luxembourg’s new initiative, according to political officials in Jerusalem. The debate on the issue will be held in the meeting of European foreign ministers in January 2020, but Palestinians are encouraged by this new European direction.

The Palestinians have been demanding for years from the EU to take practical steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state. Some European parliaments and some governments have recognized a Palestinian state, but there hasn’t been a single unifying decision by all EU states.

All EU countries, except Hungary, condemned Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement on the settlements.

More than 135 countries in the world, including Russia, China, eastern European states, Arab, and Muslim countries, all recognize a Palestinian state.

As far as the Palestinians are concerned, the Luxembourg foreign minister’s initiative is an important step that could also determine the EU’s position on President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and torpedo the possibility of establishing an autonomous region only in the West Bank.

The new European initiative comes after the European Court of Justice ruled that all EU member states must mark the products made in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights and clearly state that the product was produced in an “Israeli settlement.” This legal process began in 2015 following EU directives to exclude products originating from the territories captured by Israel after the 1967 war.

The recognition by EU countries of a Palestinian state and the adoption of the Luxembourg foreign minister’s initiative requires a unanimous vote of EU members, but recognition by some EU countries of a Palestinian state will also be considered a Palestinian achievement.

The complex political situation in Israel is delaying Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” but Israeli politicians are also trying to further the process of annexing the Jordan Valley, a move backed by the Trump administration.

According to security sources in Israel, Jordanian King Abdullah recently sent Prime Minister Netanyahu a communiqué saying that annexing the Jordan Valley to Israel would result in Jordan suspending the peace agreement with Israel. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned on December 9, 2019, in a speech in Ramallah that if Israel decides to annex the Jordan Valley, the PA will cancel all agreements with Israel.

Europe and the Elections

Meanwhile, the PA and European countries alike need Israeli approval for elections in the West Bank and the participation of east Jerusalem residents in these elections.

Senior Fatah member Hussein al-Sheikh announced that the Palestinian Authority has officially appealed to Israel to approve the participation of east Jerusalem residents in the elections, while the PA chairman said that the PA is continuing efforts with European countries to urge Israel to allow elections in the Palestinian territories, as Israel did in 1996 and 2006.

Will the Israeli government allow east Jerusalem residents to vote in the Palestinian elections after the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?

Israel also has other considerations and does not have to comply with the request of European countries to agree to elections in the territories. For instance, in 2006, Israel agreed to elections, and the result was the victory of Hamas. Terrorists won the Palestinian parliamentary vote and forcefully expelled the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip a year later.

Therefore, it should be made clear to European countries that recognition of a Palestinian state is a premature determination of an outcome that should come from negotiations and is something that Israel cannot accept. Israel will not take any steps to advance the idea of a Palestinian state without the issue being agreed upon in negotiations.

The Oslo Accords did not recognize the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and did not stipulate that settlements should be stopped; the PLO signed it and must respect it, as must be done by any agreement between two sides. The unilateral European recognition of a Palestinian state would only enhance antagonism and not promote peace. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and received in return for its sacrifice an independent Hamas-controlled terrorist entity. Israel cannot be expected to repeat the same mistake in the West Bank.

An independent Palestinian state in the West Bank is a serious danger to Israel’s security, especially in light of Hamas’ efforts to take control of these territories, so Israel must fight the new European initiative with all its might and try to remove the initiative from the European political agenda.