The National / June 29, 2023
Envoy’s plea comes during period of escalating violence in occupied West Bank.
Sven Koopmans, who was appointed EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process two years ago, said states that have normalized relations with Israel have a role to play through communication with both sides.
“I believe we all have a role to play. I think our Chinese friends have a growing role in the Middle East and they have contributions to make on the day of Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Mr Koopmans told reporters in Brussels.
“So the Chinese, absolutely the Americans, I think it is in the interest of the entire world to end this conflict to have Palestinians free in their own land.”
Mr Koopmans held talks with Zhai Jun, his Chinese counterpart, in March when the two officials discussed ways to push for peace.
This has been one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank for some time, culminating in a major escalation in settler violence in June.
Days of deadly violence in Palestinian villages after the death of four Israelis in an attack near a West Bank settlement have reignited fears of a broader conflict.
At least 137 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank in 2023, while 24 people on the Israeli side have been killed in Palestinian attacks.
Israel’s government – widely considered the most far-right in the country’s history – approved legislation this month aimed to speed up the construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
Mr Koopmans called the settlement announcements by Israel negative and said the EU had expressed deep concern about them.
“We expressed that there needs to be rule of law and accountability. There needs to be safety and security for everyone, for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
“We don’t see enough.”
The EU is working with Arab states and the US to build on the Arab Peace Initiative that was established 20 years ago, Mr Koopmans said.
Under the initiative, which was drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, Arab nations offered Israel normalized ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
“If there is bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace, we will offer, and I quote, an unprecedented package of political economic and security support,” Mr Koopmans said.
The EU is in agreement with Saudi Arabia and the Arab League on this stance to combine the different peace offers and present them to both sides, he said.
“We are working on joining forces,” he said.
While it could be difficult to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, that does not mean the rest of the world should be waiting for that moment, he said.
“We should do our own homework, we should prepare together what we would contribute to the peace when it comes,” he said.
GCC ‘an inspiration’
Mr Koopmans said the Gulf Co-operation Council can play an important role in building peace between the two sides.
“I think the GCC itself is an inspiration, an example of how things can be more broadly in the region. You can have these different backgrounds, traditions, leadership, beliefs, but you can still work productively together,” he said.
Mr Koopmans said the GCC brings together countries that have a diverse but united stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some members, such as the UAE and Bahrain, have normalised relations with Israel, while others have common ground on the issue.
“All of them find the Israeli-Palestinian Israel-Arab conflict one of the most important things in the world,” he said.
“I know that they all want to see this free and independent Palestinian state, so with their history, culture, economies, political security situation, they then have a lot to contribute to this common effort.”
Mr Koopmans said if one day there is a free Palestinian state and if all GCC states recognize Israel, then co-operation between them would look “a little bit like the GCC, but maybe bigger and maybe deeper”.
Mina Aldroubi – journalist, Abu Dhabi