EUobserver / February 18, 2020
BRUSSELS – Luxembourg has stepped up efforts to coordinate an EU reaction to the risk Israel will annex Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
Its foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hosted a dinner with eight other EU foreign ministers from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Malta, Spain, Slovenia, and Sweden on the subject in Brussels on Sunday (16 February), EUobserver has learnt.
Portugal also sent its secretary of state to the event.
Luxembourg itself declined to comment, but diplomats from Finland, France, Portugal, and Spain denied that the group of 10 was preparing to recognise Palestinian statehood if Israel went ahead.
“It’s not true,” a French diplomat said, referring to a story in Israeli media, which had said the group was preparing to move ahead on Palestine.
“Portugal has always had the same position – that there must be an agreement [on Palestine recognition] at the level of 27 EU states. There must be a common position,” a Portuguese diplomat added.
The Spanish foreign ministry also said: “These conversations do not imply any change in the Spanish position”.
“[Palestine] recognition must be the result of a negotiation process between the parties [Israel and Palestine] that guarantee peace and security for both, respect for human rights, and regional stability,” the Spanish ministry said.
A diplomat from one of the other countries whose minister attended Asselborn’s talks said the group had a more modest agenda.
“The idea is to propose that the EU foreign service draws up an options paper on how to react to Israeli annexations, and that recognition [of Palestine] is one of those options, in order to try to ward off such [Israeli] actions”, the diplomat said.
For his part, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell promised, on Monday, that Palestine would be discussed at the next EU foreign affairs meeting in March, which would draft a new EU common position on the subject.
“We can’t not react to something [Israeli annexation] that, from our point of view, is against international law,” he said.
The EU debate comes after US president Donald Trump proposed a peace plan for the Arab-Israeli conflict in January, which gave the green light for Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.
Critics of the initiative say it would make a future Palestinian state implausible by dividing up Palestinian lands into isolated cantons.
And for his part, Luxembourg’s Asselborn already floated the idea of EU recognition of Palestine even before Trump’s plan.
His unilateral intervention had amounted to little so far.
But some of the countries represented at his dinner said they would be happy to go ahead as part of a small coalition of the willing, an EU source told this website.
And Israeli diplomats in Brussels felt “nervous” about the secretive dinner, which took place at the level of ministers only with no advisors present, the source added.
Friends of Israel
For those, such as Portugal, who insist on EU unanimity, this might be hard to attain and Israeli nerves may be premature, however.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is currently deliberating whether it has jurisdiction on cases of alleged Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine.
But for their part, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany, last week, submitted legal opinions, so-called ‘amicus briefs’, saying the ICC cannot handle Palestinian complaints because Palestine did not meet the conditions required to be treated as an independent country.