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Thank you, Børge [Brende, Foreign Minister of Norway], and thank you all for coming.
I think our meeting today is important for several reasons and I would like to name three of them.
First of all, it shows that the international community does not and cannot give up on peace in the Middle East. For us in the European Union, this goes without saying, this is pretty obvious, the issue is extremely close to our hearts. Not only because we share the desire of millions of Israelis and Palestinians for peace and their frustration also over the many failed attempts to get there. But also because as Europeans, we are part of the same region; so security, peace in the Mediterranean, including in the Middle East, means also security, peace and prosperity for us.
But I want to particularly welcome one element we were also discussing last time we met in Brussels, which is the strong engagement of the United States. It is good to see Jason D. Greenblatt here and it is good to see that the United States do not give up, because we are clearly facing a sort of proliferation of crises where the risk is that the oldest one gets a bit less of attention than others; and this is something that we cannot afford. That is very clear to us Europeans and we are glad to see the commitment in Washington, in the White House, to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians, because we believe that this is indispensable also for the links that the crises, the new crises, can develop with one of the oldest conflicts – if not the oldest actually - in the region.
My message today – which is a message from all European Union Foreign Ministers with whom we discussed just two weeks ago exactly this issue – is: we need you to stay engaged, we need to give you all our support – and you have it - to help the parties find a viable solution and, first of all, a way back to serious and substantial negotiations. We are determined to work together with the United States, with the United Nations, with the Russian Federation, in the Quartet, and through other means, with our regional partners, in particular also together with our Arab friends in the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.
The second reason this meeting is so important is because it embodies a clear objective of what we want to achieve. And this is also something we cannot have for granted. The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee is about progress on the ground, about Palestinian state-building. It is a precise goal. Six years ago, in 2011, this forum acknowledged, in its conclusions, that the Palestinian Authority was above the threshold of a functioning state in key sectors. This Committee is about doing the groundwork for reaching a two-state solution. The objective is clear and we are stating it clearly today: it has a political meaning that should not be underestimated.
We in the European Union believe that there is no realistic alternative to the two-state solution. This is not an expression of faith, this is not an ideological position, it is simply because we have been working on this file for so many years – I would say so many decades – with the Arab friends, with the parties, that we simply know that we have never heard - and realistically we are not going to hear in these weeks, or days, or months, or years to come - any other solution that both parties could possibly agree on. That is the point: it is out of realism, not out of a pre-stated position. We have not seen conditions or agreement possible on a one-state solution, not a state-minus solution, not a three-state solution or whatever else. Also on this point, the European Union is fully united and we restated this clearly two weeks ago.
This does not mean that the two-solution is easy. On the contrary, it is very difficult, but it is even more difficult to make any progress if we do not clarify among us and publicly, and with our friends on the ground, that this remains our end goal. This is the political horizon and this political horizon is what we are all working towards. We would not sit here in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee if not to help to build a viable Palestinian state. And it is incredibly important to clarify where we want to go – because the worst that can happen is that people lose hope.
And if I can paraphrase a dear friend, the late President Peres: “Not only that people do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that they do not even see the tunnel anymore”. This is the risk we are facing today. We must not let that happen, not only because it is about our common security, but also because we know very well that the situation can deteriorate very fast in any moment. We have seen what happened in Jerusalem in July and we can understand very easily the fragility of the situation.
Third reason – and I close - why this meeting is so important is that it illustrates very well that we must do better. Here, I include also the European Union. It is good that there is some progress in certain areas, such as electricity and water, but we must acknowledge the negative trends in other sectors. Negative trends that risk outdoing all the progress achieved, because they risk undermining the viability of the two-state solution as such. In the European Union – and that is why I was saying that this also includes us -, as you know, we are by far the largest donor, the largest supporter. Because we believe in the political objective, we have decided just a couple of weeks ago, together with the European Commission and I am sure that Commissioner [for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes] Hahn will say more, to carry out a review of all the modalities of our engagement on the ground. Not to do less, but to make sure that everything we do – our massive financial support but also our other activities and instruments – are as efficient and as effective as they can be to reach our goal of the two-state solution. We want to be absolutely certain that all we are doing is working at the maximum of efficiency and effectiveness towards this objective. So we have launched this review of all the modalities of our engagement on the ground.
As I said, this is not about changing our policies or reducing our engagement. On the contrary: it is a testimony to our strong commitment to the two states. We want to be sure that the modalities of our engagement respond in the best possible way to the political objective we want to achieve. Our engagement is not an end in itself, it is a means towards a goal. Let me stress that this is not something we will do on our own. We will engage with our Palestinian and Israeli interlocutors and friends on the ground, and with our partners in the international community and in the region while we start this review.
One final point on Gaza, as this is a central issue of today’s discussions - and because without Gaza there is no two-state solution. The people of Gaza have suffered the most from the conflict in recent years. A decade of Hamas rule, repeated rounds of violence, the impact of the Israeli closure and the worsening Palestinian political divide, including the latest measures by the Palestinian Authority, have all taken their toll. But let there be no mistake: the situation in Gaza is not a natural disaster we are facing. It is a man-made disaster, the result of politics, or rather the lack of good politics. It is high time to end the Israeli closure while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. But it is also high time that all Palestinian factions finally make a genuine good-faith effort to end their divisions.
This is a collective responsibility: to put the needs of the people first, and let a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian Authority assume governance over the West Bank and Gaza. In this sense, the latest news from Cairo are a step in the right direction and it is an opportunity that everybody must seize. I would like to thank Egypt for your efforts. The most immediate priority now must be to take some visible, concrete steps to improve the situation of the population, starting with electricity because we believe that the people of Gaza must no longer be held hostage to the political divisions. We were discussing this already in Cairo so many years ago, it is time to move on that. They must be able to live their life in dignity, freedom, ensuring full respect for their human rights.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143688