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I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro*, Serbia* Albania*, and the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, align themselves with this statement.
Let me begin by reaffirming the EU's commitment to a just and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is through a two-state solution and an agreement that ends the occupation which began in 1967, ending all claims and fulfilling the aspirations of both parties.
Over the last three months, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory has continued to deteriorate with no prospect of a clear political horizon. Violence, including terrorist attacks, and unrest have increased in the last months of 2018 in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
In violent episodes, civilians including children were killed or wounded on both sides.
While acknowledging Israel’s legitimate right to safeguard the security of the Israeli people, the EU expects the Israeli authorities to adhere strictly to the principles of necessity and proportionality in its use of force and to take steps against the increasing settler violence.
The EU firmly condemns all acts of violence, terrorism, and incitement to violence and hate which are fundamentally incompatible with advancing a peaceful two-state solution.
Today there is a risk of further escalation that would move Israelis and Palestinians further away from an end to the conflict. This risk is compounded by the advancement in December 2018 of Israeli plans for over two thousand settlement units and renewed plans to “legalise” West Bank outposts. The allocation of an area south of Bethlehem for the purpose of planning a new settlement (Givat Eitam) constitutes a serious blow to the viability of a two-state solution.
The European Union's position on Israeli settlement policy – including eviction of Palestinians – for example in Sheikh Jarrah – and related activities in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace – as reaffirmed by UNSCR 2334. In this context, we wish to underline once again that, although we welcome the fact that the planned demolition of Khan-al-Ahmar – including its school – has not taken place, we continue to call upon Israel to withdraw these plans indefinitely.
In Gaza, the political and security situation remains volatile, and the dire humanitarian situation a matter of grave concern. Miscalculations could easily lead to the outbreak of a dangerous spiral of violence, which would be detrimental to both sides. The European Union, working closely together with the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, will continue its support for the provision of lifesaving healthcare support, its engagement to increase the access to clean water and energy supplies and to improve the overall humanitarian and economic conditions. Our priority remains to reduce the tensions and avoid another conflict in Gaza.
Humanitarian and financial assistance directed to Gaza may help address the most urgent needs of civilians, but cannot be a sustainable solution in the long-term. Financial efforts by any member of the international community can only have constructive and lasting effect if they are coordinated with the Palestinian Authority, the international community and underpinned by progress towards a political solution for Gaza. To ensure lasting results, a fundamental change of the situation in Gaza is crucial. This should include an end to the closure and the full opening of crossing points, while addressing Israel's legitimate security concerns. The EU calls on all parties to ensure unfettered access inside the Strip for humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians including for all relevant UN bodies.
The EU reiterates its call that Palestinian factions engage in good faith towards reconciliation. The return of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza strip is needed to durably improve the conditions and the humanitarian situation. Punitive measures on Gaza need to end.
Despite commendable Egyptian efforts, intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks seem to have reached a deadlock. Prospects for an effective reconciliation deteriorated further after the decision of the Constitutional Court in December to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council and the holding of legislative elections within six months. Only a few days ago, the Palestinian Authority withdrew its personnel from the Rafah Crossing Point resulting in the border being closed. These are – again – negative developments for the people in Gaza.
The EU calls on all Palestinian factions to find common ground and to work together to address the needs of the Palestinian population. We expect the government to work towards genuine and democratic elections for all Palestinians. Strong, inclusive and democratic institutions, based on respect of the rule of law and human rights are crucial in view of the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian State. Palestinian divisions do not serve the interests of the people and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
In this context, it is important to underline that the European Union will continue its support to Palestinian aspirations for statehood. However, it is of the utmost importance that the positive results of the past are not lost and that Palestinian institutions grow stronger, more transparent, accountable and democratic.
Continued support by the international community for the important work done by UNRWA remains crucial. Stopping UNRWA’s assistance to Palestine refugees would affect a large number of Palestinian refugees, cause more instability – including beyond the occupied Palestinian territory - and create a vacuum that would only serve the extremists. The European Union and its Member States are collectively the largest contributors to UNRWA's budget. We will continue to support the agency in its efforts to put in place cost-saving measures and reforms. We are and will continue to be strong, reliable and predictable supporters of the Agency and we will strive to enable UNRWA to continue its operations until a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the final status issue of Palestine refugees is reached.
Recent and increasing violence in Gaza and in the West Bank remind us that there is no such thing as status quo. Restoring a political horizon for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is essential to reduce violence and contain extremism in the region.
Twenty five years after their signing, the achievements of the Oslo Accords are under increasing threat, because of negative developments on the ground, on both sides. Palestinian institutions are weakened. The Palestinian economy is not growing to its full potential, not least because of the occupation and a lack of full implementation of the Paris Protocol. The Palestinian Authority is still hindered from extending its control over its own resources, in particular in Area C. Lack of meaningful progress towards reconciliation and the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, continues to impact negatively on the situation on the ground. As a result, the perspective of a two-state solution is being dismantled piece by piece.
However, there is no credible alternative to it. This is why the EU remains committed to the internationally agreed parameters for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on international law, relevant UN resolutions including UNSC Resolution 1860 and 2334 and previous agreements. To be successful, any peace plan should recognise these internationally agreed parameters.
The EU is truly convinced that serious efforts must be made towards a resumption of meaningful negotiations aimed at a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both States that meets Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation and resolves all final status issues in order to end the conflict. The EU will continue to work with our partners, the Israelis and the Palestinians, with regional actors, such as Jordan and Egypt, and with our partners within the Middle East Quartet to that end.
Thank you Mr President.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.