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Strasbourg – 22 November 2016
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Thank you Madam President,
Let me at the outset, and in order to properly frame this exchange, recall that the European Union has a clear position, set out in our Council conclusions, to pursue the two-state solution. The same two-state solution that since Oslo has been identified as the objective of all Israeli Governments, of the Palestinian leadership and of the international community. This to us is a clear position and also a clear objective not only of ours, but also that we share with the rest of the international community and of the parties.
As the July report of the Quartet points out, action is needed to preserve the possibility of achieving this goal that is commonly shared, at least formally. Stopping the expansion of settlements is an integral part of the efforts to keep the solution of two viable and contiguous states on the table. The so-called regularisation bill, which passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset, would allow for the ex-post legalisation of Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank. It would enable essentially the confiscation of the private property rights of Palestinian land owners in the West Bank for the benefit of settlers. This would mean crossing a new threshold, even under Israeli law, for the settlement enterprise in the West Bank. It would also mean the exact opposite of what the Quartet has called for, namely preserving the two-state solution.
The debate in Israel on the regularisation bill has not concluded, but the choices are clear: either to uphold the principle of the two-state solution, or to go down the path of a one-state reality which will only lead to further conflict and instability at a time when the Middle East needs all the stability it can get. The choice belongs to Israel, but I believe it is only normal that we express our own views as any friend would do.
The Quartet report on which the European Union, as you know, has worked on has identified the process to retroactively legalise outposts as a threat against a two-state solution. There is an international consensus on this because the report is the result of common work we have done. It is true there has been a strong EU involvement and leadership in this, but we have done this together with the UN, the US and the Russian Federation. So these statements that we have in the Quartet report presented in July are statements that we share with our friends in the international community. We have a very detailed description in the report of the situation on the ground, and a shared assessment of the risk it poses to peace.
But it is also important to keep in mind that the debate on the regularisation bill is controversial inside the Israeli leadership and inside the Israeli society, and that the process is still open. The Israeli Attorney General himself has been very explicit that this bill is unconstitutional under Israeli law, against previous rulings by Israel’s Supreme Court and in breach of international law. A final decision, as I said, has not been taken yet and I hope that the Israeli Government and legislators will do the right thing. We are in contact with the authorities in Israel and we have made the position of the European Union very clear to the government of Israel. We will continue to follow developments on this issue very closely together with Member States. Let me stress here that the European Union is fully united on this issue.
As we also reflected in the Quartet report, our goal remains to help find a new path to successful final status negotiations. We need to rebuild the conditions for a peace process that can bring results, as I said several times in this House, not a process for the sake of a process. Actually, today even more than before we need to preserve, recreate political conditions and I would say that today even more than yesterday, it is crucial that the European Union builds and preserves international unity on this issue. Today is more important than yesterday, both on the fundamental coordinates of the two-state solution and on the way to get there.
Our role is more important than ever today. Our regional partners can also play a major role in promoting and supporting a solution. The Arab Peace Initiative in particular, with its vision for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, remains a key basis and offers significant opportunities, including with regard to regional security that I believe would be extremely beneficial for Israel itself. At the same time, we know that real peace requires a real commitment from the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships and this is why the internal Israeli debate is so important to us. We have talked about settlement policy, where we sometimes differ – I would say often differ – from the Israeli Government, but there has also recently been some positive steps such as plans and permits for Palestinian construction inside Area C and this was also not uncontroversial at all within the Israeli Government and opinions.
So I believe we should not only criticise when we do not agree, but also acknowledge what we see as positive steps and encourage more of this and also more ambitious steps that lead to real progress on the ground.
So let me conclude on a more personal note. Two months ago I was in Jerusalem for the funeral of a great Israeli man and a great man of peace, Shimon Peres. It was a very sad moment also for me personally, I had known him for many years. And yet it showed that hope is still alive. An important gesture came that day from President Abbas – his presence at the funeral in Jerusalem and the handshake with Prime Minister Netanyahu were little big steps in the right direction, a little big moment of hope. And the night before the funeral I had the opportunity to have a long meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he recognised, as Peres did, that only peace can bring security to Israel. So in difficult times for the Middle East we need to keep our eyes wide open, not only for the extremely worrying developments but also for any glimpses of hope and seize every opportunity that comes our way to make it grow.
I know this Parliament will keep its attention high both on the worrying developments, but also on the opportunities for peace, and encourage and accompany our work for making them grow. Thank you.
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