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Ine [Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway], first of all, it is a pleasure to welcome you here and to have this meeting together under the chairmanship of the Foreign Minister of Norway – my good friend.
We decided together to convene this first ever extraordinary meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee [AHLC], which is the international donor group for Palestine, here in Brussels today.
The meeting is being held at ministerial level, which shows strong interest and a shared sense of purpose in the international community and also in the region.
It is also the first opportunity for the parties, and not only for the parties but also for the partners in the region and in the international community to sit together since the December announcement by President [of the United States, Donald] Trump on Jerusalem. It is an opportunity we all have to engage, to have everybody around the same table; and for us to use our convening power and to put it at the service of peace and security in the Middle East and beyond.
The basis and objective of our engagement is and remains the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as future capital of both states, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. This is a position based on the Oslo Accords and on international law, in particular the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The raison d'être of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee is and remains the shared objective of a two-state solution.
We must always remind ourselves, and we will do that today – it is a good moment for doing that again –, that the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee has never meant to substitute political progress by economic development. It has always meant to accompany, to facilitate, to underpin political progress. And the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee and the two-state solution, for us, are two sides of the same coin.
Today we will look together with our partners at ways to resume a political process that would lead to this two-state solution. Any framework for negotiations must be multilateral and must involve all players, all partners that are essential to this process. A process without one or the other would simply not work, would simply not be realistic.
This is why we are happy to see that the Quartet [on the Middle East] is continuing to meet. We had a Quartet Envoys’ meeting just a few weeks ago. We are, as the European Union, engaging within the Quartet with the United States, the Russian Federation and the United Nations, and we are looking at ways to closely associate some of our Arab partners, namely Jordan or Egypt as well as Norway.
In the past few weeks we have been, as the European Union, extremely engaged with the parties. You know that I had the pleasure to host first Prime Minister [of Israel, Benjamin] Netanyahu here in Brussels and then [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas. We had, as I said, Quartet Envoy's meetings in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago and we are in constant contact with our partners in the region. And we are convening this meeting today, with a regular one that will follow-up in March.
We need to maintain the political horizon for the two-state solution, as we believe that there is no alternative that would be both politically viable and sustainable, and that would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties, including the legitimate security concerns of Israel.
In the meantime, there are many practical steps that can advance on the ground and we will look at these steps also today: continue our support for the Palestinian authority; continue our support for UNRWA [The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]; work for the security of all, because we know that the more progress we can achieve on the ground, the more this can help prevent violence and the more this can also help resume a political process.
So in this context, we believe it is important that the Palestinian Authority is committed to unite the West Bank and Gaza under one single and legitimate authority. And in this regard we strongly support the indispensable Egyptian role and engagement that we value as extremely positive. The political situation in Gaza is directly linked to the security situation in the entire region and to our common fight against terrorism. And we believe Israel's legitimate security concerns must be met, also in that context.
We are thinking first and foremost, obviously, of the population in Gaza. The daily life of citizens has been very difficult for a too long time and this despite large international humanitarian help, including by the European Union. The European Union and its Member States are collectively by far the largest donor, including through UNRWA, to the Palestinians, but also bilaterally.
We are ready to increase our support if the political conditions are met, for instance through the redeployment of the border assistance mission of the European Union - EUBAM Rafah - or through immediate help to hospitals.
I am glad to announce today that we have just adopted a new assistance package of €42.5 million, including for activities in East Jerusalem and support towards building a democratic and accountable Palestinian state through targeted policy reforms, fiscal consolidation, reinforcing businesses and small and medium sized enterprises, strengthening the Palestinian civil society and providing access to water and energy. This comes on top of several other packages of support, including €107 million provided to UNRWA.
This is to show that together with the political purpose of this meeting, there is also a lot of concrete projects and concrete support that is going on, thanks to an excellent cooperation we have established at an international level.
To conclude, I would like to thank Norway for its leadership and strength in leading this work, together with us and others, and reassure once again the parties first of all, the citizens on the ground, the people of the region and our regional and all our international partners that they can count on the European Union, always.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150243
Q. President Donald Trump will soon release his new peace plan for the Middle East. What are your expectations for Mr Trump's peace plan? What kind of role do you see Norway playing in this process?
FM: First of all, let me say that the role that Norway plays is extremely important and I am particularly grateful to Ine [Eriksen Søreide] for the excellent cooperation we have established all over these months.
We knew each other before as she was working on the defence, but in particular in these difficult months, we have managed to coordinate all along the way and trying to use - as she mentioned - the capacity we have to facilitate so that parties and partners sit around the same table and engage in dialogue.
Norway has a specific role that comes from its role as the Chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee and has an historic and symbolic role that is linked to the Oslo Accords, that are and continue to be the basis for our collective international engagement.
So, I would say that Norway has the international standing and legitimacy to contribute to this effort that cannot be but an international common effort, to build the conditions for the parties to negotiate finally an agreement. The parties need to be engaged, the regional players need to support, help and accompany, the international players through the Quartet [on the Middle East] need to come together and provide this space. There are incentives because we know that aspirations and concerns on both parties' sides require international and regional players to accompany any step that can be taken.
I would like to thank Ine [Eriksen Søreide] personally and Norway for an outstanding role and leadership, and counting on this to continue to help the parties and the international players to do their utmost to get to a final and positive solution.
On the United States plan, we will wait and see. For the moment, we do not have details or even a time framework. As Ine [Eriksen Søreide] said, this is a difficult moment. For us what counts is, first and foremost, that everybody recognises that the United States are essential for any process to realistically have a chance to succeed, but also for our friends in the United States to understand that alone it would be more difficult to achieve anything.
If I can put it in the headline: Nothing without the United States, nothing with the United States alone. This is why we are convening this framework that could be an element of facilitation for restoring some trust and a level of confidence among different players.
The European Union – and I have stressed this several times to the disappointment of some – is not aiming at substituting anyone. We are simply aiming at playing our role, at full, as financial supporters and contributors, not only to the Palestinian Authority and to UNWRA, but also as the main trade partner for Israel and as a political player in the Middle East and in this conflict in particular, through the [Middle East] Quartet, and through our excellent relations with not only Norway, but also the Arab partners we have.
I am glad to announce that I discussed with the Jordanian and the Egyptian Foreign Ministers today and yesterday: we will invite the Foreign ministers of the six Arab countries that are in the follow-up committee of the League of Arab States on this issue, to come to Brussels, possibly already next month, to meet all the 28 Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Union to continue this work.
In terms of content, any plan that has a possibility to become a realistic roadmap, out of experience, cannot but be based on the Oslo Accords and the two-state perspective. No alternative seemed to meet the aspirations and the needs – including the security needs of Israel – than the perspective of the two states.
Q. The Palestinian population is almost losing hope for any peace process: how are you going to give them back the hope for a peace solution, for a two-state solution? Secondly, it is obviously clear that you are insisting that the United States need to be the main player in the peace process while the Palestinians are now insisting, after the US decision to move their embassy, that the United States cannot anymore play the main role. How are you going to find a solution to this new conflict? Are you planning to put the Palestinians and the Israelis face to face today?
FM: To answer your question about the parties: for sure, the Palestinians and the Israelis will be sitting at the same table today, as well as our American friends will and the other players and partners who are here.
In particular, I would like to thank our friends from the Arab countries who are here at ministerial level, showing interest, common purpose and - I think - commitment to try and help, as Ine [Eriksen Søreide] said.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150417