Brussels, 20 March 2018
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Ine [Eriksen Soereide, Foreign Minister of Norway], it is really a pleasure to welcome you back in Brussels. We work on so many different things together and it is always a pleasure to work together. Our common work in this Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) is taking a particular speed and importance.
This time, you are here to chair the annual spring session of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee. The aim of today's meeting is to normally – I would say – take stock of the Palestinian state-building process, to discuss ways in which we can sustain and improve the Palestinian economy, for the benefit of the Palestinian people.
However, this session differs somehow from others since it is the second of this year – and we are in March – because we decided together to hold last 31 January a special and extraordinary ministerial level meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, also as a sign of our common and joint determination to try to build a constructive, coordinated, international engagement on the Middle East peace process, trying to find a political horizon to the conflict.
On that occasion, on the 31 January, we discussed together with all our partners and the parties about ways to resume a political process that would lead to the two-state solution. Here I would like to state it once again: for the European Union and the Member States the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital, remains the only viable path towards peace and security, for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We see how volatile the situation is in the Middle East, we have seen it in the recent days, and we definitely cannot afford greater destabilisation.
Today in the meeting we will focus in particular on Gaza and on measures to be launched still this year, with an immediate impact, and on other projects, especially on water and energy, that can improve the socio-economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. But let me say that the economic outlook will most likely remain bleak without a clear progress towards reunification of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian unity is not only an important element for reaching the two-state solution and a lasting peace but it is also a fundamental way that is needed to improve the situation of the people on the ground.
We see it very clearly: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza belong together. There is no State of Palestine without Gaza, nor with Gaza alone. This is why we expect all Palestinian factions to defy the spoilers and continue on the path of reconciliation, with courage and determination. The situation is extremely fragile. The speech in Ramallah yesterday shows how fragile it is. I would hope that this will not halt the process further, when we should be looking all together for ways to take it forward.
As regards the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, this is and will remain a priority for the European Union. We have provided substantial help in the past and we continue to do so. Just last week I was in Rome co-organising a ministerial conference together with United Nations Secretary General [Antonio] Guterres, that led to additional pledges of over €80 million for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], which is currently facing a very serious financial crisis.
We mobilised the international community to help the Agency continue its vital work. We, the European Union, advanced our payment for financial support to UNRWA for this year, that is worth €82 million, and that will allow for UNRWA’s vital operations to continue. It will provide access to education for 500,000 children, primary health care for more than 3.5 million patients and assistance to over 250,000 vulnerable refugees.
Let me say that supporting UNRWA is a humanitarian but also political duty. Should UNRWA not be able to deliver its services in Gaza - education, food aid, healthcare -, the situation in the Strip may run completely out of control, and this is something that we definitely need to avoid. As I said in Rome, we do not want to see the blue of the United Nations substituted by other colours.
This morning Commissioner [for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes] Hahn hosted an international donors' Conference on the Gaza Central Desalination Plant – also an important project the European Union has been pushing forward constantly in the past years, together with all those who are or might be still willing to participate. I am glad to announce that this Conference led to pledges of €456 million, out of this €77 million from the European Union. We hope that this can generate an important push with positive short-term impact, not only on Gaza's economy, but especially on the every-day life of citizens and of the Palestinian people.
It is clear that all the efforts for short and medium-term projects cannot replace a political solution. At the same time, political solutions cannot be achieved without a socio-economic environment that is conducive to a meaningful political process. This has always been the logic of this [Ad Hoc Liaison] Committee. There is – again, I would like to state it - no realistic alternative to the two-state solution and there is no alternative to the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.
We need a credible political horizon to work together with parties and partners, all of them, towards achieving this. In the European Union, and as Europeans – I think I can say this with my Norwegian friend [Ine Eriksen Soereide] -, we have definitely no doubt that this is the sense of direction, and we are fully committed to work towards achieving that.
Q. The mistrust between the Palestinian Authority and the United States is so high. The expectation regarding the US package is almost that the Palestinians might refuse it. Is there any formula that the EU, Norway and other international actors can find to rescue the peace process or maybe the peace process has to be reinvented?
I totally share what Ine said. This is also the approach that we took in the Quartet [on the Middle East]. If you remember, a year and a half ago, the Quartet produced a report indicating the step-by-step approach, the steps-on-the-ground approach, as the key element to re-invent or re-start the engine of the peace process that indeed has been stalling for too long.
It is a vicious circle that could become a virtual circle – there are difficult conditions on the ground, no prerequisite for political talks, now also a complicated international environment, a regional environment that is extremely dangerous. We need to turn things around, starting to have improvements on the ground, on the lives of the people, on socio-economic conditions. Small things can be big, can make the day, the lives of families, children, mothers and fathers on the ground and can change the trend that is now negative. We need to restore hope, future and perspectives.
At the same time, building this international consensus, this coordination at international level. We do not want - and I said it often, I will repeat it here - the European Union has no intention to substitute the United States. We want to have all key players working in the same direction, together in a coordinated manner. Because each of us has something to bring at the table.
We need the United States, we need the European Union, I think we need Norway, we need the countries of the region – be it Jordan or Egypt –, we need the League of Arab States, we need the United Nations, we need Russia that is with us in the Quartet. We need this international and regional framework to help the parties re-start direct negotiations.
At the end of the day, it is a responsibility of the parties to engage. We can help creating the conditions on the ground and the political conditions internationally and regionally, but we also need to see the determination and the political will from the two political leaderships.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152578
Link to the Q&A: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152581