European Union External Action

Informal videoconference of Foreign Affairs Ministers on Israel/Palestine: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell

Brussels, 18/05/2021 - 21:25, UNIQUE ID: 210518_15
Remarks

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Good afternoon,

Thank you to all of you. Sorry for being late. It has been quite a long and intense - I would not say Foreign Affairs Council because it was not strictly speaking a Council - but an informal meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers to discuss about the worst upsurges in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in many years, since 2014.

I considered it was necessary to call for this meeting because the situation was really very bad and Member States were taking positions. And I thought it was necessary to coordinate the European Union response. 

As you know that in an informal meeting there are no formal conclusions. And what I am going to explain you is my takeaway, my intellectual takeaway from today’s meeting. The text reflects the overall sense of the discussion. I acknowledge that there are nuances that some individual [Member States] had expressed but is a short text that cannot take into account all the discussion. But I think it reflects the overall agreement and the overall sense of our discussion.

I am happy to say that 26 out of the 27 Member States supported this overall sense of the discussion. What I explained to them is my responsibility to present you - not conclusions but an overall understanding and it is up to you to see if your recognise yourself in that. So, I am quite satisfied because I have an important support. This is my takeaway, but it has an important support.

The text says that … it starts [by] recognising that the priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a ceasefire. Not only to agree but to implement a ceasefire. The purpose is to protect civilians and to give full humanitarian access in Gaza. The second is to consider that the upsurge of violence in the last days has led to a high number of civilian casualties, dead and injured, among them a high number of children and women, and that this is unacceptable.

Once again, we condemn the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups on the Israeli territory. And we fully support Israel’s right to self-defense, but we have also considered and stated that this has to be done in a proportional manner and respecting International Humanitarian Law.

Once again, but this is nothing new, we recall the need to respect fully the status quo of the Holy sites and to uphold the right to worship. There was also a strong support about the importance to not to proceed with evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in line with the European Union positions on settlements.

As I said, we support the right of defence of Israel and the right to security, also for the Palestinians. And we consider that security for Israel and Palestine requires a true political solution. Because only a true solid political solution could bring peace and for doing that we need to restore a polite political horizon.

Now the priority - the urgency- is to stop violence and to implement the ceasefire. But the day after tomorrow, whenever the violence stops, we have to engage to reopen a political horizon: exploring space for reengagement between the parties; developing confidence building measures; improving living conditions of the people and opening the path towards the potential of launching of the peace process. The potential launching of the peace process, which has been in a stalemate for too long.

We also consider that the holding of Palestinian elections must be considered a priority. And we asked everybody not to obstruct and to facilitate this electoral process. And from our side, we will renew our engagement with our key partners, notably with the new US Administration with whom we have been in touch those days. Yesterday, I had my last phone call with [United States Secretary of State, Antony] Blinken. And many colleagues have been talking with him and also with the revived [Middle East] Quartet.

We have a new special representative who will be sent to the region and to engage with the Quartet and other partners to convey them these messages from our side.

Do I go to the any other business right now? We will let any other business, I can add any other business. Now I am going to mix it with another crisis situation.

We got an explanation from the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister [Arancha González Laya], I am going to say that in Spanish, because I am sure many people will be interested to follow that in Spanish.

Como les decía, la ministra española ha explicado hoy a los ministros la situación en la frontera entre España y Marruecos, en Ceuta, donde se han producido preocupantes acontecimientos.

Un número de migrantes muy alto, sin precedentes en un solo día - estamos hablando de 6.000 personas - han llegado a Europa, porque han llegado a España, es decir a Europa, nadando. Muchos de ellos son niños, muchos han tenido que ser rescatados y, desgraciadamente, hemos de lamentar al menos una víctima.

Esta mañana he hablado con el presidente del gobierno español [Pedro Sánchez] para expresarle la plena solidaridad europea, el apoyo de la Unión Europea a España. Antes que yo, la comisaria [de asunto de interior, Ylva] Johansson se ha expresado desde el punto de vista de la política migratoria como ha hecho también el vicepresidente Schinas y mi colega el comisario [de vecindad y ampliación] Olivér [Várhelyi] ha estado en contacto con el ministro marroquí [de asuntos exteriores, Nasar Burita].

Por mi parte, quiero resaltar que Ceuta es la frontera europea con Marruecos y que la Unión Europea hará lo necesario para apoyar a España en estos momentos difíciles. Sin duda la mayor prioridad es tratar de evitar que haya muertes de personas que tratan de cruzar a nado, muertes de migrantes y devolver la normalidad a Ceuta - gravemente perturbada por estos acontecimientos.

Como saben, y yo lo puedo testificar como ministro de exteriores que fui de España, la Unión Europea tiene una muy sólida y estratégica asociación con Marruecos. Una relación de asociación, de amistad, de cooperación que se ha consolidado a lo largo de muchos años de buena cooperación. A veces, en momentos como estos es en los que hay que seguir llamando a la cooperación. La ministra [española de asuntos exteriores, ​Arancha González Laya] nos ha informado de que una parte muy importante de estas entradas en territorio español y, por lo tanto, europeo, de acuerdo y en función de los acuerdos que se tienen con Marruecos, se procedido ya a su devolución a Marruecos.

Cuando digo que tenemos una buena relación y que hemos de seguir manteniéndola, incluyo en ella las cuestiones migratorias. La gestión de la inmigración forma parte muy importante de nuestra relación y debe ser gestionada en un espíritu de cooperación y diálogo. He llamado a mi colega, el ministro [marroquí de asuntos exteriores, Nasar] Burita, no he podido todavía hablar con él, lo ha hecho el comisario Olivér [Várhelyi] y estoy seguro que en este espíritu de diálogo y cooperación encontraremos soluciones que respeten los intereses comunes, basados en compromisos, objetivos y en la mutua confianza.

 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206126

 

Q&A

Q. You mentioned that there were only 26 countries signing up to this. So maybe you could elaborate a bit further on the one country that did not sign up to the statement. And do you see this as a problem? We had it recently also with China and Hong Kong. We have a similar situation here, especially on Israel-Palestine, there is not a unified response now despite this Council. You mentioned in your introduction that you had this informal meeting to coordinate the responses of EU Member States and now yet again, it did not manage to bring all those 27 on board. So how problematic do you see this?

Mire, es menos problema cuando se trata de un Consejo informal que, por definición, no tiene conclusiones formales. Solamente, como he dicho - y creo que he insistido en ello - en el sentido general de la discusión, sin entrar en algunas palabras que para unos sería mejor si fueran otras. Pero no les quiero engañar, no quiero presentarles lo que ha ocurrido hoy como si todos los Estados miembros hubieran tenido el mismo sentido general de la discusión. No sería honesto por mi parte, creo que es mejor reconocer que ha habido un país, el mismo que también dificultó que hubiera un acuerdo de una posición europea recientemente en el Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas. Seguro que lo adivinan ustedes fácilmente, se trata de Hungría. Pero no es una novedad. Me hubiera gustado que todos hubieran entendido que el sentido general de la discusión es el que contienen estos apartados, que francamente me cuesta entender cómo no se puede estar de acuerdo con ellos. Pero así es y yo no tengo más remedio que tomar nota. Insisto en que tratándose de conclusiones que no son formales y que, por tanto, yo se las cuento de viva voz, pero no forman parte de ningún texto, me parece menos relevante.

Pero sí me he permitido recordar a mis colegas que en el Consejo de Asuntos Exteriores tenemos como misión contribuir a crear una política exterior y de seguridad común. Y que eso no es un capricho, eso es un mandato del tratado que dice que todos los estados contribuirán lealmente y positivamente a la definición de una política exterior común. Ese es mi trabajo y hago lo posible por conseguirlo. Y tratándose de un tema tan difícil como era el que hoy nos ocupaba, pues estoy muy satisfecho de que este sentido general de la discusión haya sido compartido por 26 estados.

 

Q. I would like to understand to what extent this new conflict endangers the Vienna negotiations on the JCPOA? Do you think that now this negotiation is on standby, or is it dead or what should we expect?

¿Se refiere al de Israel y Palestina? Como ha dicho usted nuevo, yo he creído que se refería a lo que acababa de ocurrir. Realmente esta situación dura ya desde mediados de abril, ¿no? Nuevo, nuevo, desgraciadamente no se le puede llamar ya nuevo porque lleva durando un mes.

Francamente, no lo sé. Espero que no, creo que no, las negociaciones en Viena continúan, tienen su ritmo, su dinámica propia. No hemos entrado para nada en considerar una posible correlación entre ambos problemas.

 

Q. Even if we have the ceasefire today and the end of the violence, the political status quo on the ground could be only a pause like it happened on 2014 and then the violence will emerge another time and it could be more violent than this time. Should the international community, including the European Union, of course, look for a new framework that allows the negotiations to be quick and very quick to get a final political solution?

One of the newest things on these informal conclusions is this call to restore a political horizon. We said: now it is urgent to stop violence, ceasefire, avoid more casualties, there are too many. But, at the same time - and this is something that I want to stress - we insist on the idea that the status quo is not an option, because the violence will come again. As long as there is no peace, you will never have 100% security.

In the past, you saw how many times we went to violence again? And Gaza was destroyed and then we rebuilt Gaza. This is not an option. I think that we, Europeans, today have said something very important: we need a true political solution as the only way to bring peace. And in order to do that, we have to explore how to reengage, how we can build confidence-building, how to improve the living conditions of the people and how we can open the path to a potential relaunching of the peace process.

The international community, and also the European Union, have been looking the other way, hoping that the problem will be solved by itself. Well, this is not the case and this situation reminds us that in order to look for a solution we need to engage on looking for this solution. We call for a renewed engagement with our key partners, hopefully today it is possible with the United States, the revived [Middle East] Quartet and the European Union.

I think this is very important and we discussed a lot and I am happy that a strong majority of the Member States were supporting this approach.

 

Follow up question: I asked the question about whether the European Union could support the accountability issue, including the International Criminal Court Jurisdiction over Palestine, because what happened this week, that the civilians from both sides have been targeted deliberately in a flagrant violation of the International Humanitarian Law and there are crimes which could be considered as war crimes or crimes against humanity. So, there is a need for accountability, would the European Union support this demand, the need for the people to have justice?

I cannot talk about potential possibilities. I can only tell you which has been our discussion and the overall sense of this discussion. And I think that if you look carefully at the sentence[s] they are important. They do not say what you want me to say, because we have not said that.

But, I want to stress that we clearly said that we support Israel’s right to self-defence, fully. We remind that this has to be done in a proportionate manner and respecting International Humanitarian Law. And the number of civilians dead and injured - among them a high number of children and women - is unacceptable. Any figure would be unacceptable, but this specific figure we qualify it as unacceptable.

This was the general sense of our discussion. I think there are quite important statements, and they say what they say.

 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206127