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Middle East: Remarks by HR/VP Josep Borrell in the EP Plenary on the normalisation agreements between Israel and UAE, Bahrain and Sudan

Brussels, 24/11/2020 - 17:44, UNIQUE ID: 201124_22

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Madame President, Honourable Members, thank you very much for having this opportunity to address you today on a very important issue, the geopolitical implications of the recent agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and, recently, Sudan. And maybe many more in the future.

On behalf of the European Union, I have welcomed these announcements for three reasons:

First, because we believe that these agreements help establish new formal relations between countries that have decided to put their differences aside and to engage in peaceful bilateral cooperation.

Second, we welcomed these agreements because they can potentially enhance relations in areas such as technology, tourism, energy, trade, health or regional cooperation.

Third, because we believe that they could have a positive effect on other countries, as well as more broadly on regional stability - which the European Union has consistently tried to promote.

However, although these agreements bring positive developments, it is clear that they all focus on the broader regional picture. Israel did commit in the context of the normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates to suspend its plans for annexation of occupied territories in the West Bank. This was a positive step and we celebrated and welcomed it, but the agreements themselves do not address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the Israeli annexation plans still need to be abandoned, not suspended temporarily. Abandoned altogether.

As we have always said, there will not be sustainable peace and stability in the region without a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on the basis of a negotiated and viable two-state solution, built upon the internationally agreed parameters.

In this light, we should explore ways to apply the logic inherent to the normalisation process to generate a direct and positive impact on the situation on the ground and to create the conditions for a meaningful political process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last week, we had an informal exchange between Palestinian Foreign Minister Mr [Riad] Malki and European Union foreign ministers by video conference. I stressed the importance of re-engaging in a meaningful political dialogue. I also emphasised this to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, when we spoke by telephone yesterday.

Last week, we saw the positive news that the Palestinian Authority will resume economic and security cooperation with Israel. We had actively encouraged this as European Union. But, at the same time, the situation on the ground remains very worrying, notably due to continued advancements of illegal settlements construction and a significant spike in demolitions. The recent decision by Israel to open tenders to build a new settlement in Givat Hamatos – the first new settlement in occupied East Jerusalem in twenty years – is of huge concern. Yesterday, in my phone call with Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Israel, Gabi] Ashkenazi, I expressed this concern and our condemnation of this initiative.

We must work urgently to find a way to rebuild trust and confidence between the two parties. We must avoid unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts.

For that, the relaunch of negotiations remains essential. We will therefore continue to work with members of the international community, including - I hope - a new administration in Washington, to uphold international law, to end the conflict and to ensure equal rights for all. Only by working together will we be able to end the current dynamic of perpetual confrontation and mistrust.

Thank you Madame President, thank you Honourable Members.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-198431


Closing remarks

Thank you President, thank you to all of you for this exchange of views.

You know, this complex reality can be perceived in different approaches, but for the European Union the normalisation of relations between Israel and the countries of the region is, all in all, a welcomed development that represents a positive [sign of] hope for the future.

But, as I said and I repeat, at the same time, a just and lasting peace in the Middle East will also require progress in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, there, further actions will be involved. 

Our role is to continue reaching out to the parties in the region. Yesterday in my conversation with Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Israel, Gabi] Ashkenazi - and when the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Palestinian Authority [Riad Malki] came to the Foreign Affairs Council, we encouraged both to reengage and have also signaled our willingness to move ahead in our bilateral relations with both.  

We continue thinking that a two-state solution is the only viable – difficult, but the only viable - solution. A lot of work is still required in order to bring at the same time security to Israel, freedom to the Palestinians and peace and stability to the region as a whole.

This normalisation of the relations has to be considered within the complex reality in the region. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have never been technically at war with Israel. So, to call that a peace agreement without having had a war may be an exaggeration.

But, as I said, in any case it is a positive approach that reflects a somewhat transactional rather than transformative approach. And it has to be understood in the context of the growing strategic rivalry between the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Turkey and the widening tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Maybe this strategy will reflect a deeper polarisation in the Arab world, where mostly Sunni Arab States consider Iran, along with political Islam, as the most serious threat in the region and it does [appear] likely [it would bring them] to engage in a deeper cooperation with Israel.

In this context, a new regional paradigm has been emerging, where peace is no longer a precondition to normalisation. Both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have developed a narrative which describe normalisation as a driver on the Israel-Arab confidence building process, creating a more conducive environment for a two-states solution.

It is clear that this normalisation comes after other strategic considerations, such as gaining military [advantages] – F35 fighters for the Emirates - or economic advantages - economic deals with Emirates and Bahrain - or for Sudan, a major gain to get out of its international isolation, by taking it off from the States Sponsors of Terrorism list, which is a major win for Sudan and its economy is on the verge of collapse and baldy needs outside investment. All these things, for sure, are being taken into consideration in these kind of agreements.

About the demolition by Israel of Palestinian structures, yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about it with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel [Gabi Ashkenazi]. I did not convince him, he did not convince me with the arguments and reasons. But we have reiterated that we consider these activities illegal, from the point of view of the international law. We reiterated our call on Israel to halt such demolitions.

This confirms the regrettable trend of confiscation and demolition since the beginning of the year, which constitutes an impediment towards to the two-state solution, but also to the improvement of the bilateral relation between the European Union and Israel.

I am working on the prospects of holding again meetings of the Association Council, which has not been meeting for the last eight years. But, for many Member States, these kind of activities of demolitions and settlements [expansion] are a strong impediment for this meeting to take place. Israel knows very well what is the position of the European Union and I reiterated it yesterday in my talk with the Foreign Affairs Minister [of Israel].

Thank you Madame President.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-198456