EP Plenary: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on the situation in Israel and Palestine
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President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Thank you for this opportunity to address you today on these increasingly important issues. Everybody has been following closely the developments in the Middle East in the past weeks, both in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
First, I would like to start by underlining both, the European Union’s and my own personal engagement with both parties. I have been in contact with both, Israeli Foreign Minister [Eli] Cohen – even this morning - and Palestinian Prime Minister [Mohammad] Shtayyeh. We invited Prime Minister Shtayyeh to Brussels, where we had a very good exchange at the last Foreign Affairs Council in January.
This has been coupled with public messaging - you have seen a number of my statements. Not my statements, the last one was a statement of 27 Member States. Sometimes people blame me for the statements of the 27 Member States [but] it is not me, it is the 27 Member States. I am representing the Council, and the Council is [composed of] the 27 Member States.
This was issued last Wednesday, after we faced a difficult situation on the ground, with increasing violence and extremism. I think it is crucial that the European Union is united and speaks with one voice - not my voice, the voice of the 27 [Member States], all together.
We managed to reach an agreement of the 27 [Member States] and this is the first time it happens in many years that we have a statement of the 27 [Member States on this issue].
I spoke this morning on the phone with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was not very happy about this debate. He was concerned and asking why the European Parliament is interfering in internal affairs of Israel - once again, blaming me. I am sorry, I am coming to the [European] Parliament and if the [European] Parliament calls me to discuss about something, I have to come, isn’t it? It is not me who put this title “Deterioration of democracy in Israel and the consequences in the occupied territories”, it is the political groups.
This parliament is free to discuss everything they consider important. And that is what I tried to explain to the Israeli minister [in a] very friendly [way]: “Look, it is normal that the parliamentarians are concerned for the growing spiral of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and [there is] the need for all sides to de-escalate the situation.”
I mentioned this agreement that we - the 27 Member States - reached, where, of course, we condemn terrorism. Of course, we fully recognise Israel’s right to defend itself. And we certainly never draw comparisons between operations by the Israeli military and the actions of terrorists. But we have to call for the proportional use of force. Nor do we [tolerate] any kind of funding activities that could encourage incitement.
Of course, we are a strong believer in the two-state solution, and there is no - we believe - viable alternative to that. With our international partners, we will continue to work for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
And I am using this Parliament to say that - I suppose you agree - the European Union has to engage in looking for peace in the Middle East. And that the Middle East Peace Process is something that matters to us, and we are engaged in that. Maybe someone does not like it, but we do it because we believe that it is our contribution to the security in the region and to our security too.
So, I hope that today it will be a good discussion to show to [Israeli Foreign] Minister Cohen that the [European] Parliament is ready to discuss what is happening in the Middle East and how we can contribute to the Peace Process, and this is not at all to have an anti-Israeli position - not at all.
Second, we have known Israel for its vibrant democracy, that is true. So vibrant that we have seen five elections in the past three years – very vibrant. Five elections in three years shows quite a dynamic electoral process.
The new government is keen to pursue a judicial reform and that is what we want to discuss today. A judicial reform which has led to a heated internal political debate. And everybody knows because everybody watches TV and reads newspapers, that many Israelis have been demonstrating in the streets. And both the government and the opposition are using fierce language. A compromise seems difficult, but as far as I know, talks are ongoing – especially thanks to the efforts of President [of Israel, Isaac] Herzog. And I do not want to prejudge the outcome of this debate. I am not part of this debate, I am just saying that this debate is taking place. And I can remind you what President Herzog himself has said.
We are a close observer because Israel is a key partner, and our shared values are based on a democratic and open society and the rule of law. We expect this to continue.
And if we have concern, if you have concerns, you will not hesitate in expressing them and conveying them, as you do in any part of the world.
For example, the Knesset is discussing a bill that could re-establish the death penalty. We know that we are strongly, and we are in principle, opposed to the death penalty. And for sure, today I am sure that many members will engage on this clearly.
Third, with full respect to the internal political dynamics with Israel, this chamber is fully empowered to discuss about these dynamics and to understand what happens there with respect to our perception of values and interests in the region – nothing is strange with that.
This cannot be seen as an interference but a way of showing our interest and our appreciation for the Israeli democracy.
Then, you present in the title of the debate also the consequences on the occupied Palestinian territory. And I am not inventing a new word if I say that the situation there is grave, and that violence has reached levels unseen since 2005 with an appalling number of victims, including children.
This cannot go [on] like this. And I made a call, with our [EU27] statement, and also with an article published in the Middle Eastern press, asking both sides to act urgently and responsibly.
They need to do whatever they can to allow for a change of course. And we have been clear, and I will be clear once again: settlements are illegal under international law. Is that being anti-Israeli, saying that? No. Settlements are illegal under international law and their expansion must stop, as well as demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes. The Israeli government must seriously counter the violence of settler extremists and hold perpetrators accountable. And military operations must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. It is difficult not to agree on that.
But the Palestinian Authority must act too. They must redouble their efforts in terms of security cooperation, and work to prevent acts of terror that have claimed many Israeli lives. It is equally important that the Palestinians work towards reconciliation in order to reunite the Palestinian territories under one single legitimate authority. Palestinian factions should engage constructively in reconciliation talks. Palestinian people deserve the right to vote in national democratic elections to renew the legitimacy of their leadership. This is important also in view of future peace talks.
The international community must act as well to help bring about renewed perspectives for peace. And we need renewed international efforts to help both Israelis and Palestinians to think through their options.
And in order to contribute to it, on the 13 of February, I met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal [Bin Farhan Al Saud] and with Arab League Secretary-General Aboul Ghei and we agreed to work together towards a viable solution, in order to revive and build on the Arab Peace Initiative, also by adding a European peace contribution to it. And in this effort, we will be working closely with other Arab and international partners.
We have also supported the work of the United States, including on the recent Aqaba Joint Communique. And all parties should now respect the agreement reached in Aqaba in good faith.
We must help to create the conditions where it would be advantageous for Israelis and Palestinians to go back to the negotiation table and talk. And nothing will make me happier [than] to be able to contribute, from the [side of] European Union, to prepare this process.
I think everybody in this chamber agrees that the European Union should do all we can in order to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Middle East and [to reach] peace between Israel and Palestine.
This, and nothing else, is what is moving us, and in particular me.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-238459
Gracias, señor presidente, gracias, señoras y señores diputados.
No voy a concluir el debate, el debate queda inconcluso.
Este era un debate entre los parlamentarios. Estoy seguro [de] que quien lo haya seguido, aquí en Estrasburgo o desde Tel-Aviv o Ramallah, habrá podido ver los distintos puntos de vistas y el interés con que los parlamentarios europeos siguen los acontecimientos en Israel. Eso no implica ni injerencia ni la voluntad de dar lecciones a nadie, pero sí de demostrar preocupación e interés. Dejemos que los Israelitas, que tienen una democracia vibrante, resuelvan su problema. Los esfuerzos de mediación del presidente [de Israel, Isaac] Herzog son realmente notables. No voy a repetir aquí lo que él mismo lo ha dicho y que está publicado en todos los medios de comunicación y que es sin duda una autoridad bien superior a la mía para opinar sobre lo que ocurre en Israel.
Lo que está claro es que la situación empeora desde el punto de vista de los niveles de violencia y de conflicto entre Israel y los territorios Palestinos ocupados, que hay que seguir trabajando para dar seguridad a Israel, la libertad a los Palestinos, y paz y estabilidad a toda la región. Quede claro que contribuir al intentar resolver el conflicto entre Israel y Palestina es una prioridad para nosotros y por eso debo rechazar las manifestaciones de miembros del gobierno de Israel que nos invitaban a no preocuparnos por este problema, porque no era nuestro problema. Que nos ocupáramos también de resolver el de Chipre, que sí, ciertamente, también está pendiente de resolución.
Pero sí, también, nos preocuparemos para intentar contribuir con nuestros esfuerzos al retorno al diálogo entre Israelitas y Palestinos, entre Israel y Palestina. Lo cual quiere decir hablar con las dos partes, con Israel, también, a través del diálogo que hemos relanzado al nivel ministerial. Porque los Acuerdos de Asociación no son con un gobierno, son con un país, son con un Estado – y no lo podemos suspender simplemente porque cambie la mayoría política. Los acuerdos son con Israel. Hoy, hay un gobierno, mañana habrá otro como antes hubo otro.
Es importante que mantengamos abiertos los canales de comunicación tanto con Israel como Palestina. Tienen ustedes razón, la comunidad internacional ha hecho muchas declaraciones y pocas acciones. Intentemos nosotros contribuir en la medida de lo posible a una acción constructiva que permita – como les digo – garantizar la seguridad de Israel, el bienestar y la libertad de los Palestinos y la paz y la seguridad para todos en la región.
A eso, seguiremos dedicando nuestros esfuerzos desde la Comisión [europea], desde el Consejo [de la Unión europea] y con su apoyo político también.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-238461