MEPP: Speech by HR/VP Josep Borrell in the EP on the US Middle East initiative


Strasbourg, 11 February 2020


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Mr President, Honourable Members, 

I am really grateful for having this opportunity to address you today on the Middle East Peace Process.  This issue is of fundamental, strategic importance to the European Union.  

For too long we have been witnessing a conflict that has caused endless suffering for generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike. The increasingly dire situation on the ground – including violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion, illegal by the way, and the consequences of the ongoing occupation – has destroyed hope on both sides and reduced the viability of a two-state solution.

At an international level, for a number of years, there has been little or no substantive engagement in efforts to resolve the conflict. Indeed, as one observer pointed out to me recently, there is neither peace nor a process.  

In recent years, we on the European Union side, are perhaps the only actor to have stayed the course.  

We have been vocal in our support for a negotiated two-state solution, based on the internationally agreed parameters and in accordance with international law.  This means a two-state solution based on the parameters set in the Council Conclusions of July 2014 that meets Israeli and Palestinian security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, ends the occupation that began in 1967, and resolves all permanent status issues in order to end the conflict.

Our European vision is a principled one and a pragmatic one. It reflects our broader attachment, as Europeans, to the rules-based international order.  

We are also active on the ground.  No other international actor has been as engaged as we have been in practical efforts to build a future Palestinian state.  In 2019 alone, the European Union and its Member States had an open portfolio of some €600 million in assistance to the Palestinians.  I have said it during my hearing, €600 million is almost €1.5 Million a day. 

But where are we today?  

It remains my firm view that there is still a way forward if both the parties are willing to resume credible and meaningful negotiations. International support for any such efforts will clearly be crucial to their success. In this regard, the tabling of concrete proposals such as the United States did can be helpful, both as a catalyst for deeper reflection on the way forward, and as a potential opportunity to kick-start a political process which has been at a standstill for too long.   

However, as I have said, the proposals tabled two weeks ago clearly challenge the internationally agreed parameters. It is difficult to see how this initiative can bring both parties back to the table.  

Twenty-five out of twenty-seven Member States of the Foreign Affairs Council support this consideration. Two were against it. So it was not a unanimous decision of the Council and I cannot present it like this but as a statement of the High Representative, which I am repeating here again. 

Last week I was in Washington, during a very busy day talking with all foreign affairs external policies higher authorities of the US government interlocutors. I made this point to my interlocutors: we need to ask ourselves whether this plan provides a basis for progress or not.  We need to know whether the proposals themselves are really open for negotiations. Is it a starting point or the end? For the European Union’s part, our position is clear:  we are ready to work with the international community to revive a political process in line with international law, which ensures equal rights and which is acceptable to both parties.  

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to an important discussion, which I am sure will now follow.

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Closing remarks


Strasbourg, 11 February 2020


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Mr President,


This is a very divisive issue. It is in the Council, it is in the parliament. But I would like to remind you that I am not expressing my personal opinion.  My job is to be the High Representative of the Council. And I have to represent what I think is the opinion of the Council. I have not said, that this statement was the position of the European Union. I precisely said, that since it was not unanimity, I could not present an agreement of the Council. It was a statement of the High Representative. Representing whom? Representing the twenty-five Member States whom agreed to the statement. It was not a statement of the European Union. It was a statement of the High-Representative, it was not unanimity.


Why have I gone to Iran? Because I have a mandate. A unanimous mandate of the Member States of the Council asking me to go and to talk to everyone in the broader region of the far Middle East to try and to look if there is any possibility for us, the European Union, to contribute to increase the stability and peace in the region. I have a mandate to go talk to everybody, everybody means everybody.


I have been talking with the State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia. I have been to Jordan, I have been talking to Emirates, I have been to Teheran. I will go to Iraq. In order to have a look at what can we do to contribute if we can to the peace and stability in this region.


And for sure we talk with Iranians about everything that worries them and that worries us but the purpose was to say what we can do in order to save the nuclear deal and to stabilise the region. We did not spend much time talking about the Israeli Palestine issue because Iranians are very much aware they have nothing to say on that problem.


Another Member was asking, with whom have you been talking in the USA? Well with the most prominent people. With the Secretary of State Pompeo [Mike Pompeo], with the security adviser Mr O’Brien [Robert C. O'Brien], with Mr Kushner [Jared Kushner] and with Ms Nancy Pelosi [Speaker of the United States House of Representatives] and for sure the three first were very much supporting their plan and Ms Nancy Pelosi, who as you know is a Democrat, was very much critical about it.


As I am saying, I am not expressing my opinion. In fact, my opinion has no place here. I am expression the opinion of the majority of the Council. And the majority of the Council has supported a statement by which we send a message saying that first: everybody has refrained from any unilateral actions contrary to international law and that could exacerbate the tensions further. 


We are really asking not to declare the annexation of Jordan valley. And this may happen. And if this happens, you can be sure that this is not going to be peaceful. Maybe someone does not mind but for us, it matters a lot because it can raise another wave of violence in Palestine. We are asking Palestinians to keep calm and not go to violent demonstrations.


We asked the proposal to be considered a starting point. And I said clearly that maybe it could break the stalemate and create a dynamics in which we can go and talk again about what can we do in order to look for a solution to this very old and damaging and painful problem. 


I am not denying this being the possibility of a starting point. What I am denying is the fact that it can be considered an end point. Because if I tell you, come and negotiate, but I tell you if we do not agree I will implement anyway my proposal, well this is not a big incentive to negotiate. Come and negotiate but be aware if you do not agree with me I will anyway implement the proposal. Do you call that a negotiation? That is what we refuse and what we have been saying. And believe me we invited the Secretary of State Pompeo to come to the Foreign Affairs Council to explain directly to all of the Member States  their proposal. I know there are some who are closer to this proposition and others who are very far away from this proposition. I know it is not going to be a unanimous position on that. It is too divisive. But we have to discuss and we have to look for, if not unanimity, the majority, whatever it is. And believe me I do not believe that the majority of the Member States of the European Union are considering this proposal as a good starting point. But we will do our best. Talking with everyone in order to try to break this stalemate and to push for negotiations. Some very optimistic people told me “why do we not try to do something like we did many years ago in Madrid? Oslo Process and Madrid Process. I think that we have the commitment to do something. We cannot just refuse, we cannot say that is not good enough, we have to look for something that works and this is going to be part of the discussion we are going to have next Monday on the Foreign Affairs Council.


Thank you.


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Peter Stano
Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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