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

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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 recognize 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] recognizing 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 fully respect 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 defense 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.

Link to the :  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?

Look, it is less of a problem when it comes to an informal Council that, by definition, does not have formal conclusions. Only, as I have said – and I think I have insisted on it – in the general sense of the discussion, without going into some words that for some it would be better if they were others. But I do not want to mislead you, I do not want to present what happened today as if all the Member States had the same general sense of the discussion. It would not be honest on my part, I think it is better to recognize that there has been a country, the same one that also made it difficult for there to be an agreement on a European position recently in the United Nations Security Council. Surely you can guess easily, it is about Hungary. But it is not a novelty. I would have liked everyone to have understood that the general meaning of the discussion is that contained in these sections, which frankly I find it difficult to understand how you cannot agree with them. But that’s the way it is and I have no choice but to take note. I insist that in the case of conclusions that are not formal and that, therefore, I tell you in person, but are not part of any text, it seems less relevant to me.

But I have allowed myself to remind my colleagues that it is our mission in the Foreign Affairs Council to help create a common foreign and security policy. And that this is not a whim, that is a mandate of the treaty that says that all states will contribute loyally and positively to the definition of a common foreign policy. That is my job and I do my best to achieve it. And in the case of an issue as difficult as the one we were dealing with today, I am very satisfied that this general sense of the discussion has been shared by 26 states.

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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-defense, 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.