Israel’s attempt to demolish buildings and facilities in the West Bank doomed
Special interview: Abraham Accords ‘did not fundamentally change situation for Palestinians’, says EU envoy
RIYADH: Normalization between Israel and Arab countries should go hand-in-hand with resolution of simmering regional conflict, as Abraham Accords have not fundamentally changed situation for Palestinians, says Special Representative Sven Koopmans of the EU for the peace process in the Middle East.
The Abraham Accords are a series of agreements that resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries. The UAE was the first to sign the pact in 2020, ushering in a new era of political, economic and security cooperation with Israel in the face of shared strategic concerns and regional threats.
“I think these agreements have, in a way, shown that change is possible,” Koopmans, a Dutch international lawyer and former politician, told Arab News during a visit to Riyadh on Monday.
“Relations between the (concerned) countries have changed and we can see positive things coming out of it. At the same time, I do not believe that these agreements have fundamentally changed the situation of the Palestinians. »
Although welcomed by much of the international community at the time, skeptics warned that normalization alone would do little to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor bring about a final settlement based on on the two-state solution.
In the absence of tangible progress towards a peace settlement that meets the needs of the Palestinians, most Arab countries have refused to embrace the logic of normalizing relations with Israel.
Koopmans said he had talks on Monday with Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, during which they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts and the need to find a positive solution that would offer the peace. , not just for Palestinians and Israelis, but for the entire region.
“I think Saudi Arabia has a very important role to play,” Koopmans told Arab News.
“It is everyone’s hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved and that a Palestinian state fully exists and is recognized. For this we need more.
“So that’s also what I’m discussing with the Saudi government and with many other governments in the region. How can we do everything in such a way that at the same time that you have the normalization, you also have the real peace? We can’t leave a thing for later. It may never happen.
Koopmans, who was tasked by the EU to provide an active contribution to the final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressed the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002.
The initiative, which was re-endorsed at Arab League summits in 2007 and 2017, proposes normalization of relations in return for Israel’s full withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, a ‘just settlement’ of the problem Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Saudi Arabia and several other states want to see the Arab Peace Initiative implemented before agreeing to consider formal normalization with Israel.
“First I have to say that the EU also supports the Arab Peace Initiative, and this initiative of King Abdullah at the time was very brave and very important, and I believe it still stands and we still support it. “, said Koopmans.
“There are many hurdles for this to become a reality, and those hurdles are precisely what we’re working on right now.”
Divisions within the Palestinian body politic, as well as Israel’s protracted political difficulties, are just a few of the many obstacles blocking the peace process. Koopmans thinks the way forward is for all parties to recognize the interests they have in common.
“We have to get to a point where everyone is strong enough and willing enough to say now is the time for peace, as I think it is,” Koopmans said.
“If we all look at what our real interests are, then we find a lot of things that unite us, including the Europeans.
“We want security in the Middle East. We want everyone to live in freedom. We want people to have equal rights. And we want all the nations in this part of the world so close to ours to have good trade relations, to have agreements and exchanges on energy, water and climate change.
“There is a lot to be done on this front, and I believe it is in everyone’s interest. And so this is the effort that I have come to Saudi Arabia to discuss with your government.
For some observers, the formal recognition of a Palestinian state is an important precondition for restarting the peace process. For Koopmans, however, the timing of this recognition is important.
“There are European member states, countries that recognize a Palestinian state. The majority don’t,” Koopmans said.
He dismissed the idea that instructions to that effect had come “from EU organizations in Brussels or from me”.
“I believe that if we can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a larger conflict, then it becomes very easy for everyone to recognize that.
“In fact, that would be an integral part of it, because at least in Europe, too, the countries that don’t recognize a Palestinian state very much believe that it’s necessary, that there is finally a Palestinian state.
“But they say, okay, it has to be recognized and negotiated first. Where exactly are the borders? How are government institutions set up and able to function in a sovereign manner… without Israeli occupation? They want to see it first. And this is part of the peace agreement that we should all be working towards, and not only between Israel and Palestine but, again, also with the Arab neighbors.
“And maybe there is a combination to be seen, because when will the Arab states that do not recognize Israel at this time recognize Israel? I think it may be the very day that some European countries recognize a Palestinian state. So let’s do it all together.
In the meantime, Koopmans and other diplomats working on the Israeli-Palestinian file are adamant that Palestinian attacks must end and Israeli settlement expansion must be halted before talks can resume in good faith.
“These settlements are illegal,” Koopmans said. “The EU is very clear about this, as is the UN and the United States and so many others around the world. And, therefore, we will continue to speak against them. My role as the special representative of the “EU is next to that. In addition to that, work to relaunch the peace process.
“A lot of people say the peace process doesn’t exist, and in a way they’re right. There are no active negotiations to finally conclude the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict, but it must end. The occupation cannot last forever. The violence that we see, the terrorist attacks that we see, they can’t go on forever.
“They have to stop. And the best way to stop them is to have serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians so that there is a vibrant Palestinian state alongside a vibrant Israel, that both are safe. But there must also be peace (between Israel) with Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon, with Algeria, with all the countries of the region.
In Koopmans’ view, forming a broad and inclusive dialogue that recognizes the need to combine normalization with real progress toward peace is essential to establishing a lasting settlement.
“I believe that all the countries in this region have an interest in seeing this conflict and rather that this conflict disappear and have peace,” Koopmans said. “And I think that means we have to talk with Saudi Arabia as a very big player, but also with Egypt and Jordan and many other countries in the region.
“Iran is also very concerned about what is happening in the region. Israel is very concerned about what is happening in Iran. Again, it’s not my role to identify specific players or say he or she did this. But it’s my role to help everyone be part of the solution.