Debate in Strasbourg highlighted ‘clear split’ within European Parliament on recognition of Palestinian state
There was due to be a debate and vote on the issue of recognition of a Palestinian state last Thursday (27 November) but while the debate took place the vote was postponed due to disagreements between the various political groups over the wording of a resolution.
MEPs will vote on a resolution on the matter — proposed by the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and European United Left groups — during the December 18 plenary session.
The debate on this divisive and sensitive issue last Wednesday cleary showed a split between the left and the right.
The almost 3-hour debate saw a passionate intervention by EU foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini who stressed that the discussion over the issue of Palestinian state recognition was “timely” and “crucial”.
“The sense of urgency is getting higher and higher in the absence of a political context,” she told lawmakers at the start of the debate which came one month after she made her first visit as High Representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
“We are the leading trade partner for Israel, and we are the leading donor for the Palestinian Authority. We can be the leading political player in the region to facilitate a dialogue that has to be a directly between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said.
“There is no way of having security if we do not also have a Palestinian state and there is no way of having a Palestinian state if we do not also guarantee security, stability and peace to the Israelis. This very concept is at the core of the efforts that the EU has always worked on,” Mogherini emphasized.
“The recognition of the state and even the negotiations are not goals in themselves. The goal in itself is having a Palestinian state in place and having Israel living next to it,” she added.
After hearing all the 60 lawmakers who expressed their opinions on the issue, she said that the debate “shows that our frustration and even our sense of desperation is deep and that we risk being trapped in the false illusion of us needing to take one side. We would not make a worst mistake than this.”
“You will never convince me that you can be pro-Israel without also being pro-Palestinian and that you can be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Israeli,” she added, pointing out that “the best way of helping the Israeli people is to build a Palestinian state and the best way of helping the Palestinian people is to secure Israel’s security.”
“I will always be a friend of Israel and a friend of Palestine and will always work to show that this is the only way to be friends of both and of each of them,” she added.
The parliament debate followed the October decision by Sweden to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, the first EU member state to do so, but also the British and Spanish parliaments and Irish senate vote of non-binding resolutions calling on their respective governments to make such a recognition.
Last Friday, the lower house of France’s parliament held a debate on the issue and will symbolically vote on a Socialist resolution next Tuesday while Denmark’s lawmakers will debate a similar motion later in December.
Mogherini said she has no answer for “the right steps to do and in which order” but she favoured involving Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League in a regional initiative that recycles elements of a failed Arab plan from 2002.
MEP Gianni Pittella, the president of the Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group (the second largest with 191 MEPs), which initiated the debate, called on all EU member states to recognize the State of Palestine, underlining that “this is absolutely in line with the decision taken by the United Nations General Assembly on 29 Nov. 2012.”
“This parliamentary initiative can provide extra impetus which can finally bring talks to success and peace to the Middle East,” said Richard Howitt, a British Labour MEP.
“It is an attempt to break the deadlock in which the viability of the two-state solution is increasingly questioned to avoid a new apartheid, which some say is already here,” he added.
“My group absolutely joins the condemnation of the horrendous Har Nof synagogue bombing, but the conclusion we draw from this and other terrorist acts is that status quo is not guaranteeing peace and security for the Israeli people,” he added.
Howitt got a response from James Carver, a member of British UKIP party, part of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD), who questioned him. “Do you accept that one of the largest stumbling blocks to a lasting peace is the Hamas call for the destruction of the State of Israel? Do you agree with me that, were Hamas to revoke this core principle, then it could lead to a fresh, everlasting approach?”.
In the name of the European Peoples Party group, influential German MEP Elmar Brok, declared : “The majority of the Palestinians and the majority of Israelis want peace based on a two-state solution. But there are forces on the Palestinian side, especially Hamas, which do not want a two-state solution and exerts force in Gaza. And there are circles in the society of Israel and also partly in the government that do not want a two-state solution.”
He said the current situation “is dangerous again”. “Israel has a right to demand that it will not be bombarded with rockets from Gaza. The fact that we have the issue of the Temple Mount as well as the attack on the synagogue show how dangerous it is when politics and religion are mixed together and brought about further radicalization.”
“Our goal is a two-state solution with a secure Jewish state of Israel and a viable Palestinian state. This is only possible on the basis of mutual recognition,” he said, stressing the”responsibility of the Arab states in the peace process.”
Speaking on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), the third largest in the European parliament (70 MEPs), British Charles Tannock, said he “personally has deep concerns regarding whether this particular motion for unilateral recognition of Palestine, is premature.”
He expressed fears that a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state “might endanger peace by facilitating a hardening of the Palestinian position towards more intransigence and preventing lasting mutual recognition.”
“We must first resolve the question of Gaza under Hamas, which is an EU-designated terrorist organisation,” he added, while agreeing with EU foreign policy chief Mogherini that the 2002 Arab peace initiative” is a very good place to start the negotiations even a decade later.”
For the European United Left (GUE/NGL) group (52 MEPs), Irish Martina Anderson, one of the most virulent anti-Israel member in the parliament, declared : “The Israeli onslaught in Gaza this summer has shown that the status quo is not acceptable to the millions we represent who protested, and it should not be acceptable to anyone who genuinely supports a peaceful and just resolution.”
“Those who claim that recognition of the Palestinian State would negatively impact on future negotiations, ignore the reality that 20 years of negotiations have advanced little and have reinforced Israel’s occupation, which consistently undermines a two-state solution through settlement expansion and land confiscation.”
“Recognizing the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders will send a clear message that the international community and the EU are opposed to occupation and committed to a two-state solution involving two fully-fledged, Israel and Palestine.”
In the name of the Greens (Greens/EFA) group (50 MEPs), Hungarian MEP Tamas Meszerics, declared that “if we are worried that the European Parliament is becoming lame, we should be worried because we are making it lame, unless we vote immediately for the recognition of Palestine.”
Pavel Telicka, Czech Vice-Chairman of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE, 67 MEPs), said ‘’there will be no peace without a Palestinian State and there will be no Palestinian State without security for Israel.” “I hope that in December we will manage to come with a draft resolution and that colleagues from other groups will consider the draft on the table.”
Dutch MEP Bastiaan Belder from the ECR group emphasized that” the Palestinian Authority continues to refuse to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination regarding the state of Israel.” “This doesn’t help peace and the two-state solution to go forward.”
He urged the EU foreign policy chief to ask the Palestinians “why they want something and don’t give anything in return, there is no reciprocity”.
He also underlined the anti-Semitic attacks that followed this summer conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Marcel de Graaf, a Dutch member of the non-attached group (NI, 52 members) said the recent Palestinian terror attack in a synagogue in Jerusalem, in which five people praying were killed “shows the ruthless and violent character of the terror regime of the Palestinian Authority”.A Palestinian state doesn’t differ from the Islamic State, the Islamic caliphate. There is no fight for freedom among Palestinians, there is only violence by Fatah and Hamas in the name of a barbaric ideology.”
“A recognition of a Palestinian state will be celebrated by Hamas and Fatah as a recognition of their claim on all the Holy Land and as a recognition of their anti-Semitic objective of murdering all the Jews in Israel.”
Italian MEP Fulvio Martusciello from the EPP group, who chairs the European Parliament delegation for relations with Israel, started his intervention by mentioning the names of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Muhammad Hussein. “Four boys torn from life for a religious extremism that has brought the two sides not to talk anymore,” he said.
According to him, a motion to recognize a Palestinian state “does not help the peace process because we are not developing a real debate”. “We are not saying to Palestine and Israel which are their mutual rights and mutual duties. We should vote on this motion when we are fully aware of the concrete results of what means recognition of a State, which is not only the recognition of rights but also the recognition of duties,” he stressed.
Belgian Frederique Ries, of the Liberal group (ALDE) said she opposed a unilateral and unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state which “will inevitably freeze any ability of Palestinians to compromise”.
She said there is currently no Palestinian state. “There are two governments, two entities one of which is a terrorist movement.” “How will we accept to give a status to those who refuse to recognize the State of Israel?,” she asked.