Foreign ministers of the European Union denounced on Monday morning the controversial remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejecting Palestinian statehood.
Over the weekend, Netanyahu doubled down on his opposition to establishing a Palestinian state after the war, defying the West’s push for a so-called two-state solution.
The Israeli premier’s remarks were criticised by the bloc’s foreign ministers, who, upon arriving at a high-stakes meeting in Brussels, reiterated that the creation of a Palestinian state must be part of future peace negotiations.
“Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements are worrying,” France’s foreign minister Stéphane Séjourné told reporters ahead of the meeting. “We need a Palestinian state with security guarantees for all.”
Ireland’s Micheál Martin described Netanyahu’s comments as “unacceptable,” urging the Israeli premier to “listen to the vast majority of the world who want peace and who want the two-state solution (…) the ultimate security guarantee to Israel and to Israeli citizens.”
“Palestinians can only live in dignity, in security, in freedom if Israel lives in security. That’s why the two-state solution is the only solution and those who don’t want to know about it have not yet put forward any other alternative,” said Germany’s Annalena Baerbock.
Her Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg, considered amongst the bloc’s staunchest allies of Israel, also described Netanyahu’s statements as “short-sighted,” defending the Palestinians’ right to self-determination as the “only solution.”
“Neither the Israelis will disappear into thin air, nor the Palestinians. They will both have to live side by side in this region,” Schallenberg said.
Sharing the displeasure of his colleagues, Latvia’s Krišjānis Kariņš went further by calling on Brussels to use its economic leverage to draw concessions from Israel.
“Europe’s largest leverage has always been its wallet,” Kariņš said. “The European Union has incredible support money going all around. We see that in internal EU politics, money can help to focus minds, and I think we should start thinking about this internationally.”
Also present at the meeting on Monday are the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Under discussion is a 10-step peace roadmap tabled by the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who aims to rally the EU and other key international actors around a common plan to halt hostilities in the Gaza Strip, establish an independent Palestinian state and bring long-term security in the region.
Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi also vehemently criticised the Israeli stance, which he described as a “radical racist agenda,” and backed the prospect of targeted sanctions to put pressure on Israel.
“Israel, with this current aggression of Gaza (…) is dooming the future of the region to more conflict and more war,” Safadi explained, adding that the world should take “measures” against Israel as the “party which is denying the right of the region to live in security.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who also attended the meeting, declined to comment in his remarks to reporters on his prime minister’s contentious rejection of the two-state solution and focused his short intervention on the release of hostages.
His Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki, similarly joined discussions with EU foreign ministers but the two are not expected to meet each other.
The high-stakes gathering comes as the death toll in the besieged Gaza Strip tops 25,000, according to its Hamas-run health ministry.
As fighting concentrates in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Younis, fears of regional spillover are also still alive, as intelligence suggests Iran-backed Houthi rebels seek more weapons to increase their attacks on commercial vessels navigating in the Red Sea.
Settler sanctions, Red Sea mission on agenda
The 27 foreign ministers are also expected to discuss EU plans to sanction Israeli settlers responsible for violent attacks in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, following the US and UK’s lead.
On Friday, the bloc established a new sanctions framework to directly target individuals supporting Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, designated as terrorist organisations by the EU.
It also sanctioned a further six individuals responsible for “providing financial support to Hamas,” who will now be subject to asset freezes and travel bans to the EU.
But Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavský said he was unaware that a proposal to sanction Israeli settlers was “seriously on the EU table.”
According to diplomatic sources, discussions on sanctioning Israeli settlers are less advanced and are unlikely to be approved separately.
Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin said “one or two countries” were opposing such sanctions and vowed to “push very strongly” to bring those countries on board.
“I’ll be talking to those who may have reservations to push strongly for an EU-wide sanctions policy in respect of what’s going on in the West Bank because that too is creating huge tensions,” Martin said.
Also on the agenda are EU plans to send a naval mission to patrol the Red Sea, where European vessels have been sabotaged by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in recent weeks.
According to a document seen by Euronews, the bloc is mulling sending at least three warships, which according to diplomatic sources are expected to come from Germany, Italy and France. Belgium has also pledged to send its own frigate as part of the EU mission, according to local media.