By Andrew Gray
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Israel’s plan to destroy Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza is not working and the European Union must pursue efforts to create a “two-state solution” despite Israeli opposition, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister had on Sunday reaffirmed a hard line against any Palestinian state as it would pose “an existential danger” to Israel. He said Israel would keep insisting on full security control over all territory west of the Jordan River, which would include Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Borrell spoke at the monthly gathering of EU foreign ministers, attended this time by counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the Arab League secretary-general. The talks will focus mainly on the consequences of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki were making separate appearances at the meeting, which was also taking stock of the war in Ukraine.
Alluding to Israel’s stated objective of annihilating Hamas in its devastating three-month-old war in the Gaza Strip, Borrell told reporters: “What are the other solutions they have in mind. Make all the Palestinians leave? Kill all of them?…The way they are destroying Hamas is not the way to do it. They are sealing the hate for generations.”
Borrell said he wanted to press ahead with international efforts to create a process that would lead to a Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel. The last talks to that end collapsed a decade ago amid mutual mistrust and intransigence.
Israel’s massive aerial and ground offensive in small, densely populated Gaza has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, according to Hamas-run enclave’s health authorities, flattened built-up areas and left most of its 2.3 million people homeless.
Israel has said the war could go on for “many months” and it would not rest until Hamas was eradicated, all Israeli hostages freed and the Gaza Strip posed no more security threat.
“We have engaged in over 30 years of process and look where that has got us,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters, referring to intermittent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks since the 1990s.
“A moment of truth is upon us. Do we allow a radical racist agenda to dictate the future or come together and say the path is clear, we want peace for everybody and a two-state solution is the only path, go ahead and implement it?”
In brief remarks to reporters, Israeli foreign minister Katz said he was in Brussels to discuss the issue of hostages held by Hamas and to reaffirm that Israel would dismantle Hamas and restore its national security. He took no questions.
Ahead of the Brussels meeting, the EU’s diplomatic service sent a discussion paper to its 27 member countries, suggesting a roadmap to peace in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the heart of the plan is a call for a “preparatory peace conference” to be organised by the EU, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the League of Arab States, with the United States and United Nations also invited to be conveners of the gathering.
The conference would go ahead even if Israelis or Palestinians declined to take part. But both parties would be consulted at every step of the talks as delegates sought to draw up a peace plan, the document suggests.
The internal document, seen by multiple news organisations including Reuters, makes clear one key goal of a peace plan should be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, “living side by side with Israel in peace and security”.
EU officials concede that Israeli officials and diplomats currently evince no interest in the so-called two-state solution but insist it is the only option for long-term peace.
The Palestinian side is deeply split over the approach, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank having negotiated with Israel, while the PA’s arch-rival Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday after a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden that Israel must retain security control over Gaza “to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty”.
The EU paper also suggests the peace conference participants should spell out “consequences” for both sides, depending on whether they accept or reject a plan approved by the gathering.
It does not say what these consequences might be, although the EU has some areas of potential leverage.
The bloc is a major provider of economic aid to Palestinians and has a broad cooperation agreement with Israel that includes a free-trade area. Some officials have privately suggested the latter arrangement could be used to influence Israel.
“All those who say they don’t want to hear about such a solution have not brought (up) any alternative,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.
(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer, Tassilo Hummel, Sudip Kar-Gupta; writing by Andrew Gray and John Irish; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Mark Heinrich)