The EU’s new foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told European media this week that she would like to see a Palestinian state by the time her five-year term is up.
“The important thing for me is not whether other states, European or not, recognize Palestine,” Mogherini said. “What would make me happy is if a Palestinian state existed at the end of my term.”
She issued her statement to the French daily newspaper Le Monde on Monday ahead of her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Friday and Saturday, when she is expected to meet with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Mogherini told Le Monde that the trip emphasized both the significance she placed on the need to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and her desire to increase Europe’s role in making that happen.
“European action can be decisive in this key moment, which is probably the most difficult moment the region has ever seen,” she said.
She told British newspaper The Guardian that “for the first time I believe... they need the European Union to be present in order to make steps forward at this time of their history. This might not have been the case in the past. But at this date I get the same messages from the Palestinian side, from the Israeli side and from the key Arab countries, exactly in the same terms – we do need at this time the European Union to move forward.”
Mogherini replaces Catherine Ashton, who completed her five-year term at the end of October.
“There is an entire generation growing up with the Palestinian issue. I mean, I’m 41, I studied politics at 16, and this was the main campaign when I was at school,” she told The Guardian.
Mogherini, who most recently served as Italy’s foreign minister, enters office at a particularly sensitive time in Israeli-European relations.
European nations are growing increasingly frustrated with the frozen peace process and Israel’s continued settlement activity, even as Israel continues to enjoy strong economic ties with the continent.
On Tuesday, some 309 European non-governmental organizations called on her to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement and sever diplomatic ties with Israel to protest its lack of compliance with international law.
“Through the continued existence of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the strengthening of the bilateral relations, the European Union and its member states are sending Israel the message that it does not have to abide by international law,” the NGOs wrote. “The EU is contributing to the climate of impunity and lack of accountability. By continuing to award Israel preferential access to European markets and access to EU programs and funding despite its persistent violations of international law, the EU is providing material support to Israel’s violations of international law and failing to uphold its own commitments under international law.”
Organizing the NGOs’ move was The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine.
On Monday night, Liberman chastised Europe for its hyper-focus on Israeli building over the Green Line, while it ignored the violence that raged in other countries in the region.
“Every day hundreds of people are killed and slaughtered [in countries surrounding] Israel. We are facing many challenges, more than all of the EU together,” he said in Jerusalem during a joint press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard.
Europe, he argued, “is disregarding this reality.”
“We are trying to survive in a very difficult reality, and instead of supporting Israel, you blame Israel every day,” Liberman said.
A reporter asked him if Israel planned to change its policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in light of European frustration over its settlement activity, noting that European officials and diplomats “are coming to give you advice. What they hope is that Israel, through this friendly advice, would change its policies.”
Liberman reacted to the question with anger, explaining that such European advice was “hypocritical.”
Europe is not offering the same type of “advice” to Pakistan and India, even though a comprehensive peace is needed there, he said.
In light of the complex situation in the region, with violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, Liberman said he expected Europe to be more “sensitive” to Israel’s “security concerns.”
In this tumultuous region, Israel is the only country where control reigns, in spite of constant friction and tension with the Palestinians, he added.
“Your [Europe’s] approach to Israel is exactly like the approach of Europe to Czechoslovakia in 1938,” he said, quoting an often used example of European failure to protect that country from Nazi Germany.
Israel, he stated, is the only democratic country in the Middle East.
“Every day you are coming with new pressure. It is a mistake. It is hypocritical.
At the end of the day, it will be counterproductive,” he said, adding that European support of unilateral Palestinian moves and imposed solutions to the peace process was particularly harmful.
He made similar comments about Palestinian unilateralism when he met with his Czech counterpart, Lubomir Zaoralek, on Tuesday evening.
On Monday night, Liberman charged that Sweden’s decision last week to recognize Palestine as a state outside of a negotiated peace agreement – making it the first Western European country to do so – was a “cynical” step to exploit an international situation for its own domestic purposes.
“This position will not advance peace. It will only distance a peaceful resolution and might even undermine all our efforts to achieve a strategic breakthrough in our relations with the Palestinians,” he said.
The Swedish government, he charged, took that step to appease the Muslim community in its country, which is “25 times larger than the Jewish one.”
It is also part of Sweden’s drive to receive the necessary support among UN nations, particularly the 57 Islamic states, to become a member state of the Security Council in the future, he said.
The Swedish government, he said, had not apprised Israel of Thursday’s decision, even though it had promised to alert him in advance.
“We agreed to inform each other about new steps, not to surprise each other,” he said. “With this understanding in mind, it was very, very disappointing and surprising to hear of Sweden’s recent decision.”
Still, Liberman ended his statement on a positive note.
“We hope at least to keep open lines and open dialogue between EU countries and the state of Israel,” he said.