Good evening, this morning we had a very important meeting between the Gulf Cooperation Council Member States and the European Union Member States to discuss about our cooperation, but also about the dramatic moments that we are living since last Saturday, when Hamas attacked Israel, with mass murders of civilians and kidnapping people.
After this meeting with our Arab friends and partners, I called a meeting of the [informal] Foreign Affairs Council. Some ministers were here in Oman, in Muscat, others from their capitals joined the meeting by videoconference. It was an important meeting in order to share our views about the situation, where we are, what is happening on the ground, the reactions, and also to inform the colleagues that were not here about the results of our meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
I can say that the ministers have endorsed our Communication with the Gulf [Cooperation Council]. The elements of this Communication have been retaken by the [EU] ministers once and again. All of them said what we have said in our Communication: condemnation of terrorist attack, condemnation of any attack against civilians; release of hostages; protection of civilians; respect of international humanitarian law – and it means no blockage of water, food, or electricity to the civil population in Gaza – to open humanitarian corridors; to facilitate people who have to escape the bombing from Gaza. They could leave the country through Egypt – because the Israeli border is closed.
Prepare the day after, it is the fourth time in my life that I witness a war in Gaza, the bombing of Gaza, and terrorist actions which have been retaliated by Israel on their right of defence. All ministers insisted on the idea that this has to be done according to international humanitarian law. But we have to think also about what will happen after.
For that we have to increase our cooperation with the Arab world. And we have to recalibrate and upgrade the initiative that we took some months ago together with the League of Arab States, with Egypt, with Jordan, with Saudi Arabia, in order to revive the Arab Peace Plan and to remind the world that the Palestinian problem still exists, that to make peace between Arab countries and Israel is good and necessary, but peace has also to be done with the Palestinians. Otherwise, the cycle of violence will restart again. So, we have to scale up and recalibrate our dynamic, that we wanted to create in New York, when 60 states attending the meeting declared they were in favour of the two-states solution. Because we do not know other solutions. So, we need to work to make it viable, although 30 years after the Camp David Agreement it looks further far away than ever.
In the meantime, we have to increase our humanitarian support to the victims of this tragedy, and we have to reach out to partners around the world. The international community has to use this critical moment – this could be an awakening moment – in order to re-engage with the problem of Palestine and Israel.
Israel has the right to defend [itself], but it has to be done according to the right of international law, humanitarian law. Some decisions are against this international law.
Today we had invited two ministers, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Israel [Eli Cohen] and Palestine [ Riyad al-Malki], unhappily, finally, the participation of these ministers could not be materialised. So, the [EU] ministers discussed among us, and the common denominator was a strong condemnation of terrorism, the inhumane treatment. As I said, they replicated the text of the agreement of the Communication that we did this morning with our colleagues from the Gulf Cooperation Council.
We discussed about how to continue our relationship with the Palestinian Authority. It was a clear distinction between Hamas, the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian Authority. We consider Hamas a terrorist organisation and what they have done shows – certainly – that they behave like this.
But the Palestinian Authority is another thing. The Palestinian Authority is our partner. We do not deal with Hamas, but yes, we support, we work, and we deal together with the Palestinian Authority. And not all the Palestinian people are terrorists. So, a collective punishment against all Palestinians will be unfair and unproductive. It will be against our interests, and against the interests of the peace.
So, the ministers discussed what to do and how to continue our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and supporting the Palestinian people. And it was an overwhelming majority – with maybe two or three exceptions – of the Member States stating clearly that the cooperation will the Palestinian Authority has to continue, and the funding has to continue, and the payments should not be interrupted.
Yes, the [European] Commission proposes a review, some Member States also want to do a review of how this support is being implemented, who is receiving it, in order to be sure that there is no link between our support and Hamas’ terrorist activities.
But this review should not be an excuse for delaying the implementation of our cooperation. It has to be done quickly, and I personally, with my services will push this review to be done inside the [European] Commission and in partnership with the Member States, in order to ensure that there is not this risk of leakage, and funding behind the door of any kind of terrorist activity. By the way, if – four years that we are in our official positions – we discover that we have been funding Hamas terrorist activities, someone will have to take a political responsibility for that. I do not believe it happens, but let’s check it. Some Member States are in a continuous process of verification on how the help has been provided to whom. So, it is not something extraordinary. What is extraordinary is the current circumstances that may be require a deep analysis. But Member States – many Member States – insisted on the idea that this can not to be an excuse for delaying our cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and the payments should not be impeded by these processes. Personally, with my services, we will take care of this review is being implemented in the shorter possible terms, because our will is to continue supporting the Palestinian Authority, something completely different from Hamas. It will be a terrible mistake, in this critical moment, to stop our support to the Palestinian Authority. It will be a mistake because it will be the best present that we could give to Hamas, and it will jeopardise our interest and our partnership with the Arab world.
Since yesterday’s announcement, it has been a wave of people asking about the reason for that, and asking the European Union to continue supporting – the humanitarian support, for sure, this is not under discussion. The Commissioner [for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management] Janez Lenarčič, this morning,, has clearly explained in the meeting, that the humanitarian support and the communication of the Commission states clearly that this is not under discussion.
What we are talking about is the cooperation to the development, cooperation for public services, financing of the activities of the United Nations organisations, who provide services to the Palestinians. We will check, we will review, Member States will do the same thing, but once again, the overwhelming majority of the Member States consider that we have to continue our support to the Palestinian Authority and the payments due should not be delayed in a moment in which this Authority is in a critical moment because the Palestinian people are also suffering.
All in all, this barbaric and terrorist attack, that has caused so many casualties, so many people being killed, that has provoked a reaction from the Israeli Defence Forces, that will also cause human suffering – we insist that this has to be done according to humanitarian law, but the fact is that, at the moment, the casualties in Gaza are also increasing. 150,000 people are internally displaced, and the humanitarian situation is dire. So, we will have to support more, not less. More.
This is, I think, the 95% of the positions expressed by Member States here, and this marks the way we have to work [along]. These are sad days, but it might be an occasion to put again on the table the quest for peace in order to avoid another cycle of violence.
Q. You said that Israel has the right to defend following international law. Do you think they have actually followed international law with all the things they have done to the Palestinians?
As I said, some of their actions, and the United Nations have already said that, like cutting water, cutting electricity and food to a mass of civilian people, is against international law. So yes, there are some actions that are not in accordance with international law. That is a critical moment in which the reaction to the barbaric attack perpetrated by Hamas provokes a situation, in which we have to remember that the right to defence, has to be done within the international law. Everybody has to abide to international humanitarian law, and the United Nations and myself, we have pointed out that in some cases, this is not the case.
Q. When is the next tranche of aid to the Palestinians?
The aid to the Palestinians flows through different lines, we have different projects, and different programs, we support different United Nations institutions, we support different NGOs’ activities. We are the bigger [financial] supporter of the Palestinian Authority in the world. It is about €600 million a year. There are several lines. I do not know exactly when the next payment will be done, but the important thing is that there is not going to be any structural delay of the cooperation and payments. We will review, but it will not be a suspension.
Q. What do the Ministers think of Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér] Várhelyi regarding the suspension of development aid?
I cannot say everything that has been said inside the [Informal Foreign Affairs] Council, because there is a certain discretion in our deliberations, not everything has to be public. But I think that I have already said that the overwhelming majority was against the idea or the proposal of suspending the payments to the Palestinian Authority. This is the thing that matters. If they consider that a review has to be done, we will do a review, but this does not mean that support to the Palestinian Authority has been suspended or the payments cancelled.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-247601