European and Arab foreign ministers failed to jointly endorse the unilateral Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations during a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday, calling instead for a negotiated two-state solution.
But when it came to talking about obstacles to the peace process, the European and Arab ministers blamed only the West Bank settlements and Israel’s security barrier.
Palestinians had hoped the Cairo Declaration on the Middle East, which the European Union and the Arab League released after the meeting, would endorse their November 29 bid before the General Assembly to upgrade their UN status to that of a non-member state.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo that Arab League ministers had pledged to support the UN bid. He added that Egypt was lobbying other countries to stand behind the Palestinians.
Abbas spoke during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amru. While in Cairo, he also met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to discuss the matter.
The Palestinians already have the majority necessary to pass their resolution in the General Assembly, which would be viewed as de facto recognition of statehood. But they want to secure the support of Europe, which remains divided on the subject.
Israel believes that at least six EU nations will stand with the Palestinians: Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain, Belgium and Ireland. Separately China, which often supports the Palestinians at the UN, said Tuesday it would do so in this case as well.
In the Cairo Declaration, the EU and Arab League ministers called for the “removal of all obstacles that prevent an immediate resumption of negotiations between the parties as well as the resolution of all issues related [to] achieving a solution of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.”
But the portion addressing the Israeli- Palestinian conflict spoke only of Israeli actions as obstacles to peace.
“The ministers stressed their common position that Israeli settlements and the separation barrier built anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace,” the declaration stated.
Israel has blamed the failed peace process on the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate directly. It has argued that by turning unilaterally to the UN, the Palestinians are seeking to circumvent negotiations and separate statehood from the peace process, a move Jerusalem believes would endanger the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.
At the Cairo press conference, Abbas said, “Our hearts are open to the Americans and Israelis.”
He added that he had assured both countries, which oppose the bid, that “when we obtain the status of non-member in the UN, we would be prepared to discuss the peace negotiations, to talk about six or seven core issues.”
He also claimed that Hamas supported his UN efforts, and reiterated his commitment to the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel on the basis of UN Resolution 194.
Israeli settlement building is a unilateral act that violates agreements signed with the PLO, Abbas added.
“Why is going to the UN a unilateral act, when there are more than 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank (and east Jerusalem) in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention?” he asked.
Arab League ministers at the conference thanked the EU for taking a harsher stance on settlements by committing to implementing existing legislation and bilateral arrangements against settlement products.
EU and Arab ministers called on Israel to “take positive steps to enable sustainable economic development in the Palestinian territories, including in Area C and in the Gaza Strip.”
They reaffirmed that they “did not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by both parties, including with regard to Jerusalem.”
The declaration also expressed concern about settler violence but did not mention Palestinian violence or Hamas.
When it came to the topic of Palestinian-launched rockets into southern Israel, the EU and Arab ministers said only that they were concerned by the recent escalation in and around Gaza.
They agreed that they would continue to support Palestinian state-building but said they were worried by the PA’s financial crisis.
The declaration also affirmed its support for past initiatives, agreements and understandings, including the Arab Peace Initiative and the road map.
Although EU and Arab League officials often work together, the first gathering of this size took place only in 2008. This was the second such conference. A third is planned for 2014.