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Procedure : 2011/2828(RSP)
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Texts tabled :

B7-0529/2011

Debates :

PV 27/09/2011 - 13
CRE 27/09/2011 - 13

Votes :

PV 29/09/2011 - 10.2

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2011)0429

Debates
Tuesday, 27 September 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

13. Ministerial week’s activity at the UN General Assembly, in particular the Middle East peace process and North Africa (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the ministerial week’s activity at the United Nations General Assembly, in particular, the Middle East peace process and North Africa [2011/2828(RSP)].

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Madam President, this year’s UN General Assembly took place at a time of enormous change and growing tensions in the world. The combination of the economic crisis, the Arab Spring and the stalled Middle East peace process creates a strong mix. I believe that Europe has to respond to the challenges, both at home and in the world.

Today, at your request, I am focusing my remarks on two issues: the Middle East peace process and the Arab Spring. I did, however, just want to say to Honourable Members that during the week in New York, I met with Ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico – our strategic partners – and participated in many key events: on counter-terrorism, and a very important women’s event led by the President of Brazil.

I want to turn first to the Middle East peace process. As Honourable Members know, I visited the region seven times this year, each time with a single purpose: to promote a negotiated settlement of the conflict and to demonstrate the importance of Europe’s role. Over the summer period, I have worked with the Quartet envoys and with the Arab League, and have been in discussions with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority, together with Prime Minister Fayyad.

It is clear that these efforts have succeeded in demonstrating that the European Union does have a role; that we are a player and a payer, with our financial commitment matched by our political strength. For too long, we have been on the sidelines of the peace process. I have worked to achieve a greater role for Europe because I believe we are ideally placed as a friend of both parties.

I have said before that my vision for the European External Action Service is in a conflict prevention and resolution approach. We need to put that vision into practice. The dividends of peace are crucial for the future stability and prosperity of our neighbourhood.

Prior to arriving in New York, I participated in Cairo at the Arab League Follow-Up Committee discussions as we considered how best to support our objectives: two states; peace and security for both. Exploratory talks with the Palestinians, with the Israelis and with Jordanian leaders at the end of August led me to believe that the way forward was to put together what became known in New York as ‘the package’, various actions with the key objective of getting the Israelis and Palestinians together in talks.

During my September visit, it became clear that a Quartet statement and possible General Assembly resolution, in addition to what President Abbas was seeking to do, could be part of such a package.

I met with many Arab leaders and was impressed by the desire they stated to end the conflict and their wish to bring stability and normality against a backdrop of potential unrest sparked by lack of progress. I believe this is also understood by Israeli leaders, who are fearful of seeing their country facing great uncertainty in the region, and fear for their own security.

I have impressed upon all I have met that this is a time to seek peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the basis, as we know very well in this House, of a negotiated agreement that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state as a core element of that agreement, and end the occupation that is so detrimental to the development of both peoples.

The United Nations speeches of President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu certainly differed in rhetoric, but they both spoke about a desire for peace. Both speeches when you read them back focused on the need to go to negotiations and the wish to end the conflict.

In New York, we worked to achieve a Quartet response to this, immediately calling on both parties to enter into negotiations within four weeks, to agree on the issue of territory and security within three months, and to have made substantial progress within six months, with an agreement by the end of the year.

We do expect both sides to come forward and agree to negotiations. I believe that the European Union, including this Parliament, should play a central role in that process. We are well placed to do so, we are well respected in the region, and I believe we should have that commitment to stay closely involved, which, as I have made clear to all that I have met, I intend to do personally.

The Quartet has called for parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are really going to resume and, more importantly, be effective. It is therefore with deep regret that I have learnt today about the decision to advance in the plans for settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, with new housing units in Gilo. This plan should be reversed. Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and runs contrary to the Israeli stated commitment to resume negotiations.

We have also called for a donors’ conference to support further the impressive achievements of the Palestinian Authority’s state building and we will consult on additional steps that will quickly lead to greater independence and sovereignty for the Palestinians over their affairs. Facilitating Palestinian trade is essential to support state building and develop the economy. We propose concrete actions to open our markets to Palestinian agricultural and fishery products. I am glad that earlier today, the European Parliament voted in favour of this important agreement, for which I thank you.

Gaza, too, remains a priority. As I have always said, the crossings must be opened to allow the flow of humanitarian aid, imports, exports and people. We need to enable children to go to school and ordinary people, and the younger generation in particular, to get on with and build the lives that they would want to have. I will continue to work to allow the economic recovery of Gaza, while, of course, remaining committed to ensuring the security of the people of Israel.

My second issue today is the Arab Spring. Since the demonstrations in Tunisia, the Arab Spring has touched every Arab state in the region. It is an event of truly historic proportions that will shape not only the future of that region, but our own future too. It is a revolution based on values: on justice, dignity and freedom.

Europe’s response to these events will speak more than any form of rhetoric about our real commitment to democratic principles. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build deep and lasting democracy and prosperity in the Southern Mediterranean. Doing so will require vision, perseverance and a team effort from all of Europe’s institutions. I look at my partner in this effort, Stefan Füle, as I speak! We need to stay focused and committed. The scale of the challenge requires a joined-up EU response. What we do on trade and mobility is as important to the overall success of our strategy as what we do on election monitoring and supporting development.

Six months on, we still need to match words with delivery, and that is why I believe we need to re-energise the process. Last May, I set out here my vision for North Africa and the Middle East, a vision of deep-rooted democracy, and the benefits of development that will come to it. My priority is delivery. After the revolutions, we face that growing sense of impatience and uncertainty, so we have to translate good intentions into results and assistance on the ground.

The process of change was never going to be easy and never going to be fast. Real change takes time and will be measured in years, not seasons. Our response, which began with the communication of 8 March, is built on the need to acknowledge past mistakes and to listen without imposing. We are doing exactly that, and it requires perseverance and sustained commitment. Success should translate into what I have called ‘deep democracy’.

Political transformation will only succeed with economic opportunity. In the short term the uprisings were motivated by economic hardships, and have perhaps made those hardships even more severe in some places. There is no single template for our support, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. We have to develop tailor-made policies in response to the needs identified by each country.

Engagement with Arab partners, particularly with the Arab League, is essential. We are working ‘with them, not at them’, which is why I was a prime mover in the establishment of the Cairo Group. But we are in a new era where dialogue between governments is not enough. Success requires engagement with and between societies. The European Parliament is unique in what it can offer to those in search of democracy in Tunisia and beyond, particularly now that constituent assemblies will become the key institutional actors. Building and sustaining political parties is essential. The experience in this House is unmatched.

In New York, I participated in a high-level event on women in politics. I firmly believe that the continued central role of women in the Arab Spring is a key test of the strength and the extent of the changes. Women, together with the younger generation, were instrumental in the protests that toppled repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and they must remain central to shaping the reforms that follow. Deep and lasting democracy has to be for all people, not just one gender.

There was an encouraging signal on Sunday from perhaps an unexpected place, Saudi Arabia, when King Abdullah announced that women, as from next year, will be appointed to the Shura Council. They will also be able to vote and stand as candidates in elections in four years’ time. Many of us would have hoped to see women voting in this Thursday’s ballot, but this decision, if properly implemented, marks an initial step in advancing women’s participation in the political, economic and social life of that country.

The future of the Arab Spring depends on Tunisia and Egypt becoming success stories. What happens there as they move to elections and build a system of civil rights and democratic values will send messages everywhere else. Time is important: expectations are high, and we need to see visible results.

Tomorrow, I travel to Tunisia with Stefan; we have set up a new EU task force for that country; it is taking place at a key moment to show our support just three weeks ahead of the first truly democratic elections, on 23 October. An EU Election Observation Mission is already on the ground. Given the highly political nature of the event and the key contribution from the European Parliament to support countries in transition, I have invited a delegation from this House to join me in Tunis tomorrow. I am extremely grateful that members of this House have agreed to come with me and participate fully in the work of the task force. I hope that this will be a model which we will replicate again in the future.

The purpose of the task force is to focus on some of the key issues which will have a direct impact on the lives of Tunisians: business, investment and the economy; social development and democracy. It will be unique in that it brings together not only our Tunisian partners but also our international financial institutions and private sector representatives. It will be the occasion for strong political messages, with the opening of negotiations for a new privileged partnership which reflects our shared ambition. It will also be an opportunity to better coordinate European and international efforts to focus on faster, more effective support. This tailor-made approach, based on decentralised and coordinated use of all our instruments, will then be used with other countries in transition to better identify needs and accelerate support.

In Egypt, where we expect the interim authorities will soon confirm the date of elections, it is urgent that the ruling military council continues to engage with political representatives and civil society to get a new electoral law for the new democratic era. Egyptian authorities have declined European and other international offers of involvement in direct election observation, but we will be working with them on other urgent measures, through the Instrument for Stability, to enhance the capacity of Egypt’s High Electoral Commission and help judges and poll workers to manage and effectively oversee these first free, fair and democratic elections, as well as laying the basis for the organisation of future elections.

I know that many in this House are personally involved in strengthening the work of political parties in Egypt and I will, if I may, pay tribute to that work. I had great pleasure in meeting people who are engaged directly and I think it is well understood in Egypt how much this House is engaging there.

In some other countries in the region, the authorities have sought to respond to calls for greater freedoms by intensifying their reform processes, some of which were already under way before the Arab Spring. In Morocco, a new Constitution has been developed and approved overwhelmingly. This promises increased separation of powers and greater public accountability as well as improved respect for human rights. These are important, but they now need fast and sustained implementation.

In Jordan, the Lower House endorsed 41 constitutional amendments, which included the establishment of a constitutional court and the creation of an independent commission overseeing elections. The new election laws and the political parties’ law will be debated by their Parliament in October. We urge them to continue with their reform, and we pay tribute to the work which is going on to try and achieve that within Jordan.

In the case of both Morocco and Jordan, we will continue to build on the Advanced Status. In Morocco, we are developing a new action plan focusing on the reform agenda. We will shortly launch a mobility partnership, and we will step up our financial and technical cooperation. I look to his House to help play its part in supporting the moves which are going on in both those countries.

We want to accelerate ongoing trade negotiations and prepare mandates for deep and comprehensive free trade agreements in Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. Approval by Parliament to the EU-Morocco Agreement on Liberalisation Measures on Agricultural Products, Fish and Fishery Products will send a signal of our desire to deepen our relationship in practical ways to the benefit of their people.

We recognise today that fighting continues in Sirte, Bani Walid and a few other pockets of resistance, but Libya is transitioning fast from a crisis to the creation of a democracy. Last week in New York, I took part in the Friends of Libya meeting, where we were able to deliver a message of strong, continuing commitment. President Jalil has pledged to build a society based on tolerance and reconciliation and to uphold the principles of human rights.

The National Transitional Council and the international community also have to establish control over the large stock of weapons that the previous regime had amassed, to prevent them falling into the wrong hands. All this and more is essential for their transition.

In addition to our office in Benghazi, our new office in Tripoli is working closely with other partners under the coordination of the UN to determine the needs there. We know that Libya is a rich country, but we also know that they need support to develop their economy back to where it was; to help bring back the workforce which left Libya at the time of the crisis; to ensure that they are able to develop transparent ways of dealing with the resources that they will be receiving and the return of assets; to make sure that they have support in the security sector and to make sure that they are able to develop the links that they want to see, for example, the trade links they want to develop further with Europe, and the links which can help them develop a civil society which deserves that name. We are preparing projects to support civil society and women in Libya in particular.

May I also take note of Anna Gomes’ excellent suggestions to organise a visit of Libyan officials and civil society to the upcoming Spanish elections.

In Syria and Yemen, we face crisis situations. I do not have to tell any honourable Member here of the brutal regime in Syria that remains unwilling to listen to its people and to change. We are pursuing our double-track approach by stepping up measures designed to undermine the regime’s support and, internationally, to achieve further isolation of the Syrian leadership. We have made many rounds of sanctions, and I was delighted to see in the Financial Times this morning the recognition that those sanctions are having an effect. But we are very clear in our message to the people of Syria, and during August, all 27 Member States joined in to send a very strong message that it was time that President Assad stood aside and enabled the people of Syria to move forward.

Finally, Madam President, a word about Yemen. We have been strongly supporting the work of the Gulf Cooperation Council. You know that the unexpected return on Friday of President Saleh led to a very coordinated response out of New York from the GCC, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States and now the Security Council, all calling for violence to stop and for a rapid and concrete transfer of power. Nobody will be satisfied with another open-ended promise.

Honourable Members, I have tried to cover so much in this short presentation of the work which we are doing and the understanding that we have for the region. I look forward very much to your resolution and I continue to thank you for the support and advice that you have given as we move forward with what, I believe, is an increasingly clear strategy in uncertain times.

We hope for real and sustained progress both in Israel and Palestine, across North Africa and the wider Middle East. Further steps were taken in New York last week. We have to work together and continue to engage with all parties to make sure that we do have real cause for celebration when the General Assembly meets next September.

 
  
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  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, on behalf of the PPE Group.(ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Commissioner, a balanced approach to the problem should be based on three premises: the State of Israel’s legitimate desire for security, the frustration of the Palestinian people and the blockage in the peace process.

All of this, Baroness Ashton, comes at a time when international attention is focused on the Arab Spring, at a time when the United States is hampered by its electoral commitments, at a time when the government of Israel is divided and has almost no room for manoeuvre and when Palestinian radicals are increasingly showing their pleasure with the lack of results.

Given this situation, Baroness Ashton, the question is very simple: what can we do as the European Union? In this context, I would like to tell you that Parliament, which has criticised you so many times – and I have been the first to do so – must acknowledge your efforts to seek solutions in Cairo, Ramallah, Jerusalem, New York and Washington, and your calls for the European Union to speak with one voice.

In politics, Madam President, whatever is impossible is wrong. In the face of the United States’ announced veto in the Security Council, the President of France, as in the Georgia crisis in 2008 and this year in Libya, has proposed a compromise solution, which is the Vatican solution.

Baroness Ashton, what view should we take of this initiative? Do you think it can be supported by the Member States? What can the European Union do to make the Quartet’s solution acceptable to the Palestinians?

Madam President, if the European Union wants to be relevant and not decline in significance on the international stage, it must take a step forwards. It must move in the right direction and rouse itself from its lethargy.

I am not saying this because of you, Baroness Ashton. You have done a lot and you have done it well, but you must propose solutions that are concrete, tangible, with defined costs and a precise timetable.

You need to do this – and this is the hard part – without impinging on or harming the dignity of either side, while also recognising the inalienable rights that will enable one side to live in peace and security and the others to form their own state.

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Baroness Ashton, allow me to return to what happened at the General Assembly in New York. You only touched briefly on these matters and I would simply like to tell you today that my group supports President Abbas’s legitimate request to the United Nations (UN). It is a very simple statement.

(Applause)

Having said that, I have more or less said everything. We also regret that it has taken so long for this request to be made to the UN and we hope that Europe will finally succeed in speaking clearly and with one voice on this difficult subject.

Lady Ashton, you should not suppose that the simple phrase ‘We support President Abbas’s request’ met with instant acceptance within the political groups. There were fears of a misunderstanding with Israel, whose security has always been a must for us. Fears, too, that the Palestinian initiative might fail in the Security Council, potentially resulting in an outbreak of street violence in the Arab countries and perhaps economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, or pressure from the United States. All of which made this a difficult decision.

Yet what eventually carried the day was a kind of honesty and political courage on the part of MEPs. Yes, the Palestinians are entitled to membership. Sixty-three years after the same General Assembly recognised the State of Israel, 12 years after the Berlin Declaration promised to recognise the Palestinian state in due course, the time has come. The time has come to support those in Palestine who have opted for peace, negotiation and the creation of viable institutions. The time has come because Palestine is being whittled away. It is no longer the Palestine defined in 1947, nor in the Oslo Accords in 1993. It has even changed in the last few years. The Israeli Government’s policy of presenting faits accomplis, with settlements, the usurpation of agricultural land, the wall – all of this is consuming Palestine from within. There is no time to waste.

This very day, the Israeli Government has decided to build 1 100 housing units in Gilo, which will soon render a two-state solution impossible. The time has come. The Arab Spring has given rise to so much hope that it would be unthinkable for Europe to tell the Palestinians: ‘This spring is not for you. Hold on. In due time, as it says in the Berlin Declaration, your time will come’. Palestinians are dying today having never known anything but occupation. For all these reasons, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament is today unreservedly supporting Mahmoud Abbas’s request to the UN. Let their courage – some have lived through troubled times – let their courage inspire you, Baroness Ashton, when you defend our position to the European governments.

There are times when European values and commitments have to take precedence.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(NL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Palestinian Authority has caused a real stir with it candidature for full membership of the United Nations, as fine words no longer suffice. In all likelihood, all the Member States of the UN, including, of course, the Member States of the European Union, will have to determine their position on this issue in the near future, namely within a few weeks.

The United States has already said that it will use its veto in the Security Council. Israel is labelling this initiative a unilateral act that breaches the Oslo Accords. When it comes to unilateral initiatives, I would like to observe, on behalf of my entire group, that the building of settlements in occupied territories, the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian houses and the construction of a wall on Palestinian territory are also unilateral acts, and acts that, furthermore, contravene international law.

(Applause)

However, I am not here to point the finger. On behalf of my group, Baroness Ashton, I call on you and all the Member States to work in concert to ensure, through contact and discussions, that, by the end of the current session of the UN General Assembly at the latest, the Palestinians are able to obtain a better – in fact, the best possible – status within that organisation. We, too, believe that the Palestinians have a right to their own state. We also support you in your efforts to bring about a lasting peace accord between Israel and Palestine by the end of next year. The internationally accepted parameters of such an accord are well known: two states living side by side in peace, that recognise each other’s right to exist based on the 1967 borders, which can only be altered on the basis of a mutual accord, and with Jerusalem as the shared capital. There is also a need for a humane resolution to be found to the question of the refugees.

If this were not such a serious subject, I would point out at this juncture that the Belgian Members of this House, me included, are well aware that knowing the parameters of a problem is far from the same thing as being able to find easy solutions to it. Time is pressing, however. The changed political circumstances in various countries in the Middle East necessitate a rapid solution, and that is without even going into the human suffering that has been plaguing Israel and Palestine for so long. High Representative, we Belgians are working hard on finding a solution, and I hope that you, too, will succeed in that vein. We wish you every success.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, the ECR Group is indeed in favour of a negotiated two-state Israel-Palestine solution, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with land for peace swaps, and agreed on by both parties under the Quartet principles. President Abbas’s unilateral bid before the UN General Assembly is rushed and will do nothing to change the situation on the ground. A lasting solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, which must, for its own part, stop the expansion of settlements on occupied territories. Moreover, statehood cannot be safely considered while Palestinian Gaza is governed by an EU-banned terrorist organisation, Hamas. It must also be remembered that Palestine is largely dependent on foreign aid, not only from the US and the European Union, but also from Israel, from whom it receives water and electricity, as well as assistance in collecting taxes.

Advocating unilaterally a recognised Palestinian Authority state without the UN Security Council’s approval, and only that of the General Assembly’s, risks sanctions from the US and Israel. The Israeli Prime Minister has, to his credit, now, without any preconditions, called for a return to direct talks. The ideal next step would be for the Palestinians, via the Palestinian Authority Government, to do likewise in order to achieve their state.

 
  
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  Daniel Cohn-Bendit, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, we need to be clear today. For many Palestinians – and I have just come back from visiting Ramallah and the Palestinian universities – the two-state solution is no longer on the agenda. The Israelis are not willing to accept it. Let us not delude ourselves: Israel is making a two-state solution increasingly impossible.

We are right to argue for two States, but we need to appreciate the Palestinians’ frustration. There is one thing that I do not understand. Like the Socialists, we support President Abbas’s request to the United Nations (UN). The words that he used: ‘There is not a State too many in the Middle East, but there is one State missing,’ imply that the State of Israel is legitimate but that a Palestinian state is needed. This is a wording that we can all sign up to. What I fail to understand, Baroness Ashton, is why you have come here to say that you regret Israel’s announcement today that it will be building a further 1 100 housing units. You could at least condemn that decision. Do not express regret. Say that it is not possible. Make that clear.

(Applause)

Then, even though we are in favour of immediate recognition for the Palestinian state, you should at least tell the Israelis that if they continue to build, you will push for the European States to agree to recognise the Palestinian state forthwith. Give them a taste of their own medicine. They say that they want to negotiate, but at the same time they are continuing the occupation. Take political action, Lady Ashton. Politics is not a prayer and a hope.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in Israel today who are opposed to Mr Netanyahu’s policy. The European Union, and we here today, need to be honest. Mr Tannock, let us not be cynical.

The State of Israel was unilaterally recognised by the UN in 1947, which was only right. It was right. There were no negotiations with the Arab nations. It was the right thing to do. Mr Tannock, you tell us that Israel is supporting the Palestinians by supplying water. In reality, Israel is stealing Palestinian water and selling it back to them. Do you call that support? Let us move away from this cynical attitude in Europe.

If, today, we do not all stand and say to the Israelis: ‘You understand peace to mean peace for Israel, to mean that Israel can have a place in the Middle East and even dream of a United States of the Middle East where everyone has their place’, then Israel will not understand that it is in its best interest to have a Palestinian state. Baroness Ashton, you need to tell the Israelis that they will not find other Palestinian representatives like Mr Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and that although Hamas is currently opposed to Mr Abbas’s initiative, that is because the party knows that this initiative is the only way to have two states in the Middle East.

I think that your position is too weak. You have not said at any point how you will compel the Israelis to negotiate. This is an implausible fiction. They say that they want unconditional negotiations because, on the ground, the conditions are being changed, the occupation is continuing. Tell the Israelis that either they stop the settlements straight away – stop the colonisation and construction – or the European Union will support recognition for the Palestinian state now, at the 66th meeting of the United Nations.

If you do not do this, Baroness Ashton, you will find that there will not be any negotiations in six months’ time. A year down the line, we will be in the same position as we are now. You will come back here and say: ‘The Israelis and Palestinians need to understand that negotiation is the only way to achieve peace’. They will achieve peace, Lady Ashton, if we tell the Israelis that when it comes to defending the State of Israel, they have gone too far and enough is enough. If we take that tone with them, you will find that things will change.

 
  
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  Georgios Toussas, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(EL) Madam President, the positions, policy, practices and action in general of the United States, the European Union and, in particular, certain Member States of the European Union, are strengthening Israeli aggression and fly in the face of the right and longing of the Palestinian people, the will of the people for the immediate recognition of an independent Palestinian state which belongs to the United Nations.

The European Union and the governments of its Member States, at this critical stage in the fight by the Palestinian people, are being judged by their actions, not by their hypocritical pronouncements, evasiveness and wishful thinking. They are being judged for putting the offender and the victim on an equal footing and for reinforcing Israeli intransigence. We call on the peoples of the area and on the peoples of the world in general to take a decisive stand against the games being played at the United Nations, to fight to eliminate the pressure being exerted on the Palestinian people by the US, the European Union and Israel and their imperialist allies, to demand that the governments take up a clear position in their stand and vote in the Security Council and at the UN General Assembly in favour of the immediate and unconditional recognition of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem which is a full member of the UN.

We resolutely support the position in favour of the immediate departure of Israeli occupying forces from all Palestinian territories, an immediate halt to the settlements and the departure of settlers, and the immediate recognition of an independent Palestinian Member State of the UN.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. (NL) Madam President, following the Palestinian propaganda offensive in the General Assembly of the United Nations last week, a return to the harsh reality of Israeli-Palestinian relations is inevitable. One manifestation of that reality is a fundamental lack of a credible Palestinian peace partner for the Jewish state of Israel.

This is, first and foremost, evidenced by the fact that Mahmoud Abbas did not speak for Hamas in New York last Friday, nor did he act on Hamas’s behalf when submitting the Palestinian application for UN membership. It would appear that, despite the so-called reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, political relations between the two parties are not going smoothly. While the European Union is currently showing commitment, in particular, to democratisation and fair elections in the Arab world, what we are seeing on the west bank of the Jordan is precisely the opposite. What legitimacy does the Palestinian Authority still have after the third successive postponement of presidential, parliamentary and local elections?

The fundamental reason for Israel’s lack of confidence in Mahmoud Abbas as a peace partner is, above all, his systematic refusal to publicly implement the two-state solution of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one. Now, that is a rightful demand which has been made of Mr Abbas by my government, the government of the Netherlands, an EU Member State that I am proud of.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Madam President, we are aware of the work that the High Representative has done over the past number of weeks in the Middle East and we are grateful, High Representative, for the efforts that you have expended. You do not dwell too much on the differences that were very apparent at the UN in the two speeches from President Abbas and Mr Netanyahu, but perhaps you should not also dwell on the differences in the Quartet, with the Quartet envoy quoted in the British press last week as describing the Palestinian move as being deeply provocative. I think we all welcome your insistence on a negotiated settlement, but I would like you to explain to this House just a little further how you see that actually coming about.

Hamas has opposed the UN move with almost a ‘too little, too late’ attitude. I would like you to explain to this House, and to give guarantees to this House, that the proposed cooperation between Abbas and the Hamas movement will not be translated into their presence at negotiations, given that Hamas is a terrorist movement, dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the genocide of Israeli citizens.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Krisztina Morvai (NI). – With all due personal respect for you, Ms Dodds, would you kindly confirm that this is not the position of the non-attached Members as such, but only your personal position?

I am a non-attached Member myself and I do not consider Hamas a terrorist organisation. I am for a free and independent state of Palestine on the basis of human rights and self-determination of people. What is more, as a non-attached Member, I also stand for the suspension of the association agreements between the EU and Israel while the mass human rights violations by Israel against Palestine continue.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Madam President, on a point-of-order as well as answering the blue-card question, can you confirm to this House that a blue card is a matter of asking a question to another Member and not a matter of making a political speech and putting forward one’s own view? I am very happy to confirm to this House that I do not speak for any non-attached Member other than myself. I am an independent Member in this House. I firmly stand for peace, democracy and absolute abhorrence of terrorist organisations like Hamas.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Chris Davies (ALDE). – Madam President, I am sure that, in condemning terrorist organisations, the honourable Member will also want to condemn the Stern Gang. This was a terrorist organisation in the 1940s, fighting against British troops, and whose leader killed British troops. It was the number one terrorist organisation as far as the British Government was concerned. Its leader went on to become Prime Minister of Israel. Can we just remember that, however much we may deplore terrorist organisations, if we want to make peace, we sometimes have to talk with those who do not necessarily share all our views?

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – I come from Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, we have had 30 years of a terrorist campaign. We have had a terror organisation that has blown up people, killed people, including children, and gone into hospitals and tried to shoot people. We have had all of those things in Northern Ireland and, yet, some of those people who previously supported that terror organisation and that terrorist campaign find themselves in government. The reason that they were able to take part, and my party was able to take part in any kind of negotiation with those people, was the insistence that they give up terrorism and that they commit to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

The world has changed. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand in this House and pretend that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. Terrorist organisations should not be negotiated with.

 
  
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  Ioannis Kasoulides (PPE). – Madam President, the official Palestinian demand for full membership of the United Nations will be examined in the weeks to come and negotiations will take place between members of the Security Council. Full membership status will be vetoed by the United States. If matters come to that point, the Palestinians will address themselves to the General Assembly.

The Quartet has called for the resumption of direct talks on the Middle East process, to last twelve months, the first three to be devoted to borders and security. From the above, our previous position that the issue is not a clear ‘yes’ or a clear ‘no’ to the Palestinian request is the wisest approach.

Certain principles must guide the position of Parliament: the European Union must reach a unanimous position on the developments and play an important role in the negotiations that follow; any outcome must have due regard for the dignity of both sides; it must be taken into account that the status quo is unacceptable and all efforts should be towards the resumption of direct peace negotiations, as called for by the Quartet; we oppose any unilateral actions including new facts on the ground or the expansion of settlements.

It would be wrong at the present stage for our resolution to pre-empt the outcome of these diplomatic efforts. Any partisan approach endangers the negotiating process and weakens the possibility of the catalytic role to be played by the European Union.

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda (S&D).(DE) Madam President, much has been said here about organisations, terrorism and other things. However, sometimes the Members of this House should consider the people who are affected by political decisions. Just this once, I would like to quote from literature. I do not know which of you has read the book by Amos Oz entitled ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’. In this book, Amos Oz describes a scene from the year 1947 that moved me very much. The vote was being held in the United Nations in November 1947 and all of the people of Israel were listening in on the radio – there was no television at the time – to see how the decision would go. He describes the jubilation that broke out throughout Israel when the decision was taken and the majority of votes were in favour of Israel. Then Amos Oz corrects himself and writes: actually not throughout Israel, but just in the Jewish part of Israel. So what about the others?

The year 1947 has already been mentioned here. I constantly find myself asking: how can anyone justify the fact that the state of Israel was founded in 1947 – thank God! – and yet we still do not have a state of Palestine, even though the decision at the time was that two states should be founded? Is there anyone in this House who would deny the Palestinians the joy that the Israelis rightly experienced in 1947? I fail to understand this to this very day. This is not a question of propaganda, or terrorism, it is a matter of people’s lives. Sometimes people ask what is the benefit of statehood? The Jews in the Israeli state, who received the news of the United Nations vote with such jubilation, benefited a great deal from this decision.

All I have to say to you, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, is that I would like to see the Palestinians having an opportunity to experience the same joy, preferably as quickly as possible: they also deserve a state of their own after many decades of struggle and strife. The Palestinians have a right to a state of their own, just as Jews have a right to the state of Israel. This should be our common objective.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE).(DE) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, some excellent work has been done in a difficult field. I am a little surprised by Mr Cohn-Bendit, who spent five minutes berating you, describing your role as that of a blackmailer and calling on you to resolve the problems immediately, before leaving the Chamber. He could at least have waited to hear what you had to say in reply.

The fact is that some excellent work has been done in this field. There is one thing that we must not forget: what were our fears? We were afraid that the European Union would once again create an impression that our Member States would not pull together, just as we failed to act cohesively in the war in Iraq or as we are doing now in Libya. Germany and France had already made their positions clear in individual statements.

On the contrary, the European Union is pulling together. You have earned the trust of both sides in the region, the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a diplomatic feat in itself and it is true to say that we can only play a constructive role through trust. It is also true that we, the European Union, can only play a constructive role if our Member States are united. Both of these points are on a good footing thanks to your work. Overall, you have done a good job.

There are three more important things I would like to mention: we want a united European Union – you are making good progress in this direction. As Parliament stated in its resolution, we want a negotiated solution in the United Nations. We do not want a vote with winners and losers. We regard this as vitally important.

Thirdly, we must have a timetable. We say that the Palestinians should get their upgrade during the 66th General Assembly, in other words, they must be recognised.

We should allow the Palestinians this moment of joy, Mr Swoboda. However, I should say, whenever reference is made to 1947, that immediately afterwards, in 1948, Israel found itself under attack from all its Arab neighbours. If we achieve recognition for Palestine as a peaceful state and secure borders for the state of Israel, then this will be a reason to celebrate for the Palestinians, for the Israelis and for us here in Europe who played a constructive role, thanks to your efforts.

 
  
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  Peter van Dalen (ECR). (NL) Madam Ashton, in my opinion, the unilateral step made by Mr Abbas last week was not that clever, nor did the Middle East quartet urge him to refrain from it without reason. That unilateral step will not bring us any closer to peace. Quite the opposite. We should not be heading in that direction just as a tactic to put pressure on each other.

What is essential, though, is that we return to the negotiating table without delay, which is what you have rightly been working towards. We support you in those efforts. Israel has demonstrated to you that it is going to take the negotiations seriously. Mr Lieberman has said that he wants to return to the table to resume the talks. I call upon you to make that happen as early as tomorrow! We have to get back to the negotiating table; it is only there that we can make agreements and achieve peace and real results. Peace is vitally important for the parties in the Middle East and for the world as a whole. I would like to hear from you what the chances are of a speedy return to negotiations.

 
  
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  Jill Evans (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, as the UN considers Palestine’s application for full state membership, I would join the many others across Europe and beyond in urging the EU and the EU Member States to support the Palestinian request.

Talks so far have failed. Of course, peace can only be achieved through negotiation. The recognition of the state of Palestine could lead to a freeze on the building of illegal settlements on the West Bank. It could lead to the end of the occupation. That is the way to ensure that further talks take place and that a two-state solution will be possible in the future. I agree with Mr Cohn-Bendit on the need for a stronger response to new settlement building.

The Palestinians have the right to be recognised as a state and that means that they would have full rights to participate in all international agreements and treaties. Amnesty International has raised concerns that the EU is promoting a compromise which would prevent recourse to the International Criminal Court. This would undermine both the ICC’s credibility and the principle of equal access to justice and reparation for all people. I hope that this is not the case and I would like to ask Baroness Ashton for her response on this.

 
  
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  Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL) . – (FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, there is one fact that has not been mentioned: the majority of the Israeli people, the majority of Palestinians and the majority of representatives from the states of the world support Mahmoud Abbas’s proposal that Palestine should become the 194th member of the United Nations.

Can our Parliament and you yourself, Baroness Ashton, continue to congratulate ourselves here in the calm and the warm, on what is being called the Arab Spring and yet go on prevaricating over recognising the Palestinian state? Any further prevarication is essentially playing for time to crush the very idea of a Palestinian state.

This time, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted. Those here who are calling this afternoon for the immediate resumption of direct negotiations are trying to conceal the fact that this situation has gone on for decades with no resolution, that the United States is the only one calling the shots, and that both the context and the terminology used are totally biased.

In fact, all discussions about Palestine refer only to occupied territories. This implies that the territories could be discussed and disputed for ever and that it is up to the occupied to prove that they have a right to be there. This terminology is very different to ‘occupied country’.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an extremely important political time, an historic moment, even. A clear and unambiguous resolution from our Parliament in support of Mahmoud Abbas’s proposal would send a clear and unambiguous signal.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, I truly appreciate your action and initiatives within the framework of your duties in connection with this issue. We welcome the Arab Spring, in so far as it aims to create conditions for democratisation, the restoration of respect and human rights and commonly acceptable ideas in general. However, I fear that the main issue that is keeping the situation in the Middle East on the boil is progress in relations between Iran and the West, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Islamic fundamentalism, the fundamentalism which Turkish neo-Ottomanism is trying to exploit. We support ideas and I consider that the Palestinians’ request should be evaluated within the framework of the UN in good faith and with consideration for both sides. In any event, we in the West must all understand that, as a problem, the Middle East needs a solution.

 
  
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  Elmar Brok (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, in the past, we have often criticised Baroness Ashton, the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission. I must say that I support and applaud what has been achieved with the Quartet under her leadership following the failure of the US to offer an effective response. We should try to support these achievements. Admittedly, there are differing opinions in this House regarding the desired final outcome. I do believe that we agree on one thing, however: we need a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state and a secure Jewish state of Israel.

We need movement on this question. I believe that everyone is trying to get things moving again, in order to get out of this stressful situation. I do not yet know whether this will work. However, if we were now to have a unilateral resolution, something that is not going to happen, leaving us with just a motion, because there is no majority in the Security Council and a veto would have to be overcome, then we would have reached a new deadlock that permits no further negotiation. There can be no resolution for any side; this would only be a short-term success for President Abbas, and would lead to further radicalisation. In the context of the Arab Spring in particular, this would put the US and others, including Member States of the European Union, in a difficult position. That is why I believe that the attempt to implement the proposals of the Quartet in relation to peace talks with a fixed schedule, clear conditions and clear objectives is the best approach and should receive our support. I also believe that we should adopt the path proposed by the Quartet in order to combine peace and security. In my opinion, this means that neither side should carry out violent actions, develop settlements or contribute in any way to conditions that make a resolution impossible. For this reason, Baroness Ashton, we wish you every success in the coming days.

 
  
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  Kristian Vigenin (S&D).(BG) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, today we are having another debate about the situation in the Middle East. It certainly will not be the last, but I believe that we are moving ever closer towards the solutions which will bring about peaceful coexistence between two peoples, two independent and equal states.

The request submitted by Palestine to be admitted as a full member of the UN is a step which entails great risks, but also opens up opportunities. I am sure that President Abbas would not have taken this step if he was not convinced that all the other moves and methods have been exhausted. I personally view this as a clear cry for help and no one can fail to hear this cry.

At a time when the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East are fighting for democracy and a better future for their countries, the Palestinians still do not have their own state. This, in itself, is enough to stir up discontent and new signs of radicalisation in the region.

I realise what a difficult position the international community is in. However, we should also accept this as a test of our ability to demonstrate determination and synergy. I would like to see the European Union’s Member States adopt a united stance in supporting the request submitted on behalf of the Palestinian people. The quicker we reach this position, the easier it will be for us to play a key role in the ensuing process.

In saying this, I do not want in any way for us to close our eyes to the serious risks posed to Israel’s security. However, I believe that inaction and postponing the negotiations will be increasingly costly to Israel itself.

Baroness Ashton, I would like you to share with us your view as to what the best possible future scenario is. You may want to share with us your ideas about how the European Parliament can help you achieve this.

 
  
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  Frédérique Ries (ALDE).(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, the Palestinian people deserve formal recognition for their state at long last. I think that everyone in the Chamber is more or less agreed on the principle of supporting this legitimate demand. I would even go so far as to say that I can understand Mahmoud Abbas’s determination to take this to the bitter end. By getting his foot in the door of the Security Council, he has put the advocates of the peace process in an awkward position. Instead of a status quo, the United States, the Quartet and European Union are faced with an uncompromising yet almost inevitable request in the light of the current stalemate in the negotiations and the current Israeli Government’s reticence, to put it mildly.

Having said that, I am wholeheartedly convinced that after 60 years of conflict, there can be no short cut to peace now: peace will have to be negotiated between those same parties that have so long disputed the same land.

Ten years ago, the Israeli Education Minister proposed including poems by Mahmoud Darwich in the Israeli school curriculum to ensure that future generations – who are now the current generation – would be able to see through the other’s eyes. It is now up to them to share their promised land in accordance with the timetable and to make urgent use of the window of opportunity as described in paragraph 2 of our resolution.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Graham Watson (ALDE). – Madam President, Mrs Ries spoke about a peace being negotiated. I wonder what her view would be, and indeed what the view of the High Representative would be, on those negotiations, including any kind of absolvement from the International Criminal Court for any crimes that might have been committed. If it is true, as Amnesty International is suggesting, that there is some idea that any negotiated peace might include excluding the International Criminal Court from any role in the future, then I think the European Union should rethink its position. I would be interested to know Mrs Ries’ position on that, and also the High Representative’s position when she replies.

 
  
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  Frédérique Ries (ALDE).(FR) I do apologise, but I made this point about the blue-card questions last time. I do not think that they are intended to be used for personal cross-examinations, which tends to be the case. I think that it is rather sad that this is now happening within the same political groups and that the question that has just been asked does not relate to my comments, which I feel were a model of moderation, not to mention indicative of a desire to find compromises and make progress, and should have been applauded.

I sometimes wonder whether, if we were to send some speakers from Parliament in person to negotiate in these countries, progress might be a little faster than it is at present. I have my doubts. So I do apologise, but I do not feel that the issue relates to the comments that I made. What is more, I am not certain that Baroness Ashton will want to respond to this question either.

 
  
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  Geoffrey Van Orden (ECR). – Madam President, I suppose the question for us is really what can the EU contribute usefully to developments in the Middle East? Baroness Ashton, you have expressed your view on how important the role of the EU has been, but I am more interested in practical results. On this I agree with what Mr Salafranca was saying. You say you want to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Well, yes, we all do. Israel says she has long been open to resuming negotiations, so what pressure have you brought to bear on the Palestinians?

The EU is the most significant financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority, with some EUR 2 billion over the past four years. What action is being taken to leverage that financial influence to bring the Palestinians to the conference table? Where is the return on this investment?

The unilateral action by the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations is a deliberate provocation. Let us not forget, by the way, that Yasser Arafat declared Palestinian independence in October 1988. What is clear is that every time Israel has made a major concession, it has been greeted with further violence and seen as a sign of weakness. Look at what happened after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and after Netanyahu’s ten-month suspension of settlement construction in the West Bank in 2009.

We have a small window of opportunity before the situation escalates. The EU needs to act responsibly.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken (Verts/ALE).(DA) Madam President, thank you, Baroness Ashton. I believe that we are almost all agreed that it is good that the Palestinians have made such a lot of progress, and I think that there is broad support for the Palestinians having their own state. However, Israel needs help, too. In the newspaper Haaretz today, in addition to the terrible news of the many new settlements in Gilo, there is also an article that compares Israel to the Titanic. If no one stops Israel now, it will continue to sail towards disaster. It is therefore important for us to do more than just list everything that needs to be done. Israel will indeed go on and on and on – because no one is stopping the present government.

The cry for help that I have heard from so many quarters is coming not least from the Israeli people, who are saying that this is all about to end in disaster. Therefore, Baroness Ashton, a great deal more ought to be done than simply to express regret at this, once again, disastrous decision regarding settlements. I also believe that much more can be done than to simply condemn this decision. We do, in fact, have the means to let Israel know that it is now time to stop if this entire situation is to end in anything other than violence and devastation.

 
  
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  Vytautas Landsbergis (PPE). – Madam President, let me share something with you the House. Peace must be negotiated in order to achieve a negotiated peace. That peace is a priority, as it brings with it all other solutions about secure borders, settlements and refugees. That priority of peace can only be negotiated by men and women of peace. People of conflict cannot negotiate peace.

 
  
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  Hans-Gert Pöttering (PPE).(DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany told the United Nations that the defence of Israel’s security was part of state policy for the Federal Republic of Germany. I would like to express my support for this on both political and moral grounds.

However, this stance on the defence of Israeli security does not mean that we can stay silent in relation to injustices originating in Israel. What we are witnessing in the building of settlements is a continuous violation of the dignity of the Palestinians, because they are being deprived of what belongs to them.

Madam Vice-President, I hold your work in high esteem and I wish expressly to praise you in this regard. However, when we now hear that Israel intends building 1 100 new homes on the other side of the Green Line in Jerusalem, then a statement of regret is not sufficient. Instead, we must say that in this particular situation, such a move constitutes a provocation and must be condemned. In the end, Israel will achieve exactly what it does not want, namely, a unilateral recognition of Palestine. I would prefer to see a solution that derives from negotiations. However, if Israel continues to behave as it does at present, then we will see a unilateral recognition of Palestine. I must state that the Palestinians have the right to live in dignity and their dignity must be expressed in a state that is recognised by the international community. Both Israel and Palestine must live together in partnership, each with their own secure borders. We must, once and for all, stop vacillating in our response to the continued building of settlements. We must criticise and condemn such moves.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (S&D). – Madam President, this Parliament must give hope to Palestinians that their long night of humiliation and oppression can come to an end – and soon – while reassuring Israelis that their security and right to peace is guaranteed. Our vote tomorrow is critical. A vote for a Palestinian seat in the United Nations is a vote for Abbas’s non-violent diplomatic political strategy. It is a vote for a negotiated settlement, to which President Abbas has repeatedly said he is committed.

As former Prime Minister Olmert said in the New York Times last week, the time for true leadership has come. Israel will not always find itself sitting across the table from Palestinian leaders, like Mr Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who object to terrorism and want peace. Indeed future Palestinian leaders might abandon the idea of two states and take a one-state solution, making reconciliation impossible.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, calls for negotiations without preconditions while, at the same time, establishing concrete preconditions on the ground again today by ordering new building in East Jerusalem. This is clearly intended to prevent negotiations getting under way. Regretting these actions will not stop them, Baroness Ashton. We have to make it clear that these actions carry a cost.

I welcome the efforts you have made over the last while; I welcome, too, the Quartet’s statement of last week, limited though it is. However, its success depends on our building on the positive international engagement that the Abbas initiative has brought about. To conclude, could I ask you, Baroness Ashton, to come back to the House at some point in the near future with the proposals referred to in the Quartet statement that it is looking for ways to increase the independence of the Palestinian Authority and its sovereignty.

 
  
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  Chris Davies (ALDE). – Madam President, last Friday was a good day for Palestinians. They do not get many of those. With all its divisions, I do not think the European Union has exactly covered itself in glory, but I pay credit to the High Representative for her efforts in herding cats.

Collectively though, we risk being on the wrong side. Some Member States do not seem to recognise that Israel has two faces. One is liberal and democratic, and we all support it. The other, the one seen in the Palestinian territories, is one of arbitrary and unjust military rule. Of course a solution has to be reached and of course it has to be reached by negotiation, but I just see the present Israeli Government putting in place more and more preconditions – like the preconditions we have heard about, such as building settlements. It is like asking the Palestinians to share the division of a pizza, while the Israelis continue to eat the Palestinian side of it. Then there is the new precondition of recognising Israel as a Jewish state – well we recognise states, but we do not recognise the character of states.

High Representative, I just see no movement on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, you have been privy to the talks and you have been negotiating. Can you give the House any indication of where such movements will come from?

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE). – Madam President, just a short question to Mr Davies. Would he concede that, on the Palestinian side, it is fair to speak of two faces as well?

 
  
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  Chris Davies (ALDE). – Madam President, it is certainly true to say that Palestine is divided. When we look at Hamas – and we always look at Hamas and the problems there – we also have to recognise that, when there has been great injustice, one side may turn to extreme measures. The way to defeat terrorism is to try to involve people in day-to-day politics. We sponsored elections which were won by Hamas. We sponsored elections, and then we refused to deal with the democratic leaders. We allowed the men of violence to triumph. We have problems with the way we have dealt with this problem in the past. We need to try to learn the lessons for the future.

 
  
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  Ashley Fox (ECR). – Madam President, last week’s UN General Assembly meeting and the associated media coverage was dominated by Palestine’s move to gain full membership of the UN – rightly so – but that very important event overshadowed a little corner of the Middle East – the return of President Saleh to Yemen – and I would like to address the High Representative on this issue.

The situation in Yemen has received very limited coverage, though its importance to the Middle East cannot be underestimated. Yemen desperately needs attention and support if it is to avoid becoming a failed state. Al-Qaeda has a strong presence there and there are at least two secessionist movements trying to rip the country apart.

High Representative, I have said this before in this Chamber and I shall repeat it: if Yemen is allowed to fail, then the consequences will be dire, not just for Yemeni citizens but for all of us. I know your scope for action is very limited, but I would urge you to do all you can to work with the Saudi Arabian Government and with the Gulf Cooperation Council to do all we can to avoid Yemen degenerating into another Somalia.

 
  
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  Franziska Katharina Brantner (Verts/ALE). – Madam President, I would actually like to talk about Libya. A Green delegation has just returned from Libya. We spent four days there and many decisions are being taken now, at EU level as well. It is inspiring and impressive, but a daunting, task.

Allow me to pick out just two issues. First, the EU has been called upon to help with border control. Actually, Gaddafi asked us exactly the same thing a year ago. I had opposed it in the past because there was no legal framework at all in Libya for migration. There still is not. All I ask you, Baroness Ashton and Mr Füle, is to ensure that we do not do one without the other – border control without any legal framework – that we do not train border control personnel in a legal vacuum. I think it would be a serious mistake if we were to do that now.

Secondly, women have been victims of violence and they have been very active in the revolution. Now is the time to support them quickly and unbureaucratically. We met amazing young women full of hope, with a strong will and a desire for freedom. They were the only ones actually asking for financial support because they do not have access to the pots of money wandering around. Please do not disappoint them.

Finally, I am very worried about Egypt. The military has taken a very hard grip on society again. I want you to speak out on this. We need to hear you and your voice in criticising what is going on.

 
  
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  Mário David (PPE).(PT) Madam President, the fact that there is no peace process under way is jeopardising fundamental rights and has led both sides to adopt unilateral measures, which has in no way contributed to easing the tension in the region, and even less so to effectively seeking a life for the two peoples, which have the right to live harmoniously in peace, security and dignity.

The time has come for the international community to say enough is enough. The time has come for the Arab League to get behind seeking a lasting and sensitive solution, by tabling viable solutions without delay and with limited timeframes. It is clear that the United States and Russia have yet to be part of the solution.

Let us start with Jerusalem: why not relaunch the initial idea of a corpus separatum administered by the United Nations and that functions, obviously, as the capital of both states?

With regard to borders, let us begin with those of 1967. Parcels of land should be exchanged in as far as is possible and consistent. Care should be taken to protect Israel, which is a crucial issue for the Jewish people; this could be done, for example, by stationing a UN peacekeeping force comprising US, European and Islamic forces on the banks of the River Jordan.

There are 4.8 million refugees and they have the right to their dignity; to a future linked to land, preferably their own. However, this is not an exclusively Israeli problem, or a Palestinian one: it is our problem too, and that of the neighbouring Arab countries and the Arab community in general, but it is also a problem for Europe and the rest of the international community.

The expansion of the settlements must stop and that is non-negotiable. The announcement made today is shameful and translates hypocrisy and poor faith into readiness for immediate negotiations. Above all, we want negotiations in good faith, undertaken with a fixed end date, after which the international community will have to have a different attitude in order to maintain its credibility.

 
  
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  Kader Arif (S&D).(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ever since the United Nations General Assembly agreed to create two states on the territory that formerly constituted the Palestine Mandate in 1947, we have never stopped waiting for that commitment to be realised.

So how can we now accept the caution expressed in the speeches? In the light of this historic opportunity, how can we justify refusing to back President Abbas’s request fully? Let me remind you, Baroness Ashton, that sometimes caution can result in cowardice.

I would therefore like to pay tribute to the courage and perseverance of one man, Mahmoud Abbas. He is the bearer of a legitimate hope, that of a people who have a right to a land. For those who object to the fact that this initiative could provoke an outbreak of violence, let me remind you that a few years ago, the suppression of a similar initiative fostered the Second Intifada.

My message is simple, Baroness Ashton: at the time of the Arab Spring, it is your duty and ours to support the Palestinian request to the hilt. The European Union boasts of having brought down a wall and of recognising states. It will be able to stand even prouder if it recognises that the Palestinians are also entitled to statehood.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ISABELLE DURANT
Vice-President

 
  
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  Rui Tavares (Verts/ALE).(PT) Madam President, the question the Palestinians are posing, not just to the Member States of the Security Council, not just to the nations of the United Nations (UN), but to all of us, is very simple: will the Palestinians – occupied, colonised – have the right to see the dignity of their state recognised by the UN? Yes or no? Without calling into question the existence of the state of Israel alongside Palestine, yes or no? A delayed or evasive response is an unworthy response. The Palestinians have the right to an answer from the European Union, too: yes or no?

Moreover, instead of accepting this type of continuous delay, whilst Israel pushes ahead with its settlements, what we should be doing is talking to Israeli society – to the 400 000 middle-class Israelis who have taken to the streets – and saying to them: ‘accept the state of Palestine now, accept peace now, and the European Union will take responsibility for everyone’s security, for everyone’s dignity, and for giving everyone access to the European Union’s markets, which is access to prosperity for everyone’. This is because Israeli civil society knows very well that the route down which Mr Netanyahu is taking them is an alleyway with no way out and no friends.

We cannot continue with this fate of staying on the outside of historic occasions. A simple yes or no response, Lady Ashton: yes.

 
  
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  Michael Cashman (S&D). – Madam President, I hope the House will allow me to ask it to recognise and welcome Members of the South African Parliament who are here in the gallery, led by the Honourable Joan Fubbs. I mention them in particular because Africa is affected directly by events in North Africa, and indeed by events in the Middle East. I think it is our duty, and indeed our honour, to welcome them to this debate.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Mario Mauro (PPE).(IT) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, it was quite right of Mr Brok to say that in the past, many of us have criticised you on a number of initiatives.

We shall not do so this time and that is because we recognise that the presence of the High Representative is something of an innovation which, by helping the European Union to take a common stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, could be crucial in effecting a change for the better in the conflict.

We therefore hope that you are aware and can feel the support of Parliament and, as Mr Pöttering rightly said, we know what we want. We want an agreement based on the existence of two democratic and sovereign states, whose peoples can live within secure and internationally recognised borders. What we are still lacking are negotiations with clear dates and clear conclusions. All democratic countries know that peace will be achieved when the Palestinian state is created, but we also know that this can only come to pass through proper peace talks.

The Palestinian state cannot exist without peace, and proclaiming its existence today would only mean ending peace talks and opening a new phase of internal conflict.

 
  
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  Saïd El Khadraoui (S&D). (NL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, we have been waiting for decades now. It is high time that we nailed our colours to the mast and offered the Palestinians a genuine prospect of a stable and economically viable future. The only way that that can be achieved, however, is by starting with recognition. The Palestinian state should therefore be recognised because, by giving the Palestinian people recognition, we will also be giving them hope.

The clock has been ticking for many years. There is a time bomb of frustration which needs to be defused. I believe that, in the context of the Arab Spring and the rapid geopolitical changes in the region, this could create a momentum which could lead to lasting peace, because that is, obviously, what we all ultimately want to achieve.

Negotiations have to be resumed, of course, but I personally believe that the stronger of the two parties should make the first gesture by, for example, ceasing to build any more settlements. That could give the process a shot in the arm.

Finally, let us be clear about one thing: the Palestinians have not exactly been keeping their intention to apply for recognition a secret. It is, therefore, regrettable that the international community did too little to anticipate it and that we waited as long as we did to find a solution that would force the parties back to the negotiating table.

 
  
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  Tokia Saïfi (PPE).(FR) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, the request made by Mahmoud Abbas must be supported because it is legitimate. It appears all the more legitimate against the backdrop of the Arab Spring uprisings, in which the people are currently proving that they are so hungry for democracy and liberty that they are willing to lay down their lives for them.

We cannot respond to this request for justice with injustice. The situation that has persisted for many years in the Middle East is no longer acceptable and must end. We now need to call for a real solution, namely, the immediate resumption of negotiations with a strict timetable and based on the 1967 agreement.

The creation of a democratic, viable and peaceful Palestinian state is surely the best guarantee of Israel’s security. Baroness Ashton, I congratulate you on all your efforts, but we need to go further, because once again, the Member States of the European Union are sadly divided and do not have a common position. Unfortunately, some European governments are acting counter to the will of their citizens, the bulk of whom are in favour of the creation of a Palestinian state. As the elected representatives of those citizens, can we accept this? I can also fully endorse the comments made by Mr Pöttering.

Baroness Ashton, it is time for the wind of change that is blowing in one part of the Arab world to be felt in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv too.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Roberto Gualtieri (S&D). (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached a crucial moment in the decade-long aspiration of the Palestinian people to have a state of their own and also in the rightful aspiration of the people of Israel to live in safety. This is because the latter is so intimately connected with the former, because there can be no safety without peace and there can be no peace without a democratic Palestinian state that is respectful of international law, as outlined by Mr Abbas to the United Nations.

The acceptance of the timeline drawn up by the Quartet is a victory for the European Union and one which we must salute you for, Baroness Ashton, even though some countries did try to steal the European Union’s limelight. However, the news of new settlements warns us that the path ahead will be strewn with difficulties. That is why it is important to increase the pressure on the Israeli Government and clearly express the EU’s support – despite the absence of absolute unanimity – for a possible vote in the UN General Assembly on awarding the status of non-Member State.

This House must be united in upholding and increasing this pressure, including putting aside differences of opinion on full membership, giving its unanimous backing through its resolution on the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people to be represented as a state at the United Nations.

 
  
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  György Schöpflin (PPE). – Madam President, I think we all agree that the Middle East is undergoing a palpable transformation; the Arab Spring, democracy movements, decline of the autocrats, they all testify to this.

In this context, the bid for the full recognition of Palestinian statehood has become a reality – whether the United States accepts this or not. In this context, too, it is irrelevant that the United States has already signalled that it will veto the Palestinian application, because the idea of a Palestinian state has garnered substantial support around the world. Probably a majority of the Members of the United Nations are in favour, so this acceptance of Palestinian statehood is almost certainly irreversible as a political fact.

Legally, of course, nothing much has happened, but political realities and legal status are often at variance. What is perplexing in this context, too, is Israel’s solid rejection of the Palestinian position despite all the evidence – and we heard a lot of it this afternoon – that the much discussed two-state solution is the most likely outcome – true, a long-term outcome – of the process.

So the implication is that Israel will eventually be constrained to accept the Palestinian bid for statehood, so the sooner it does so, the better for all concerned. It is regrettable, all the more regrettable then, that Israel and its supporters are basically disregarding a new political fact, the due arrival of Palestinian statehood.

 
  
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  Göran Färm (S&D). – Madam President, the Budgets Committee of the European Parliament is preparing a report on the new neighbourhood instrument as well as on the 2012 EU Budget, and I have some questions.

One, we must draw conclusions from what the EU did before the Arab Spring. We supported civil society, democratic institution building, etc., but it is obvious that many saw EU aid mainly as support for the existing, far from democratic regimes. So my question is: what will the Commission suggest in order to design the programmes, rules, conditionality criteria, etc., for the future, to avoid that?

Two, we must also draw conclusions from the fact that historically, some Member States, particularly the old colonial powers, gave priority to their national interests rather than those of the local citizens or the European Union. How can we achieve better coordination for the future in order for the Union to play a crucial and constructive role?

Three, the situation in Palestine makes it absolutely necessary to increase substantially the Commission and Council proposals for funding 2012. Will the Commission come up with a revised proposal for that?

 
  
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  Georgios Koumoutsakos (PPE).(EL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, the Palestinian Authority has applied for membership of the UN as an independent state. This is, without doubt, an historic moment. We know that, barring unforeseen incidents, this will not be approved by the Security Council. We also know that, if this request is submitted to the General Assembly, Palestine will most probably be granted observer status, similar to that of the Vatican.

I believe that, under the circumstances, this will be a very positive development for at least three reasons. Firstly, because it is a question of principle: at last, tangible steps must be taken to bring about an independent, recognised Palestinian state. Secondly, because this will not affect talks to find a solution: why should a change in the status of Palestine affect or, as has been said, prevent the procedure from resuming? I believe that this is a mistaken assessment. The third positive point is that the extreme Palestinian wing, Hamas, which is opposed to the effort being made by President Abbas at the UN, will suffer a political defeat; it will be weakened and its political clout will wane.

Finally, if the Palestinian Authority is initially given observer status and then full member status, Israel’s security will improve. Israel has an inalienable right to security and the Palestinians have an inalienable right to an independent state. Both these objectives can be achieved from a positive development at the UN.

 
  
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  María Muñiz De Urquiza (S&D).(ES) Madam President, this is your moment, Baroness Ashton, this is the moment of the European Union to consolidate the political relevance and prestige that it is regaining in the region, and which have deteriorated over recent years as a result of paralysis and blockages.

It is time for the European Union to speak out before the United Nations in a voice that is loud, clear, independent and unanimous – or if not unanimous then ambitious – in favour of the Palestinian Authority’s legitimate request to be recognised by the United Nations.

The Palestinian authorities have, over recent years, fulfilled the conditions set for it by the international community, leading to fruitful talks on the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israel has not met the only condition it was set, which was to halt the settlements.

It is time for the European Union to align itself with those who have far-reaching goals, not to side with the obstructors, to take a step forwards and condemn Israel’s continued settlement building, thereby giving the European Union a relevant role in the future talks that we hope will be held from now onwards.

 
  
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  Cristian Dan Preda (PPE).(RO) Madam President, last month saw the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, after the capital was captured by rebels. At the moment, the pro-NTC forces control the port of Sirte, which means that Libya will be able to undertake the transition to democracy in next to no time. In Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad will also very likely endure the same fate soon. While Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and, we all hope soon, Syrians are discovering the taste of freedom, the scene in the Middle East is very different. While establishing democracy is on the agenda in North Africa and will succeed if a policy based on compromise is established, we see a completely different picture in the Middle East peace process. Here, there is not only a lack of constructive consensus, but a unilateral vision is seemingly being imposed. I believe that this is the meaning behind the application for admission to the United Nations submitted by President Abbas on Friday. Instead of attempting to establish proper internal autonomy before imposing it on the international stage, President Abbas has chosen what was described even by President Obama as an illusory shortcut. Palestine’s application for admission actually indicates that it has gone beyond the negotiation framework defined by the Oslo Agreements and set out by the road map presented in 2003 by the Quartet. Peace is built through negotiation and not through taking unilateral action. The lesson that should be learnt for the peace process from the Arab Spring is that democracy means seeking consensus and not a unilateral approach.

 
  
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  Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D).(EL) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, you said that you were proud because the Union is an international player on the Palestine question. In all honesty, why are you proud, given that the European Union has not managed, even today, even on the question of Palestine’s request for a seat at the UN, to dare condemn the extension of the settlements.

The request put by Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations brings the European Union face to face with its historic responsibilities. We all have a responsibility to respect the decision by the Palestinians to apply for membership of the UN and to support that effort as a basic step and important opportunity for the resumption of negotiations. The Palestinian people are entitled to peace and security, as is the state of Israel. I believe that we should condemn the illegal settlements, which represent a huge obstacle to a peaceful solution to the Palestine question, and all work together for the recognition of a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its joint capital, as this will guarantee peace for everyone in the region.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE). (NL) Madam President, it is good that we are having this debate today. I, too, would like to pay my compliments to Baroness Ashton. What I am particularly pleased about is that we in the European Parliament now seem to have come up with a robust joint text, a text which recognises and states that the Palestinians have a right to their own state, based on the 1967 borders, and that Israel and its citizens are entitled to security. Madam President, we want the UN to come up with an answer to this legitimate application by Mahmoud Abbas during its 66th session – therefore, before the year is out – because we do not want to send the Palestinians home empty-handed and we cannot allow this to happen.

However, there is one thing which I am disappointed not to see in the resolution. What will Europe and the international community do if Israel continues to build settlements as, indeed, it has announced it will in East Jerusalem? Mr Pöttering has already spoken about this. What do you make of these acts of provocation? Does that mean that you will also leave open the possibility of us taking unilateral action?

 
  
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  Boris Zala (S&D). (SK) Madam President, I genuinely regret that we have failed to reach a unified position in the European Union. It is a great pity because this has been, and still is, an exceptional situation where Europe can play a significant role.

I am very interested in finding out why such a unified position on the Palestinian request for statehood could not be reached. On the other hand, I would like to inform a number of my fellow Members in this Chamber that this issue does not only involve a unilateral request or a unilateral recognition of Palestine, because the recognition of such a request, i.e. the recognition of Palestine within the 1967 borders, means, at the same time, the de facto recognition of the sovereignty and legitimacy of the state of Israel.

I would like to emphasise one more point. We have heard several times about certain measures being prepared against Palestine. I believe that the European Union should take resolute steps against this because it is impossible to employ sanctions or other measures to penalise a country that is exercising its right to submit a request for statehood.

 
  
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  Sari Essayah (PPE).(FI) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, as many fellow Members have already said here, the Palestinians’ symbolic bid for independence will, unfortunately, not solve any of the contentious issues which, for years, have strained relations between the parties in the region. Before genuine peace and an opportunity for coexistence are established, the parties must be able to agree among themselves not just on secure borders, but also on such matters as the settlements, water and the holy places of various religions.

The region’s imbalance and changes in the near future are very crucial issues. Israel must look on from the sidelines while nations rise up and revolt, hoping for the best from the circumstances, but also fearing the worst. The greatest danger in the region is that the Arab national governments will fall into the hands of extremists. That is also a danger in the Palestinian territories, because Fatah and Hamas have signed a declaration of intent to form a joint government, and it is very possible that, after the regional elections in autumn, the state of the Palestinian Territories will slip into the hands of the terrorist organisation, Hamas.

For that reason, in this situation, the EU’s sole message must be that peace talks need to continue between the parties. The EU cannot support any unilateral declaration, because then it would also be in contravention of the Oslo Accords that it actually promoted and the provision on refraining from a unilateral declaration contained therein.

 
  
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  Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler (S&D).(DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, we support the Quartet’s peace initiative and I would like to congratulate and thank Baroness Ashton sincerely for her efforts and successes in this regard.

We must prevail on both sides to return to the negotiating table, by force if necessary, and to produce successful results within the given timeframe. The treaties must be in place by the end of 2012 – there, like Mr Pöttering, I am in complete agreement with state policy in Germany, no ifs or buts. This is something that needs to be said.

However, that is not to say that I necessarily approve of this Israeli Government or that I agree with Netanyahu and Lieberman. On the contrary, I would say that this government is a disaster for the people of Israel. It is destroying people’s livelihoods and economic wellbeing. At the same time, it also poses a threat to peace in the Middle East. That is also something that needs to be stated clearly.

What is so objectionable about Mahmoud Abbas democratically tabling a motion before the United Nations? Palestine has already been recognised by 125 countries. It is probable that 140 countries within the United Nations will vote for special status for Palestine similar to that afforded the Vatican. This is not undemocratic, it is the law, and it is incumbent upon us to continue to work in this direction. Israel’s present government does not meet the necessary conditions.

 
  
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  Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE).(ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, we debated the peace process here over six months ago. I stressed at that time that there was an urgent need to re-start talks because time was not in favour of either of the two parties. I can understand how the stalling of the process has prompted the Palestinians to take the initiative and to raise the issue of their admission to the United Nations.

We are now in a very complex situation. I suppose that this matter will eventually be passed from the Security Council to the General Assembly. I would like the European Union and its Member States to play an active role and for the Twenty-Seven to be united in stating an opinion on the resolution that will eventually be put to the vote.

There are no simple solutions: no simple yes and no simple no. The General Assembly’s resolution must be careful. It must not imperil the peace process or put either of the two sides, or the other players who are the main promoters of the process, into impossible situations. However, a failure to act must not be an option.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, unfortunately, just like six months ago, I cannot be optimistic about the progress of the talks. The news we have received today about new settlements in Jerusalem is, frankly, very bad. In addition, I fear that some of the 2012 elections will not help lead to a solution. The situation could be better in 2013, but I would be sorry to have lost a year, particularly given the current dynamics of change in the Arab world.

These are times of historic responsibility for the two sides, and also for the international community.

 
  
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  Salvatore Iacolino (PPE). (IT) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that now more than ever, the peace process in the Middle East and in North Africa requires decisive and authoritative decisions, with a shared European spirit that can finally lead to a clear and agreed strategy.

Precisely because the independent initiatives of some Member States do not seem up to the current difficulties – by which I mean those experienced in Libya a few weeks ago – it is essential that the European Union and its international partners, especially the United Nations, can set out a single programme to achieve peace, which has now been absent for too long. Recognising the dignity of both Israel and Palestine is not, however, tantamount to putting up uncritically with their mistakes and specious actions.

As Mr Pöttering, among others, said just now: it is not enough to appeal to sentiment. Settlements should not be built and therefore we need to intervene with appropriate sanctions; because if there are rules, then they must absolutely be protected and respected. The events in North Africa must not be forgotten either. This new drive for freedom, peace and fundamental rights must be protected and assisted, particularly by you, Baroness Ashton.

We understand the difficulties, but we also recognise the efforts that you are making to achieve strong, effective cooperation and, above all, to give a fighting chance to those third countries that deserve our support.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, based on the good bilateral relations it has developed with both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, Romania has always encouraged the parties to sit down at the negotiating table without any preconditions. My view on this subject is based on principle. Resuming the negotiations is the best course of action to achieving the solution allowing both states to coexist in peace and security. I think that unilateral steps are not inclined to help the process of establishing a lasting peace, which is the fundamental aim of the whole international community. I firmly believe that the only way to fulfil the Palestinians’ ideals is through direct negotiations. I will support any initiative which might serve this purpose, as I have also done up to now. A viable, long-term solution cannot be achieved if Palestinians and Israelis fail to reach an agreement. Any recognition of the state of Palestine must be based on a solution accepted by both parties, which they take along together to the UN.

Finally, I welcome the statement from the Quartet, which calls on both parties to resume direct bilateral negotiations immediately, without any preconditions. It is not too late for diplomatic efforts. On the contrary, we need to step them up.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, there are two issues at stake here. On the one hand, it is a question of a common foreign policy among the Member States of the European Union, represented by Baroness Ashton, and, hence, the establishment of conditions that will allow us to influence developments outside our continent. I am therefore very happy that there are signs of a common position shared by all EU Member States in the UN and that Parliament has agreed on a resolution.

On the other hand, we are also faced with the issue of peace in the Middle East – as well as elsewhere, but we are talking about the Middle East today. I am one of a group of politicians and diplomats who wrote a letter to the Austrian Government stating the following: we favour a two-state solution; the 1967 boundaries should provide the basis for the Palestinian territory; Jerusalem should be the capital of both states; the aim should be for Palestine to become a fully-fledged member of the United Nations. We welcome the interim step proposed by the Quartet, involving a situation similar to that of the Vatican and a phased plan. We now need to get down to brass tacks, preventing escalation, bringing settlement policy to an end, and putting a stop to the use of violence.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D). (SK) Madam President, the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the strategic priorities of the European Union. I express my support for Ms Ashton’s efforts whereby the sole solution to this conflict lies in the efforts to help establish two independent and democratic states which are able to coexist and live in peace.

Of course, we must not forget any single person who has lost life in this war. However, this war has to end as soon as possible. I believe that the beginning of such an end could be the recognition of Palestine as an independent state and putting both parties to the conflict on an equal footing.

At the same time, when we speak of North Africa and the so-called Arab Spring, we have to note that it has on its conscience not only the two revolutions in Egypt and Tunisian and the continuing civil war in Libya, but also a number of other larger or smaller protests and a large number of human lives.

It is very difficult to judge whether all these changes will have a positive effect. Such transformations will have a fundamental impact on future generations, not only in the regions affected, but also in their surroundings.

 
  
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  Kyriakos Mavronikolas (S&D).(EL) Madam President, I too, as a contribution to today’s debate, should like to point out that our action and stand are indeed the correct ones, that it is certainly high time to recognise a Palestinian state and that the political line, with a proper proposal from our side, will be supported at the level of the UN General Assembly.

Secondly, I should like to emphasise that I truly appreciate the action being taken by Baroness Ashton at this time and to point out that at least she managed to express a unified line on the part of the European Union on such an important issue. It is a fact that continuing efforts on her part could bring about a unified foreign policy on the part of the European Union as a whole, especially on matters which are directly topical and concern huge efforts by nations for their national survival.

 
  
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  Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (ALDE).(ES) Madam President, Baroness Ashton, Europe must adopt a joint position, in line with international law, at this definitive point in the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

If we want to see an end to the violence and human rights violations, all the Member States must support Palestine’s desire to be represented as a state in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We must also denounce the illegality of the Israeli settlements right now, and call for the wall of shame built by Israel to be removed. Both of these are in breach of international law and are an obstacle to peace.

We must similarly demand that the Palestinians recognise the state of Israel and halt the attacks, both armed incursions and others, that are sometimes launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.

Just think how we would feel if we had to pass through a check point each day, or live separated from our families by a wall that turns 200 metres into 50 kilometres, work into a chimera, makes development impossible and uncertain, and the abuse of power a daily currency.

We are talking about justice and respect for international law, but also about humanity.

 
  
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  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Madam President, the policy of the party that I represent towards the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is one of neutrality. We do not believe that the United Kingdom should be involved in any dispute on one side or the other. However, I would hope that this would not be a neutrality of indifference, because I, too, would like to see an enduring peace between these two peoples. But neutrality demands an even-handed approach.

The UN, in 1947, envisaged in General Assembly Resolution 181 two separate states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. If one state deserves recognition, so does the other. If a negotiated peace is not a precondition for the recognition of Israel, nor should such a negotiated peace be a precondition for the recognition of Palestine.

I believe that it would be easier for the government of a recognised Palestinian state to restrain and control the activities of its citizens than for the head of an ill-defined entity to restrain and control its inhabitants. Furthermore, it will be easier for a recognised state to negotiate peace with authority.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Madam President, I would first of all like to congratulate you, Lady Ashton, for everything you have done. The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be resolved through direct, responsible negotiations between both parties with the support of the international community. This is why I think that any unilateral action ought to have been avoided as this affects mutual trust and jeopardises the continuation of the peace process. The way to get out of the deadlock triggered by the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral action at the UN must be to resume direct negotiations immediately between both parties under the supervision of the Quartet. I believe that the time has come for the Palestinian Authority to prove its commitment to conducting direct negotiations and, likewise, Israel must be ready to make real compromises as part of these negotiations. Having two independent states based on the 1967 borders is the only viable solution for peace.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula (ALDE). (FI) Madam President, the establishment of a new state needs to have a historical basis and be established on international agreements. As we well know, there has never been a Palestinian state in that region: instead, three times during the 20th century, the international community handed over this region to Israel, first under the Balfour Declaration and then via the League of Nations and the UN.

I would like to ask Baroness Ashton whether the European Union is a community of values. Do we actually believe in democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law? If we do, as I want to believe, has Hamas, which, at present, is represented in the Palestinian Government, accepted the Quartet, which includes the EU, and the preconditions for ending terrorism, the recognition of Israel, previous agreements and their adoption?

In addition, I would like to ask whether the European Union is prepared to be aligned with the view expressed by Abbas that some sort of Jew-free Palestine should be created. Are not statements such as these truly anti-Semitic? In this respect, Europe should stand by its values and state clearly that we support democracy and human rights. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

 
  
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  Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Madam President, can I just say to Honourable Members that we have seen the debate laid out before us. If you add up all the different views expressed in this House, you will find that they reflect, and are reflected in, many of the conversations that I have had, not just in the European Union, but with many other countries as well.

Let us start where we agree. We agree that there should be a Palestinian state. Everybody supports that, including Israel. I agree with all of you who have said that it is important to see a Palestinian state come into being as soon as possible. The question is how to support the Palestinian state into being in a way that will bring long-term peace and security to its people and to the people of Israel, who will be its neighbours next door.

I would argue that we are discussing the question of how – not if, not whether, not any other question, but how – to make sure that is achieved. It has been the view of the European Union, the view of this House and the view of Member States for a long time that the most effective way to ensure long-term stability and security for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine is through an agreement between the two on borders, on security, on the rights of refugees, on the issue of Jerusalem, on all of the issues that are very familiar to everybody here.

That is what I am determined upon. I am determined upon reality. I am determined upon making sure that the desire of the people, the desire of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, is achieved and is achieved in a way that they can be sure is going to bring that peace and security to them and to the region. That is what drives me and what motivates me to work with the Member States, to work with you, to work with my colleagues in the Commission, and to work internationally with the Quartet and – way beyond the Quartet – with many countries with whom I have discussed this issue, not just in New York last week, but over the past two years.

I want to be clear about one thing, namely about settlements. I have condemned it every time a settlement announcement has been made – six times this year from me, plus one local one and one Quartet one. I have checked the numbers. The announcement that was made today is an announcement of the continuation of a series of legal moves following on from an announcement that was made in 2009. I said earlier on that I deeply regretted that, having condemned that original announcement, we have now seen a move further forward. We have made that position clear, not just in this House, but also to the Israeli Government.

Can I also say that, instead of shouting about it – which is very easy to do, perhaps without listening for the response that you get – I say this to Prime Minister Netanyahu directly. Each time I have met him – and I have met him many times – I have made it clear that we consider settlements to be illegal under international law, and that he should stop announcing them and, more importantly, stop building them. I do not accept, I am afraid, what is said to me that somehow, by not using a particular word, I have moved away from my commitment, because I am the one who, on your behalf, is saying it to the person who has the power to make the difference. I will continue to do so in every conversation, not just because it is wrong.

I think that it is wrong to get people to live in a place from which, when you look at a negotiated settlement, they are probably going to have to move. That does not make any sense, to me, for the people who are moving into that area. It is not a good move if you believe – as I do – that we have to reach a conclusion and a settlement for this conflict that is going to be based upon – as we have said consistently – the 1967 borders, with agreements on moving bits of land around, but which give the Palestinians a viable contiguous state. That is going to mean that there will have to be changes. It is therefore in the interests of all the people of Israel and Palestine to get there and make sure that where people move and where people live is somewhere they can live for the rest of their lives if they choose to.

I also want to make it clear that I have said to Israel that I do believe in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. They have people with whom they can be proud to negotiate. I believe that President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, who I have had the privilege to get to know over the last two years, are people who hold the values that we hold dear in their heart. I believe that they want to see a democratic Palestine, based on the rule of law and the values of human rights. I believe that Israel could do no better than to negotiate with them. I have also said that directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, to Foreign Minister Lieberman and to other members inside and outside the Israeli Government and in the Knesset. I will continue to keep saying that, because I believe it to be true.

I have said many times that I think that the work that Prime Minister Fayyad has done has been remarkable in that, according not to me but to the World Bank and other institutions, he has completed the building of the institutions that will create the state of Palestine and will enable them to be able to function as a state – an important element if they are going to become a country, in the very near future I hope. I was fortunate enough to go with Prime Minister Fayyad to lay the foundation stone in Jenin, a town that has seen a lot of conflict but where they are rebuilding the architecture of the government buildings and which we, as the European Union, are privileged to be able to fund.

I said in the UN when I met with the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee under the chairmanship of Norway – to whom I pay great tribute – that I felt this was a good investment of our resources, because you can see what our money and our support has actually built and achieved. I think that we should be proud to be investing in the work of Prime Minister Fayyad. As I say, I pay tribute to him.

We have to make sure that everything that we are doing on this is actually going to help to lead to the results. That is why I have been working with the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League, the United States, Canada, Russia, and the UN especially – because I agree with what has been said about the value and importance of the UN in all this. I could not agree more. I think the United Nations are critical to all this, but what matters is what we are actually able to achieve. The point about what we did in the Quartet statement was that we laid out a timeframe and invited the parties to now come together in that timeframe. There are issues that they will have to resolve, which is why we suggested they pre-meet. There are issues that the Quartet envoys will need to discuss, which is why they will pre-meet with the parties, but the objective is to get this thing moving.

I understand the frustration in this House. I have only been doing this for up to two years. I can tell you that I have spent more time on this than on anything else I have done. I have to tell you that, today, I am actually as worried, if not more so, about what is happening in the north of Kosovo, as you would expect me to be. It is really important that whatever we do finds a conclusion that is really going to last. I am not going to do something that is just rhetoric. I am much more interested in a solution that is going to be for real.

Of course, when they come to negotiate, they will have to tackle all these issues in the conclusions. Of course, incidentally, we believe in the International Criminal Court. That has never been discussed as part of a conclusion of negotiations – nothing of that kind – but we do need to make sure that we actually get that. I will continue to do that, based on the fact that I am also trying to carry 27 Member States along the road with me.

It is really important to understand how much the unity of the European Union on this subject is valued in the region, not just in Israel, not just with the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, but with the Arab League and with the countries in the region. They really want to see us stick together and see that happen for real. You will understand that that means that I also have to be alive to the starting points, the history, the culture and the connections that all 27 countries have. I am sensitive to that.

It is an achievement for the European Union that we are still together. We are continuing to work to stay there, because what we offer, united in this process, is much more than radical positions on either end of the spectrum, or even the bulk of countries coming together in the middle. It is the fact that we are 27 speaking with one voice and one message that makes a big difference, but it is not easy. We have to work at this and keep working at it. That is why your support today is so important, because it enables me to take that away.

I have said enough on this. Let me just say one or two things about other countries because, rightly so, honourable Members raised one or two other issues. Mr Fox raised the issue of Yemen. I agree on the importance of working hard with the GCC. I mentioned that we coordinated our statements on Yemen very carefully. There is calm at the moment, but I am worried about some outbreaks of violence that have gone on in the last few days. We urge President Saleh to continue with the process and to make sure that the work that is being carried out by his Vice-President can come forward.

On Libya, as you know, we have had teams going to Tripoli. We have a team there at the present time that is setting up the long-term operation. On the specific issue of borders, we are launching a dialogue on migration, mobility and security with Tunisia and Morocco. We are ready to do the same with Libya. That specifically brings in this point on migration and mobility – not just on security, although, of course, that is very important.

Women are full of hope in the region. We have to make sure that we do not let them down. One of the key elements of the discussions in New York was women coming together to try to make sure that we are able to offer the support of the capacity building programmes already in place in Libya. Looking after women who are victims in all of this violence – and there are many of them – and also ensuring the participation of women right the way through the system is a huge issue that is of incredible importance to me.

Finally, regarding the issues of rules and conditionality, Stefan Füle has set out very well many times in this House the point about ‘more for more’. This is the idea that we make sure that reform is met with greater support, but also this mutual accountability of ensuring that we have respect for each other in what we do, that we do what we say we are going to do on both sides, and that we deliver what we say we are going to deliver to help support these communities into the future. Then, of course, there is the coordination which is so important, between not just the different European institutions, but also the Member States. In Libya, that is going to be really important if we are going to be able to offer the support that we want to.

Madam President, thank you for indulging me on time. Honourable Members, thank you very much for an important debate.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. – I have received six motions for resolutions(1)tabled in accordance with Rule 110(2) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday, 29 September, at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D), in writing. – Ever since the Arab Spring began, one question imposed itself: would those revolutionary developments speed up or delay resolution of the Middle East conflict, which is one that has the potential to ignite an international conflagration? Well, now, many months after, although things are no clearer, one can detect a slight tilt of the balance towards the latter. In that respect, I am particularly concerned at the possibility that the new revolutionary authorities in those countries, faced with the impossibility of fulfilling the high expectations of their populations, might try to deflect popular energy towards Israel.

This might be true even for the Palestinian authorities, which probably saw in the recent request for UN state recognition a way to escape possible contestation from ordinary Palestinians, emboldened by the example of their other Arab brothers. It looks as if, recently, both Hamas and Fatah have been losing ground. Irrespective of whether these suppositions are true or not, the potential implications of a worsening of the Middle East conflict would only underline the crucial importance of EU involvement and support in the region.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: JERZY BUZEK
President

 
  

(1) See Minutes

Last updated: 5 January 2012Legal notice