Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is visiting Paris today (21 April) to try to persuade his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy to recognise Palestinian statehood at a UN General Assembly vote in September. Diplomats say France is "extremely positive" about the initiative.
Abbas' visit comes amid rising speculation that the EU will support the Palestinian move in a bid to inject life into peace talks, which have been put on ice since Israel resumed settlement building in the West Bank in September 2010.
Hael Fahoum, the Palestinian ambassador in Paris, confirmed that the two presidents would be discussing the Palestinian statehood bid, as well as an international donor’s conference at which the Palestinian Authority will seek $5 billion over three years to build their state.
"France is extremely positive about the importance of establishing the state of Palestine," he told EURACTIV. "They don't have any problem with the recognition issue, but they're looking to push the whole process towards concrete steps," he said.
The talks between Sarkozy and Abbas would be "frank and direct," Fahoum added.
On 18 February, Britain, France and Germany launched an initiative to kick-start negotiations by proposing a draft resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – including borders and security arrangements – that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, through talks.
The move would have given the EU and UN effective responsibility for a new round of negotiations.
However, the US objected and an April meeting of the Quartet – the EU, UN, US and Russia – which is tasked with overseeing peace talks was postponed.
A British Foreign Office official told EURACTIV that London still supported the creation of "a sovereign, independent and contiguous Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel".
In a nod to the Palestinian initiative's deadline, the official added: "We will be doing everything we can to achieve this by September."
The two-year plan for statehood was originated by Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad in September 2009, with EU and international support.
The Quartet's special envoy, Tony Blair recently told the Times that "Palestinian state-building under the Palestinian Authority and [Prime Minister] Fayyad is a bright light among a lot of diplomatic darkness".
Last week, the World Bank said that the Palestinian government was on track to honour its promise to build independent state institutions.
EU biggest donor to Palestinian Authority
If the state is ever built, Brussels may, in effect, be its financial sponsor.
The EU and its member states are the biggest donors to the Palestinian Authority, which was created out of the Oslo Accord in 1993, stumping up an average of €500 million a year. In 2009, the EU contributed €590.5 million.
But if the diplomatic horizon disappears after September, such largesse could dry up.
As far back as 19 January 2010, Christian Berger, head of the European Commission's Technical Office in Jerusalem, warned that "support can only be sustained if there is a clear indication that a Palestinian state will be established in the foreseeable future".
He continued: "Sustaining such a high level of support for a long period of time without reaching the goal will lead to questions, particularly from our taxpayers."
The Palestinians, though, will hope that the EU remains engaged at least until September.
"We need Europe to be a full partner in the process and not a mediator or a coordinator," Fahoum said. "They have the potential and the right and it is now time to translate words into actions."
Israel was established in 1948 on the British mandate of Palestine, after fighting which resulted in the flight of at least 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Nineteen years later, the refugee crisis was exacerbated by the invasion and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six Day War of 1967. In its aftermath, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and built settlements across the West Bank, which now houses 500,000 Israeli Jews.
With the Venice Declaration in 1980, the EU became the first third party to the international Israeli-Palestinian conflict to acknowledge the Palestinian right to self-determination. In 1986, the EU went further, enacting a regulation allowing Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to export products to Europe under the label "Made in the West Bank and Gaza".
After the Oslo Accord was signed in 1993, the EU increased its involvement in the peace process by financially supporting the nascent Palestinian Authority. However, the EU's position that any peace agreement should closely follow the original 1967 borders, allowing Palestinians to make their state capital in east Jerusalem, is strongly opposed by Israel.
In December 2010, 26 former EU leaders, including Javier Solana and Helmut Schmidt, called for boycotts and sanctions against Israel because of its continued settlement construction.
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