EU congratulates Netanyahu, hopes to relaunch peace process

Netanyahu election advert. Tel Aviv, 14 March. [Joel Schalit]

The European Union congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his election victory Wednesday (18 March), but added it was committed to relaunching the Middle East peace process, which he appeared to repudiate during the campaign.

“The EU is committed to working with the incoming Israeli government on a mutually beneficial relationship as well as on the re-launch of the peace process,” EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

On the last day of campaigning and with polls suggesting he might lose, Netanyahu had said he would not accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, a key part of the two-state solution backed by the EU and the international community, and which he had accepted in 2009.

Mogherini’s statement made no direct reference to the two-state solution itself, spelling out the aim differently.

“We are at a crucial moment, with many threats all over the Middle East,” it said.

>>Read: French parliament votes for recognition of Palestinian state

“The EU staunchly supports a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the interest of the Israeli people, of the Palestinian people and of the whole region.”

Mogherini said the 28-nation European Union would stand by Israel at a time when “more than ever, bold leadership is required from all to reach a comprehensive, stable and viable settlement of a conflict that has already deprived too many generations of peace and security”.

“It’s time to turn this page and I’m confident that we can work together with the international community for a solution that will guarantee peace and security in the Middle East.”

>>Read: After recognising Palestine, Swedish legislators spar

Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers named Fernando Gentilini as the bloc’s new special representative for the Middle East, filling a post vacant since early 2014 in the hope of getting the stalled peace process back on track.

The EU has been a major provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority but last year’s bloody war in Gaza dented confidence, with some member states reluctant to provide more without progress on a lasting peace deal.

Mogherini has been criticised in Israel, but she insists a two-state solution is the only way forward and has repeatedly condemned Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories as a threat to the peace process.

>>Read: EU aid to Palestine ‘cannot continue indefinitely’ without results

Israeli Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, does not appear to be especially keen on cooperating over peace endeavors.

In a pre-election blitz, Netanyahu made a series of promises designed to shore up his Likud base and draw voters from other right-wing and nationalist parties. He pledged to go on building settlements on occupied land and said there would be no Palestinian state if he was re-elected.

If this election will be remembered for anything, it will be for Netanyahu’s abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state. Jettisoning the “two state” aim of more than two decades of Middle East peacemaking, his abandonment of the peace track will have far-ranging consequences, particularly in Israel’s relationship with the EU.

Fresh from recent parliamentary votes supporting Palestinian statehood in Sweden, France, the UK and Spain, Israel’s right-wing premier will likely appeal to populist and anti-Islamist forces in the European Union, as he has done courting Republican lawmakers in the US, instead of the American President.

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel that collapsed in April, said in a statement that Netanyahu’s win showed “the success of a campaign based on settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people”.

The Palestinians may quickly create problems for Netanyahu, as they will formally become members of the International Criminal Court on 1 April,  and have said they will pursue war crimes charges against Israel over its 48-year occupation of the West Bank, and last year’s war in Gaza.

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