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19 June 2007
MEPs debate the situation in the Middle East
Following the recent deterioration and violence in Gaza, MEPs turned their attention to the situation in the Middle East. MEPs expressed diverse views with many condemning the violence in the Gaza strip. The House will vote on a resolution during the July Strasbourg plenary (9-12 July). European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering said: "We have all been profoundly moved and disturbed by the terrible situation and frightening developments over the past days in the Gaza Strip.
As you are aware, I expressly chose the Middle East as the destination of my first official visit outside the EU, and I was in the region three weeks ago.
My meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas was to have taken place in Ramallah. Due to the increasing strife between Fatah and Hamas, President Abbas invited me to visit him in his headquarters in Gaza where he was engaged in negotiations. I responded to this request and exactly three weeks ago today I spoke with President Abbas in Gaza.
I was struck by the calm decisiveness with which President Abbas conveyed to me his concerns. Outside his offices I could feel the tension in the air. I wish to emphasise that I strongly condemn the violent attacks by Hamas militia against the legitimate security forces of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. I wish to recommend to you that we express our full support for and solidarity with President Abbas.
We support the decision of the Palestinian President to respond to the extraordinary situation by naming a new emergency government so that the political crisis in the Palestinian Territories can be brought to an end as quickly as possible. We have great confidence in the new Prime Minister, Mr Salam Fayyad, who recently visited me in Brussels, and in his undisputed leadership ability. I wish to restate this confidence to the new Prime Minister today.
The new government faces a difficult challenge and will need the committed assistance of the European Union and the international community. In tune with the conclusions of yesterday's Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, I would like to state clearly today that the European Parliament fully backs all efforts at bringing peace to the Middle East and will continue to work for this goal in a convinced manner, both in word and deed.
At the opening of the plenary session of the European Parliament yesterday, it was decided to have a full debate on EU Middle East policy during our July session, followed by our conclusions. In view of the current instability and the constantly evolving situation in the region, I believe this is the right decision.
However, this does not mean that we will passively observe developments. The European Union, including the European Parliament, must give the lead in a renewed engagement with the Palestinian people and their representatives.
Dear colleagues, we must face up to our own responsibilities. We must do everything within our power to ensure that humanitarian conditions can be restored within the Palestinian Territories. We must support the Palestinian people to cope with their most urgent needs of this time, but we must also work to develop a long-term political perspective.
We should welcome that the Council yesterday decided to reactivate normal contacts with the Palestinian Authority. In this context, the European Union decided to take the necessary measures so that efficient and transparent direct financial assistance can recommence, including help to build up functioning institutions. The aims of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including police cooperation, will be brought forward. The European Parliament, which has a decision-making role on the EU budget, will lend its full support to this.
Above and beyond these measures, we in the European Parliament must appeal to the Palestinians to renew their commitment to the path of dialogue so that the necessary reconciliation can be achieved within the prospect of a viable Palestinian State which unifies the Palestinian Territories. It is in nobody's interest that the civil war is prolonged or escalated.
There can also be no peace without Israeli involvement. Israel has a great responsibility. During my visit to Israel, and above all in my speech before the Knesset, I stressed very clearly that the European Parliament called on Israel to exercise its political responsibility and unequivocally support President Abbas.
In this context I would like to repeat my insistence that Israel, which for months has withheld Palestinian customs duties in the region of 800 million US dollars, to release this money to President Abbas. The Israeli Government declared its willingness to do so, now they must deliver on this rapidly. The European Union must be a trustworthy intermediary and I see it as a challenge to the European Parliament to follow this in a responsible manner.
Israelis and Palestinians have the same dignity. They both have the same right to live within secure borders. I hope that the day will come when Palestinians and Israelis will be able to live peacefully together. The European Parliament, as the representatives of the peoples of Europe, must in a committed and responsible manner support a policy of reconciliation and understanding, even if that may seems very far away from us today."
Political group speakers
(EPP-ED, ES) said that the situation in the Middle East constituted a "very serious political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis." and that "we have to try to solve the international standstill on Palestinians since Hamas won the elections. Mr Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra added that "progress can only be made by denouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel" and "without unity, we will not be able to realise this dream of a viable Palestinian state. It is "now time to put down weapons" and for the EU to "make a contribution to a first sustainable peace in the Middle East."
(DE), for the PES group, said that "there is only once path possible" and that "history has proven that dialogue can show a way out of violence." Mr Schulz added that "we have to involve all forces, we have to bring everybody round the table" and we need to "be a bit more honest with ourselves." The EU's task is "not to send European soldiers to Israel", and it is "unacceptable" that "we don't have the money to provide humanitarian aid, but we do have money to send soldiers there."
(UK), for the ALDE group, said that "a two-state Palestine is emerging, riddled with conflict and fear, while a two-state solution is increasingly further away." He stressed that "unless we want civil war to triumph over unity, both sides have to face the facts", and added that "a heavy dose of pragmatism is now required."
"The EU must not be prepared to take a back seat", Mr Watson continued, because "politics and politics alone can create the prospects for peace in the Middle East" and that the international community together must "work to foster peace in the region."
(UEN, IE) spoke of "the failure...of both Israel and Palestine to live up to their commitments", adding that "a two-state solution must be based on viability... [and] equality."
Mr Crowley went on to say that "to think that what happened in Gaza with Hamas was an accident is to misread our own failures" to deal with the situation. Mr Crowley said that "now we have been given a new opportunity to show courage in the face of death and disaster."
(Greens/EFA, DE) said that his group agreed with the analysis made by the Council. The Palestinians and the Israelis, he said, were paying the bitter price for this instability. The EU, he said, must galvanise itself and take the lead as neither the US or Russia could do this. The EU, he said, should organise an international conference as there was a danger that Iran would fill the vacuum in Gaza. Finally, Mr Cohn Bendit said that Israel's policies of "occupation and fences" would never work. The Israelis should enter into negotiations with the new Palestinian government.
(GUE/NGL, FR) said that appeals to end the violence were ineffective as the Israeli government benefited from "total impunity from the International community". The Palestinians were suffering from permanent humiliation. The international community's policies were bearing fruit in Gaza.
(IND/DEM, NL) said that so called "unity government had suffered a bloody divorce". Hamas he said, had refused to recognise Israel and was carrying out a policy of permanent destabilisation. The bold words on a two - state solution were not being respected. It was necessary, he said, to work with together was Israel.
(ITS, AT) said the Gaza was effectively "a prison" and the Palestinians were suffering terrible conditions. There had been multiple failures in the past but now the EU must come to the forefront. It was a mistake, he said, to have not recognised the democratically elected Hamas-led government.