At an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday, Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn called for an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; as well as the resumption of political talks. Asselborn demanded that Hamas and other terrorist groups immediately stop attacks against Israel. Stating they were “criminal acts”. He said while Israel has the right to defend itself in compliance with international humanitarian law, “the bombing of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, killing at least 212 people, including 61 children and 36 women, is intolerable and cannot be justified in the context of legitimate defence”.
Speaking to French daily newspaper L’Humanité, about the current situation in Israel and Gaza he said this:
Interview: L’Humanité : Pierre Barbancey 17.5.2021 Translated from French: LM
L’Humanité: How do you analyze what is currently happening in the Middle East?
Jean Asselborn: We have to start from the fundamental problem. Palestinians have lived since 1967, fifty-four years, under Israeli occupation, whether in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza. On the other hand, what is called the “peace process”, that is to say the search for a negotiated solution between two States, Israel and Palestine, living in peace within the borders of 1967 and with Jerusalem the capital of both, was a utopia, but it has become a pipe dream. Under the Trump administration, anything that could be destroyed was destroyed. The idea of the two-state solution no longer existed, under Trump Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. As for the Palestinians, they suffered from Netanyahu’s policy, that is, colonization. And it should be added that the international community has focused its full attention on Saudi Arabia and Iran. The fate of a few million Palestinians no longer counted. Economic interests dominated and the peace process became the third concern. On the Palestinian side, elections should have been held, the last took place in 2005 and 2006. I think President Mahmoud Abbas wanted to organize them. But there were two problems. That of division, not only between Hamas and Fatah but within Fatah itself. And the question of the organization of the poll in East Jerusalem. The Israelis did nothing to make these elections possible. Beyond the personal fates which are already dire, as seen in Sheikh Jarrah, there is the risk that Palestinians will no longer be tolerated in East Jerusalem. Added to this was what happened on the Temple Mount and triggered the violence we are witnessing.
L’Humanité: What about the bombings in Gaza?
Jean Asselborn: Hamas, which is a radical organization, is firing rockets at Israel. It’s not acceptable. There is no justification for this. These are criminal acts. Israel reacts as it did in 2014, by bombing. We see the result. As I speak to you, there are 188 dead on the Palestinian side and 11 on the Israeli side. You should know that in Gaza you cannot go out. It’s closed. There are no shelters where civilians could take refuge. On the one hand there is the risk of a third Intifada and on the other hand the risk of a ground offensive in Gaza. Which means that, like previous wars, a lot of unacceptable things would happen there. And, moreover, we can see that there is the danger of a civil war in Israel itself, between Jews and Arabs.
L’Humanité: Internationally, there are many declarations but few actions. Why?
Jean Asselborn: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel has the right to defend itself, but – and this is something we haven’t heard from Americans since 2016 – that Palestinians have the right to live in freedom and security. I hope that this will allow a resolution to be voted on in the Security Council and will lead, in a first phase, to an end to the violence. Muslim countries should also play either through their influence with Hamas, as is the case with Turkey and Qatar, or through their relationship with Israel, especially those who signed the Abraham Accords. Between 2008 and 2016, the European Union had a clear position that the 1967 borders should shape the two states, that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and Palestine. But it was all shattered. I remember the discussions we had last year regarding plans to annex part of the West Bank by Israel. There were only a few of us who stood up for the principles. Which makes things very complicated. In 2014, Obama condemned Israeli colonization, spoke out for the 1967 borders and for Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. If the United States returned to this position, it would also be much easier to regain unanimity in the EU. We have abandoned the problem of the Palestinian people. For at least two or three years, this has not been a priority anymore. We have not done all it takes to get things done by believing that diplomatic openness between Israel and Arab countries is more important than the plight of millions of Palestinians. However, no people on earth would accept what they have been going through all this time. Luxembourg is a country where 600,000 people live. Geographically, Gaza only represents 1/7 of Luxembourg, but 2 million Palestinians live there locked up, in an intolerable situation. All these people have to express themselves – this is not an excuse but it is a fact – is a violence. I do not justify the rockets fired at Israel, but it is an untenable situation. The status quo cannot be a solution. If it holds up, then I think we are at the start of new tragedies, even new wars in this region.
L’Humanité: You mentioned a State of Palestine. Should the European Union or the members of the EU not officially recognize this State of Palestine, which would make it possible to move the lines?
Jean Asselborn: This is a question that is raised very often. There are countries in the East which today are not really friends of Palestine, but recognized it in 1987. A large part of the countries in the West do not recognize it. This question of recognition comes up regularly. We all agree that the recognition of the State of Palestine must be something positive, which would be a motivation to move forward. Some countries are ready to take this step. Slovenia had considered it. Sweden did so in 2014. For this to be useful, a group of countries must recognize the State of Palestine, so that it is not seen as defensive but rather proactive. I have been experiencing this problem for seventeen years as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I do not see how a country on its own could make a difference. Last year we were in a defensive situation too, when there was the risk of annexation of part of the West Bank. If this had happened, there were countries willing to take this step but it would have been defensive. For now, we must do everything to stop the violence, but not rest afterwards. The European Union must act to ensure that this discussion on the two States is put back on track, whether through an international conference, which we have been talking about for years, or through the Quartet, of which the EU is a member, with the United States, Russia and the UN, which must be revitalized. We must give hope to the Palestinians, stop the colonization and destruction of Palestinian homes. As long as this continues, people will not believe that a solution can be reached through diplomatic channels. West Jerusalem may be the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of the State of Palestine. The Israelis must understand that they will not live in peace if Palestine does not have the right to its state and the Palestinians can also live in dignity. This is the fundamental question, regardless of who governs Israel. The fate of Israel is linked to the fate of Palestine.
L’Humanité: You say that colonization must be stopped. But it continues and grows. How can Israel be forced to comply with international law?
Jean Asselborn: The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in 2016 – the United States abstained – saying that colonization must stop. In multilateralism, therefore, there is a resolution of the Security Council, not of the General Assembly, which is clear and precise and should be respected. It hasn’t been. This is serious because it would suggest that this body that is the UN, created to avoid wars and ensure stability, would no longer have any meaning. If there was a clear position from the 27 countries of the European Union, the United States and the Quartet, that would help enormously. International law must also be applied and respected in Israel.