Abbas seeks EU support for Palestinians amid row with US

AFP , Monday 22 Jan 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
File Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will seek EU support in Brussels on Monday amid bitter acrimony with the United States, but he looks unlikely to get much the in way of concrete commitments.

In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Brussels, Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki said Abbas would urge the European Union to officially recognise the state of Palestine "as a way to respond" to US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

Abbas, who last week denounced US President Donald Trump's peace efforts as the "slap of the century", will also "reiterate his commitment to the peace process" in the Middle East, Malki said in an interview with AFP in Brussels.

The 82-year-old Abbas will meet EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and the bloc's 28 foreign ministers on the sidelines of their monthly meeting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar trip last month.

"Since Trump's decision has altered the rules of the game, he (Abbas) expects the European foreign ministers to come forward and collectively recognise the state of Palestine as a way to respond back to Trump's decision," Malki said.

But diplomats and officials in Brussels say recognition for Palestine is not on the cards on Monday -- the EU leaves recognition in the hands of individual members -- and the best Abbas can hope for is progress towards an "association agreement" with the bloc.

Some countries, notably France, are understood to be keen to give Abbas something concrete to take away.

But others are more cautious and a senior EU official said for now launching talks on an association remained "something we should aim towards".

A formal agreement would bring certain obligations the Palestinian Authority would have to fulfill, the senior official said, and currently it "does not have that full sovereign capacity".

Malki told AFP that while the Palestinian Authority was "very serious" about an association agreement, they also expected to be formally recognised as a state.

"One does not replace the other. Absolutely not," he said.

Abbas will urge the EU to take on a bigger role in trying to move peace efforts forward, Malki said, declaring American "exclusivity and monopoly" in the process is over and a new "multilateral" framework was needed.

Abbas's mission to Brussels comes as US Vice President Mike Pence visits Israel during a tour of the Middle East with Arab anger still smouldering over Washington's declaration on Jerusalem.

"It is an important coincidence. It will give a picture of a balance between the European Union and the United States in the area -- Abu Mazen with the Europeans and Pence with the Americans. That is an important image for Abu Mazen," analyst Jihad Harb, of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told AFP. Abu Mazen is a common Arabic moniker for Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership, furious over the Jerusalem decision, has said it will not accept the Trump administration as a mediator in peace talks with Israel and wants an internationally-led process.

"The Palestinians are looking to move away from a US-led process to a more a multilateral process and there does appear to be a greater willingness on the EU side to look at such a process," Hugh Lovatt, Israel Palestine Project Coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said.

Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working for months with a small team to develop a new US proposal to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but no details or even news of progress have emerged.

A senior EU official said Friday the bloc "believes a plan is in the making" but is still in the dark about "the content of this plan or the parameters".

The meeting will be the first gathering of EU foreign ministers since Trump set a 120-day deadline on January 13 for fixing "disastrous flaws" in the 2015 deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

Mogherini, who has been staunch in her defence of the landmark accord, will brief the meeting on the Iran situation but the three EU signatories to the deal -- France, Britain and Germany -- have not yet said how they plan to respond to Trump's ultimatum.

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