RIYADH: The EU’s special representative for the Middle East peace process on Tuesday expressed her “optimism” for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but admitted a two-state solution was the only viable option.
Speaking to Arab News, Susanna Terstal said she was confident that the international community would ultimately find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to become “good neighbors.”
During a visit to Riyadh, where she held meetings with senior Saudi officials, the diplomat said: “As special representative, I get a mandate from the member states to contribute to actions and initiatives leading to a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I work directly with all the member states and with high representative Federica Mogherini, maintaining close contact with all parties to the peace process.
“For the EU, international parameters are paramount. Like the League of Arab States (Arab League), we support a two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as a shared capital and a just solution for the refugee problem,” she added.
Terstal noted that her three-day trip to Saudi Arabia, followed by talks in the UAE, was aimed at finding ways to work with Arab states on achieving their common goals.
On current progress of the peace process, she said: “I am an optimist, I always say and I believe at a certain point as an international community there will be a solution to the conflict, and Israelis and Palestinians will manage to find a solution and live in peace and security as good neighbors.
“That is our goal, of course, but what we see at the moment is that the situation on the ground is deteriorating: West Bank and Gaza are split; and the settlements are growing.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is also a big concern to the EU. People in Gaza often do not have clean drinking water or electricity and the health situation is critical. We at the EU strive to alleviate those problems. Like Saudi Arabia, the EU is one of the biggest donors to the Palestinians,” Terstal added.
“With the EU and its member states in the past 15 years, we have spent €10 billion (SR41.6 billion). We spend that money for making the two-state solution possible. We do this to empower the Palestinian Authority, invest in rule of law, but also making sure the people can have a decent life. That’s why we also do projects in Gaza and are working on a large desalination plant there, with EU and Arab funding.
“But the ultimate goal is always a Palestinian state, in the framework of a two-state solution,” she said.
Terstal travels to Israel and Palestine every six weeks and frequently visits other countries in the region such as Jordan and Egypt. Part of her job is to liaise with European capitals to ensure they are all on the same page in terms of their approach to the Middle East peace process.
“We say that Jerusalem is the capital of both states and that Israel and the Palestinians should agree on a solution for the city through negotiations. It is also an important issue of course for the international community, because Jerusalem is the home of holy sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians and should be accessible to all.”
Asked about the shrinking Palestinian territory and expansionist policy of Israel, she said: “The UN Security Council resolutions are very clear on this and we believe that we should really fight for achieving two states. We realize it’s getting harder and harder with the passing of time and the expansion of settlements.
“But to us, the two-state solution remains the most viable option. And I think it is the same position here and that is what we are working for.”
During her visit to the Kingdom, Terstal held talks with various Saudi officials including Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir, General Supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, and Secretary-General of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Dr. Saud Al-Sarhan.
She noted the extensive aid work of KSRelief to help the Palestinians.
“We had very good discussions on how we can cooperate in the future. There are a lot of possibilities for peace, and it was very important for me to understand how the leaders in the Kingdom are looking at the conflict,” she added.