Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy

Short Url
Updated 27 November 2022

Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy

Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy
  • Dialogue that recognizes need to combine normalization with peace progress is key to a lasting settlement, Sven Koopmans tells Arab News
  • He says Saudi Arabia has a very important role to play in the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts

RIYADH: Normalization between Israel and Arab nations ought to occur in tandem with resolving the simmering regional conflict because the Abraham Accords alone have not fundamentally changed the situation for the Palestinians, Sven Koopmans, the EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process, has said.

The Abraham Accords are a series of agreements that have resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries. The UAE was the first to sign the pact in 2020, inaugurating a new era of political, economic and security cooperation with Israel in the face of common strategic concerns and regional threats. 

“I think these accords have, in some way, shown that change is possible,” Koopmans, a Dutch international lawyer and former politician, told Arab News during a visit to Riyadh on Monday

“Relations between the countries (concerned) have changed and we see positive things come out of it. At the same time, I do not believe that those agreements have fundamentally changed the situation for the Palestinians.” 

Although welcomed by much of the international community at the time, skeptics had warned that normalization alone would do little to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor would it bring about a final settlement based on the two-state solution. 




Palestinian demonstrators confront Israeli security forces following Friday prayers in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron. (File/AFP)

In the absence of tangible progress toward a peace settlement that addresses the needs of the Palestinians, most Arab countries have declined to embrace the logic of normalization of ties with Israel. 

Koopmans said he had talks on Monday with Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, in the course of which they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts and the need to find a positive solution that would offer peace, not just for the Palestinians and the Israelis but for the wider region. 

“I believe Saudi Arabia has a very important role to play,” Koopmans told Arab News. 




Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali and the EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans. (Supplied)

“It is everyone’s hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets resolved and that a Palestinian state comes into full existence and is recognized. For that, we need more. 

“So, that’s also what I’m discussing with the Saudi government and with many other governments in the region. How can we do everything in a way so that, at the same time you have normalization, you also have actual peace? We cannot leave one thing for later. That may never happen.” 

Koopmans, who has been tasked by the EU with providing an active contribution to the final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighted the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah in 2002. 

The initiative, which was re-endorsed at the 2007 and at the 2017 Arab League summits, offers normalization of relations in return for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Arab territories, a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. 




Palestinian security forces stand guard as locals holding up banners and waving national flags protest in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)

Saudi Arabia and several other states want to see the Arab Peace Initiative implemented before they agree to consider formal normalization with Israel. 

“I should first say that the EU also supports the Arab Peace Initiative, and that initiative of King Abdullah at that time was very courageous and very important, and I believe it still stands and we still support this,” said Koopmans. 

“There are many obstacles to seeing it become reality, and those obstacles are precisely what we are working on right now.” 




The EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans. (Supplied)

Splits within the Palestinian body politic, together with Israel’s own protracted political difficulties, are just some of the many obstacles stalling the peace process. Koopmans believes the way forward is for all parties to recognize the interests they hold in common.

“We need to come to a point where everybody is strong enough and willing enough to say now is the time for peace, as I believe,” Koopmans said.

“If we all look at what our real interests are, then we find much that unites us, including the Europeans. 

“We want security for the Middle East. We want everybody to live in freedom. We want people to enjoy equal rights. And we want all the nations in this part of the world so close to ours to have good trade relations, to have energy and water and climate change agreements and exchanges. 




Palestinian security forces stand guard as Palestinian protesters wave national flags during a demonstration in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)

“There is a lot to be done on that front, and I believe it is in everyone’s interest. And so that is the effort that I have come to Saudi Arabia to discuss with your government.” 

For some observers, formal recognition of a Palestinian state is an important prerequisite to reinvigorating the peace process. For Koopmans, however, the timing of such recognition is important. 

“There are some European member states, some countries that recognize a Palestinian state. The majority does not,” Koopmans said. 

He dismissed the notion that some instruction to this effect had come from “EU organizations in Brussels or from me.” 

“I believe that if we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wider conflict, then it becomes very easy for everyone to recognize. 

“In fact, that would be an integral part of it, because at least in Europe, also, those countries that do not recognize a Palestinian state very much believe that it is necessary, that there is eventually a Palestinian state. 

“But they say, okay, first it needs to be recognized and negotiated. Where precisely are the borders? How are the government institutions set up and able to function in a sovereign way … without Israeli occupation? They want to see that first. And that is part of the peace agreement that we should all be working on, and not just between Israel and Palestine but, again, also with the Arab neighbors. 

“And maybe there is some combination to be seen, because when will Arab states that do not recognize Israel at this time recognize Israel? I think it may be the same day that some European countries recognize a Palestinian state. So, let’s do it all together.” 

In the meantime, Koopmans and other diplomats working on the Israel-Palestine case are adamant that Palestinian attacks must stop and further Israeli settlement expansion must be halted before talks can resume in good faith. 

“These settlements are illegal,” said Koopmans. “The EU is very clear about that, as is the UN and the US and so many around the world. And, so, we will keep speaking out against them. My role as EU special representative is next to that. In addition to that, to work to revive the peace process. 

“Many people say the peace process does not exist and, in a way, they are right. There are no active negotiations to finally conclude the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflict, but it has to end. The occupation cannot go on forever. The violence that we see, the terrorist attacks that we see, they cannot go on forever. 

“They must stop. And the best way to stop them is to have serious negotiations about peace between Israel and the Palestinians so that there is a vibrant Palestinian state alongside a vibrant Israel, that both are secure. But then there also needs to be peace (between Israel) with Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon, with Algeria, with all the countries in the region.” 

In Koopmans’ opinion, forming a broad and inclusive dialogue that recognizes the need to combine normalization with genuine progress toward peace is key to establishing a lasting settlement. 

“I do believe that all countries in this region have an interest in this conflict and rather in this conflict going away and having peace,” said Koopmans. “And I think that that means we need to speak with Saudi Arabia as a very big player, but also with Egypt and Jordan and many other countries in the region. 

“Iran also has a strong concern about what happens in the region. Israel has a strong concern about what happens in Iran. Again, it is not my role to pinpoint particular players or to say he or she did this. But it is my role to contribute to having everyone be part of the solution.”

 


Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
Updated 07 December 2022

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests

Iranian ex-president lauds anti-regime protests
  • ‘Freedom trampled under pretext of protecting security,’ says Mohammad Khatami
  • Former leader calls on regime to meet protesters’ demands ‘before it is too late’

LONDON: Iran’s former President Mohammad Khatami has praised anti-regime protests and urged authorities to meet protesters’ demands “before it is too late,” the BBC reported.

The two-term reformist president, who served between 1997 and 2005, described “woman, life, freedom” as a “beautiful slogan,” and said that it showed Iranian society was moving toward a better future.

Khatami also criticized the security forces’ crackdown and arrest of students.

“It should not be allowed that freedom and security are placed in opposition to one another, and that as a result freedom is trampled under the pretext of maintaining security, or that security is ignored in the name of freedom,” he said.

“I advise officials to appreciate this presence and instead of dealing with it unjustly, extend a helping hand to them and, with their help, recognize the wrong aspects of governance and move toward good governance before it is too late.”

Khatami’s comments came in a statement to mark Student Day on Wednesday, with students having been at the forefront of the wave of protests that are now into their fourth month.

Protests were sparked by the September murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.

Her death ignited pent-up frustrations over falling living standards, and discrimination against women and minorities.

Protests have spread to more than 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 of Iran’s provinces, and are now considered the most serious challenge to the regime since it took power in the 1979 revolution.

Iran’s leadership has sought to portray the protests as “riots” instigated by “foreign enemies.”

Despite the brutal crackdown by security forces, which have led to the deaths of 473 protesters and the detention of more than 18,000 people, demonstrations show little sign of abating, with Khatami describing student involvement as “perhaps unprecedented.”

Iran’s judiciary also sentenced five protesters to death on charges of “corruption of the Earth” on Tuesday, with 11 others, including three children” handed long prison sentences.

Director of Iran Human Rights Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP News: “These people are sentenced after unfair processes and without due process. The aim is to spread fear and make people stop protesting.”

A total of 11 protesters have now been sentenced to death, with the country’s judiciary chief saying on Monday that executions will be carried out “soon.”


Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
Updated 07 December 2022

Iran executions up more than 50% this year

Iran executions up more than 50% this year
  • Over 500 people killed, says rights body
  • ‘Crackdown led by President Ebrahim Raisa’

LONDON: Iranian authorities have executed more than 500 people this year, according to data released by Iran Human Rights.

Up more than 50 percent on 2021’s figure of 333, the spike in executions marks a dramatic shift following years of decline, with numbers only likely to climb amidst the government’s brutal response to protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody.

Five further death sentences were handed out to protesters yesterday, for killing a member of the security forces, bringing to 11 the total number arising from the protests.

Meanwhile nine people have been charged over the killing of Iran’s nuclear weapons chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020. Israel’s security agency, Mossad, has been blamed for Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Newly elected president and former prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi, played a central role in the 1980s killing spree that resulted in the execution of thousands of opposition supporters.

His election last year, combined with the surging number of death sentences, are considered reflective of the increasing dominance of hardliners over Iranian politics.


New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
Updated 07 December 2022

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission

New launch date floated for UAE’s moon mission
  • Initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks

DUBAI: The UAE’s moon rover is set to blast off “no earlier than Dec. 11” after a series of tests were conducted on the SpaceX rocket.

In a statement, ispace inc., the Japanese firm that built HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover, said the initial launch date was delayed several times to allow for additional pre-flight checks on the rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover will launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, US, at 7:38 a.m. GMT on Dec. 11, embarking on a five-month journey to the moon in the Arab world’s first lunar mission.

 

 

“ispace’s Mission 1 lunar lander was integrated into the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing and battery charging operations for the lander will continue,” said the firm.

“No issues with the lander itself have been identified. As of today, no major operational changes are planned, with lunar landing scheduled for the end of April 2023.”

If the rover lands successfully, the UAE will be the fourth country to reach the moon.


Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
Updated 07 December 2022

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country

Somalia praises UAE for its relief efforts in the country
  • Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters

DUBAI: Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakour, Somalia’s special envoy for the President for Humanitarian Affairs and Drought, praised the UAE on Wednesday for its relief efforts in the drought-stricken country. 
“The UAE is a pioneer in providing the necessary support to Somalia in this crisis, as it was the first country to respond to the appeal launched by the Somali government to provide urgent relief to those affected by drought,” said Abdul Shakour.
He noted that the UAE fulfilled the needs of approximately 2.5 million people after it airlifted supplies and sent a ship carrying more than 1,000 tons of food and relief items to Somalia. 
Abdul Shakour’s comments were made on the sidelines of a conference held on Wednesday at the Arab League headquarters, which was jointly sponsored by the Arab League and United Nations.
The conference included several of senior officials from Arab philanthropic organizations and UN humanitarian bodies that aim to coordinate actions plans that will help address the worsening food situation in the African nation.


UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense
Updated 07 December 2022

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

UAE leaders meet Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum met with Afghanistan’s acting minister of defense during his official visit to the country.

The leaders discussed bilateral ties and areas of potential cooperation with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob in two separate meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reported state news agency (WAM).

They also reviewed issues of mutual interest.