EU Ambassador holds Hamas responsible for breakdown of talks to end Gaza fighting
Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of delegation of the European Union to Israel, is no stranger to the region. Speaking to The Media Line’s Felice Friedson, Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen said in the mid-1970s following his high school graduation he spent time in Kibbutz Neot Mordechai in northern Israel. A time of unrest, the future envoy even experienced mortar-fire from Lebanon.
Faaborg-Andersen was also Middle East director from 2000 to 2003 during the Second Intifada and was involved in the formulation of the “Roadmap peace plan” which, he said, “I still think is very relevant parameter for finding a way to the two-state solution.”
Faaborg-Anderson told The Media Line that upon his return many years later, “you see the huge transformation that this society has been through and cause for admiration that the dominant agricultural country has been turned into a high tech innovation state.”
TML: The European Union has taken an active role in the Cairo talks offering proactive measures in the search for a solution to the Gaza crisis. What is the EU in position to do?
Ambassador: Well, first of all I want to say that we very much support what has been going on in Cairo and also the very important role that Egypt plays here, and for that reason we’re very dismayed [that] these talks have now been abrogated. We put the responsibility for that squarely on Hamas. I think the talks are trying to achieve two things: the reconstruction and rebuilding of Gaza through an opening of the crossings; and the free flow of legitimate goods on the one hand, and on the other hand reassurance toward the Israeli government that Hamas or any other terrorist group in the area is not going to be rearmed in this process. The EU is ready to offer to assist in establishing a mechanism that will ensure that no weapons and no illicit goods are transferred into the Gaza area and thereby preventing rearmament of any of the groups there.
TML: Haven’t we been there before where there have been situations where we have had smuggling of weaponry and the use of cement for the wrong purpose – How is that going to change this time?
Ambassador: The monitoring mechanism is only as good as the agreement it’s designed to monitor. You’re very right in saying that we have had a mission for some time at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza which has not been operative because the original agreement — which is the 2005 Access Movement Agreement — was not implemented. Now, what we hope is that a new agreement will be better respected than the previous ones and that I think will give us a better possibility of doing an effective monitoring role here. But I think it’s very important to point out that the scenario that we envisage is that the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, are allowed back into Gaza; that they will be the ones who are manning the various crossing points and that the EU will be monitoring that they are doing their job in the proper way and thereby giving Israel reassurances that only legitimate groups are crossing the borders of Gaza.
TML: Do you think the Israelis will agree to that?
Ambassador: Well, we have had very positive responses from the Israeli government officials so far. I think they appreciate that we take an active interest in this and we are in discussion with them now on how we can design this mechanism in more detail.
TML: What about the suggested shipping lane between Gaza and Cyprus the EU has said it is willing to establish?
Ambassador: Well, I think that one of the longstanding requests [by Hamas] has been to open the Gaza port and expand it. The question is, again, how do you ensure that illicit goods will not come in that way? One of the ideas that have come up is to establish a dedicated departure point — maybe at Cyprus — and then the international community could have some role in monitoring and escorting ships that are sailing from this designated point in Cyprus to Gaza in order to ensure that they are only bringing legitimate goods into the area. That’s an idea that has been discussed previously, but again, this would have to be something that the parties agree upon.
TML: Has Hamas directly expressed interest in any of the European Union’s suggestions?
Ambassador: We don’t have any relations with Hamas. Hamas is as we see it a terrorist organization that we don’t entertain any relations with, so I can’t answer that question.
TML: To your knowledge, were Israel and Hamas ever close to an agreement?
Ambassador: All I can say is that we have heard from the Egyptian interlocutors that the gaps between them were, in their opinion, bridgeable. We have also heard similar assessments from the United Nations. But it’s all a question of political will. Unfortunately, I think that there are some, particularly on the Palestinian side, who are dead set to use this as a way of trying to promote a political platform that goes far beyond what is needed to achieve the objectives that I talked about before: disarmament of Gaza and the possibility of reconstructing the area by the opening of the crossings.
TML: Has the process reached the point of total collapse?
Ambassador: I certainly don’t hope so. Our clear message is that we condemn the rocket attacks. We hold Hamas responsible for the breaking of that ceasefire. We urge a stopping of the violence and a return by the parties to Cairo in order to resume the negotiations on a long term sustainable ceasefire.
TML: As we’re speaking, I believe about nine ceasefires have been broken by Hamas.
Ambassador: This is to be feared, of course. Therefore, I think it’s incumbent on the international community to impress upon those who are trying to obstruct the negotiations and those who are supporting them in the international community that they need to change their policy. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how further bloodshed can be prevented at this point and time.
TML: Once the Gaza war quiets down, attention will no doubt return to the matter of a broad peace between Israel and the Arab nations. Some Israelis and Palestinians we’ve spoken to believe the European Union might be a more capable interlocutor than the United States especially in light of the friction between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is a higher profile for the EU a possibility?
Ambassador: I think the EU has had a fairly high profile all the while. It’s very obvious and well known that we put a very high priority on trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which we think is a threat not only to Israel but to the stability of the whole region and it stands in the way of the Palestinian people realizing their legitimate aspirations for a national home, or a state of their own. So we will continue to actively pursue a policy of a two-state solution. We have much admiration and fully supported the American efforts to mediate the negotiations and we will again be joining efforts with the United States and others once we have hopefully calmed down this crisis. There is no solution to the Gaza crisis outside the overall solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of a two-state solution and that’s very important I think at this point and time to keep in mind.
TML: Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen, there is confusion about the European Union’s requirements that Israel delineate between products that originate in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and the rest of the country. Could you explain what is expected from Israel and what reactions you’ve received from Israel pertaining to this?
Ambassador: I think the EU’s policy on settlements is quite well known: We’re very critical of them. At the same time, we are totally against any boycott, any BDS movement targeted at Israel. We don’t see sanctions or isolation of Israel as a way forward. We have an agreement with Israel which is Israel within its 1967 lines in numerous areas including trade which allows for customs-free export of Israeli goods to the internal market of Europe including animal goods and agricultural goods of different kinds. As it is now, products that are originating in the areas on the side of the post-1967 green line [Israel’s borders before the 1967 war] can come onto the EU market but they are not considered as being part of Israeli territory and for that reason they’re not coming into the EU market at discounted customs rates like goods from Israel proper do.
There is an additional concern: produce and meat products require certification for health and veterinary standards. These products can in principle be exported to the EU market, but since we don’t accept Israeli authority in the areas beyond the green line, we also cannot not accept veterinary services certifying goods that are coming from those areas. This is really what the issue is about. As of March this year, the regulations have been revised and it has been specified that the certification cannot be done by the Israeli authorities on those goods coming from settlement entities across the green line.
TML: There are those that claim that there has not been an adjudication of the legality of settlements and argue that until there is, the case can be made that the Israeli communities in post-1967 areas are not illegal. So how do you respond to that?
Ambassador: I think that 99% of the international community is of the view that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank area is an occupation and therefore that one cannot view that as part of Israel proper and for that this is what we base our policy on. We have the word of the international call of justice and all this for that. I feel pretty confident that this is the overwhelming legal view internationally.
TML: Is the timing right for the international community to turn up the pressure on Israel and the Palestinians and press for an agreement?
Ambassador: As I said before, I think that on the one hand, the Gaza conflict has shown the need for a solution to this problem and made it even clearer to everybody. At the same time, we cannot discount the fact that the trust between the peoples are now at an even lower level than they have been before and obviously there will be many in Israel saying, we are never going to embark on any idea of a two-state solution which could mean that we could have a new Gaza situation developing in the West Bank. I think the key objective is to try to alleviate those fears by showing that a solution can be found where Israel will still have sufficient security guarantees for such a scenario not to develop.
TML: Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of the delegation for the European Union, many thanks.
Ambassador: Thank you.