‘100% carrots’: Arab states, EU unveil plan to entice Israel, PA to sign peace deal
Nearly 30 foreign ministers from countries in Europe and the Middle East met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday to unveil a new initiative aimed at reviving the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The “Peace Day Effort” was driven by the European Union, Saudi Arabia, the Arab League, Egypt, and Jordan, who agreed at the event to produce a “Peace Supporting Package” in the coming months that will maximize dividends for Israelis and Palestinians, once they reach a peace agreement.
Participants agreed to form three working groups that will be tasked with producing the components of the package. One working group will outline potential post-peace regional, political, and security cooperation mechanisms. A second working group will develop proposals for economic cooperation in areas such as trade, investment, innovation, transportation, natural resources, and the environment. A third working group will develop proposals for cooperation in humanitarian, inter-cultural, and human security issues.
Participating countries also agreed to assess the initiative’s progress every three months before presenting the finalized Peace Supporting Package by September 2024.
The main architect of the initiative, EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans, told The Times of Israel in a Sunday interview that the plan’s contributors are “envisaging… what regionally and globally everybody would contribute the moment that there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.”
He clarified that those behind the Peace Day Effort are not trying to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, since only the parties themselves can do this. “What we are now starting to do is to say, ‘If you reach that agreement… this is what we would contribute as your neighbors, as your friends and potential future friends to your peace.’”
The EU envoy said the package would also include incentives for the Syrian and Lebanese governments to make peace with Israel, without elaborating further.
With a hardline, anti-two-state solution government currently in power in Jerusalem and an ever-weakening Palestinian leadership clinging to power in Ramallah, Koopmans admitted that peace talks are not likely any time soon.
“There is still a lot that their friends and potential friends can do themselves to prepare the ground,” he maintained.
The senior EU official said Brussels continues to advance a policy opposing Israel’s presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, the initiative unveiled Monday is focused on offering incentives to the parties, rather than continuing a more punitive approach.
“This particular effort is 100 percent carrots. But that doesn’t mean that everything in EU policy is just that,” Koopmans said.
The Peace Day Effort is also building on a 2013 offer by the EU to present an “unprecedented package of political, security and economic support” to both of the conflict’s parties once they reach a peace deal. The terms of such an offer were never fleshed out and the formation of the working groups will provide the sides an opportunity to do so, Koopmans said.
He went on to express his hope that the Peace Day Effort would spark a debate in Israel over how it wants to end the conflict. “With this effort, we hope to make a contribution to that debate.”
وزير الخارجية يلقى كلمة مصر أمام الاجتماع الوزارى لدعم جهود إحياء عملية السلام علي اساس المبادرة العربية للسلام https://t.co/quu5hRM9Ua
— Egypt MFA Spokesperson (@MfaEgypt) September 18, 2023
While Koopmans sought to frame the initiative as a more friendly gesture to the conflict’s parties, many of the speakers at Monday’s event used the opportunity to largely criticize Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi stressed the need for Israel to cease “unilateral actions” beyond the Green Line, such as settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, evictions of Palestinian families, and violations of the status quo at Jerusalem holy sites.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said afterward that Riyadh chose to hold the event due to continued violence taking place on the ground and the fact that the people are beginning to lose hope that a two-state solution is possible. Accordingly, Monday’s initiative is meant to “restore hope” for the Palestinians that a just peace is possible, the Saudi foreign minister said, adding that the event took place in coordination with the Palestinian leadership.
Speakers, including Farhan, stressed their support for the Arab Peace Initiative (API), exposing the apparent contradiction of Riyadh’s approach, since it is currently engaging with the Biden administration on a potential normalization agreement with Israel. The API only envisions the Arab world normalizing ties with Israel, after the latter has agreed to a two-state solution to the conflict and not before, as Saudi Arabia is currently considering.
Still, the decision by Riyadh to co-lead the Peace Day Effort is the latest in a series of steps to intensify engagement on the issue and demonstrate that it still remains committed to the Palestinian cause, even as it negotiates with the Biden administration.
Earlier this month, Riyadh hosted a PA delegation and assured its participants that Riyadh “will not abandon” the Palestinian cause, even as it discusses normalizing ties with Israel, a US and an Arab official told The Times of Israel last week.
There will be follow-up conversations between US, Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi officials on the UNGA sidelines about a potential normalization deal, but Riyadh will likely need several months to study the issue further before raising specific Palestinian-related demands in its talks with the Biden administration, according to the two officials.
Last month, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan began serving as Riyadh’s first-ever nonresident ambassador to the Palestinians, as well as its first-ever nonresident consul-general to Jerusalem.
The US also sent a representative to Monday’s ministerial event but sufficed with Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, instead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Washington is not particularly enthusiastic about the idea, according to two sources familiar with the matter, who said that it clouds US efforts to advance both a potential Israel-Saudi normalization agreement as well as the Negev Forum that includes Israel and friendly Arab states, which already features working groups aiming to advance regional cooperation in many of the same fields discussed on Monday.
Leaf will also be meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel.
Netanyahu will have a one-on-one with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday, and the administration is also considering a follow-up meeting in the Oval Office in the future, according to a senior Israeli official.
While the administration has previously sought to couple such meetings with similar sit-downs between Biden and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, no such plans are currently being considered against the backdrop of the Palestinian leader’s latest antisemitic remarks earlier this month.
Also addressing Monday’s event were Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and UN deputy chief Rosemary DiCarlo, who stood in for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials were invited to Monday’s event, as it was focused on engaging the contributors to the Peace Supporting Package. However, the initiative’s backers are speaking with both parties to hear what they would like included in the package, Koopmans said.
The initiative will feature prominently in meetings Borrell will hold on the UNGA sidelines with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki, Koopmans said.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to respond to a query regarding Jerusalem’s stance on the Peace Day Effort. Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour did not respond to repeated requests for comment.