By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) - It is time for Europe to lead for peace in the Middle East following the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a London panel heard Tuesday.
The message was conveyed by speakers at the panel “Trump’s Jerusalem Promise: Time for Europe to Lead for Peace in the Middle East” organized by the EuroPal Forum - an independent and non-party political organization based in London working to build networks throughout Europe in support of the promotion and realization of Palestinian rights.
Speaking at the panel via a recorded video message, Julie Ward, a member of the European Parliament from the Labour Party, underlined that since U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel on Dec. 6, there has been an increase in violent actions by Israel’s occupying forces against the Palestinians.
Ward said Trump’s decision is a “serious provocation for those who have been pursuing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause”. She said Trump’s decision to reverse seven decades of foreign policy has dismayed the majority of the world’s leaders, dashing the hopes of peace campaigners from both sides of the conflict.
Stressing that Trump’s decision goes against all peace efforts by all parties and encourages Israel’s continuing violation of human rights, Ward said “it is clear that the U.S. would not be a productive partner” in the peace process.
“We are pushing the EU to take action…in the European parliament,” she added.
Toby Cadman, a barrister and international law specialist, pointed out that the rejection of Trump’s decision by the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and by a very high number of the member countries at the General Assembly despite threats made by the U.S. administration was “significant”.
Cadman said whether Trump will implement his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem still remains to be seen, but the U.S. could not continue to be accepted as an “honest broker” for peace when such a decision had been made.
Another speaker, Dr. Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic, writer and activist, argued that with the latest decision, the U.S. administration “has made very clear that Israeli and U.S. interests are identical”.
“And therefore, the gloves are off. It is very clear that the U.S. not only isn’t an honest broker, it is not an independent broker, but it is totally identified with Israel,” Karmi said.
Recalling the cuts by the U.S. administration in funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Karmi said someone else should fill this gap.
“The EU becomes very important with this vacuum of international support for the Palestinians…Why the EU is now relevant is of course because it is very much involved in this business.”
Karmi said the EU has funded both Israelis and Palestinians in various fields and is therefore an ideal body to play the role.
“What is the EU’s position on Palestine and Palestinian people’s future? First, peace can be achieved by two states, by the creation of a Palestinian State and having a two-state solution. Secondly, there has been a concern by the EU from the beginning with the refugee issue.”
Karmi said the two-state solution has been the “bedrock” in EU policy toward the conflict and urged the EU to press on Israel for a possible two-state solution. She said the EU could suspend a visa waiver program in place for Israeli citizens which makes it possible for them to travel freely across Europe.
“That’s a very small action that the EU could start with,” she said.
Regarding Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, Karmi said “we must not think about the U.S. in this context. We have to free ourselves from this kind of thinking.”
Prof. Kamel Hawwash, an academic from Birmingham University and a writer, was among the speakers at the EuroPal Forum’s panel.
Recalling his recent entry rejection by Israeli officials, Hawwash argued that the EU should refuse entry for Israeli settlers.
"The last UN resolution about the settlers [from the occupied Palestinian territories] … distinguished between Israel and the occupied territories.
“The EU can actually escalate the distinction through an action to do with settlement… it must be about imposing some sort of sanction… If I am denied entry as a British citizen to Israel, why is it that Israeli settlers are allowed to come in?”
However, Hawwash also urged Palestinians to look at their own means to activate a peace process first and then start searching for support as well.
One of the organizers, Zaher Birai, told Anadolu Agency that he hoped the panel would “send a clear message that it is unacceptable… to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital”.
Birai said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement yesterday “was worrying” despite the previous messages of support for Palestinians from the British government.
“Clearly, with Jerusalem now having been recognized by the U.S. as the capital of Israel, one would expect some symmetrical movement in the other direction to get things moving,” Boris Johnson said during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Johnson on Tuesday was accused of putting a two-state solution at fresh risk after suggesting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is a “moment of opportunity” for peace.
Trump's controversial decision has sparked a wave of condemnation and protests across the world.
The full 193-member UN General Assembly met for a rare emergency special session regarding the decision, and 128 members voted in favor of a resolution which affirmed that the issue of Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nine countries voted against and 35 others abstained in the vote held on Dec. 21 last year.