Israel-Palestine: Speech on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate

(Source: EEAS)

Delivered by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Portugal, Augusto Santos Silva.

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Madam President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

For over a week, we have been witnessing one of the worst upsurges in violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory for many years. The grave escalation in and around Gaza, follows days of clashes in Jerusalem, including at the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount. 

We are particularly dismayed at the large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries, including children, be it the result of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza or of indiscriminate rockets attacks launched from Gaza.

The fighting must stop. It must stop immediately. The High Representative has been active in calling for restraint and responsible acting. He spoke to President [of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud] Abbas and to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi. He has also spoken with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as yesterday with United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. The High Representative is also working closely with Member States. An extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers is happening right now.

Let us be very clear: the European Union has condemned the indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israeli civilians. It is unacceptable and must stop. We understand Israel’s right to protect its civilian population. Nevertheless, we expect its response to be proportionate, with maximum restraint in the use of force.

The European Union is working in every way it can to end the hostilities and to support the mediation efforts of the United Nations, Egypt and others. We will continue to work with all relevant parties and the international community, including through the [Middle East] Quartet, as a matter of urgency. 

The United Nations Security Council also held an important discussion on Sunday where all Council members agreed on the need to immediately end the violence. 

For everyone, the priority now must be immediate de-escalation in order to protect civilian lives. All sides must uphold international humanitarian law and provide for full humanitarian access. And all efforts should be directed at avoiding further civilian casualties and preventing the alarming loss of life we have seen thus far. The humanitarian consequences of this latest escalation have already been considerable. 

Many of us have strong views on the proximate causes of this latest conflict. Indeed, the events in Jerusalem during the recent period of the Muslim Holy Days, have been alarming. We were deeply concerned by the clashes at Haram-al-Sharif / Temple Mount

Again, let us be clear: in a city that is home to the three monotheistic religions, all sides must uphold and fully respect the status quo of the holy sites. Freedom of worship and peaceful freedom of assembly must be guaranteed. 

The situation with regard to the eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other areas of East Jerusalem also remains of serious concern. It is vital that Israel does not allow them to be carried out. Such actions are illegal under international law and only fuel tensions on the ground.

All leaders continue to have a responsibility to act against extremists, against violence and incitement and to do everything in their power to calm the situation.

Tragically, this is a cycle of violence that we have seen all too often. We need this to change.

These latest events, including the situation in Gaza, underline the urgent need to look beyond the current clashes, and to restore a political horizon towards a negotiated two-state solution. The status quo in Gaza, in particular, proves that the current situation is fundamentally unsustainable. 

I conclude, Madam President, saying that both Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve to live in safety and security, enjoying equal rights, fundamental freedoms and democracy. A new date for Palestinian elections, held across all of the Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, must be set without delay.

There is still time to de-escalate and to prevent further loss of lives. The violence must end now. Right now.

Thank you.

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