By LORNE COOK
BRUSSELS (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday urged European Union countries to recognize the state of Palestine and called on the 28-nation bloc to step up political efforts in the Middle East amid Arab disappointment with the U.S. role in the region.
At talks with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Abbas also recommitted to a negotiated solution to the conflict with Israel and to past peace agreements, days after suggesting that the historic Oslo Peace Accords were as good as dead.
Calling the EU a true partner and friend, Abbas said the Europeans should “swiftly recognize the state of Palestine.”
“This would encourage the Palestinian people to keep hoping for peace and to wait until peace is brought about,” he told reporters.
But while the EU is the world’s biggest aid donor to the Palestinians, it is highly unlikely that its member countries would make such a move.
Reassuring EU nations worried by his recent declarations about peace moves, Abbas said the Palestinians would “continue complying with the treaties that we signed” and he called on Israel to do the same.
At his side, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestine, saying it is the “only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
She also underlined the need for all parties involved “to speak and act wisely and consistently with a sense of responsibility.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, meanwhile, said that France wants the EU to start work on an agreement on closer ties with the Palestinian territories, following President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The EU already has an agreement governing relations with the Palestinians, but Le Drian signaled that France wants to launch negotiations on an Association Agreement enshrining trade, political and other ties. Such accords are usually only agreed with recognized states. The EU already has one with Israel.
“Concerning relations between the European Union and Palestine, we want to move from an interim agreement to an Association Agreement and immediately engage a process in that direction,” Le Drian said. Mogherini said later that the issue wasn’t raised with Abbas.
EU diplomats say the bloc is mulling several ways to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a negotiated settlement on the status of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinians see as their capital.
Not all member states are likely to back the French call, the diplomats said Friday, briefing reporters on condition that they not be identified.
Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem broke with international consensus on the best way forward in Middle East peace moves, and his freeze on some funding to the Palestinians has angered many in the region and sparked financial uncertainty at the U.N. agency working in the territories.
Indeed many in Europe have been left bewildered by Trump’s approach and are still trying to understand how his recent actions fit into a “strategy” that he promised to unveil months ago.
“What would be ideal would be to undertake a peace initiative together with the Americans,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said. “President Trump announced an initiative some time ago. We’re waiting for it, and the European Union is ready to work on an initiative that would go in the direction of two states.”
Mogherini said that the EU is looking at what more it can do to help the U.N. agency in the territories, which helps provide education and health services for many young Palestinians, “but obviously we expect our friends in the United States to fulfil their commitments.”
She warned that any cut in its activities “would cause instability, security threats I believe, and would also damage the credibility of any political peace process.”
Karin Laub in Jerusalem contributed to this report.