As Syria Burns, EU Foreign Policy Chief Sees Palestinian Issue As a Global Priority

By Patrick Goodenough | October 1, 2015 | 4:13am EDT
The Palestinian flag flies for the first time at U.N. headquarters on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Earlier in the month the U.N. General Assembly voted to allow the flag to fly, even though it does not represent a sovereign state. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

( – On a day when the bloody Syrian conflict took a dangerous new turn with the launch of Russian airstrikes and Iran’s supreme leader issued military threats against Saudi Arabia, the European Union’s top diplomat suggested Wednesday that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was a global priority.

“All of the world, from East Asia to Latin America, looks at this, because this has a strong symbolic power for everybody in the world,” Federica Mogherini said of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

It was “not something unrelated to” the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or to efforts to solve other “conflicts around the world,” she added.

Speaking after a meeting in New York of the so-called Mideast Quartet – the U.S., E.U., United Nations and Russia – Mogherini said the grouping had decided to give new impetus to efforts to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track.

She cited a flare-up of tensions around the mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, where Israeli police have clashed repeatedly with Muslim rioters in recent weeks.

“What we’re seeing today is the possibility of a dramatic enflame of Jerusalem, the risk that if we don’t act, if the leaders on the ground don’t act, this can be a major source of radicalization not only in the region but worldwide,” she said.

Mogherini said the Quartet was encouraging the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to implement already agreed-upon measures and to engage in direct negotiations.

“All of the world, from East Asia to Latin America, looks at this, because this has a strong symbolic power for everybody in the world,” she said.

“This is not something unrelated to what we were discussing this morning in the Security Council on the fight against terrorism and Da’esh [ISIS]. This is not something unrelated to what we’re discussing when we talk about solving the political crises and the conflicts around the world,” Mogherini continued.

Still referring to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, she said “it seems to be the little crisis that has been there for decades, still maybe today, out of all the crises we have in front of us, is the one that is possible to solve – if we have enough leadership, enough political will and enough international and regional support to push in that direction.”

Oslo threat

Earlier in the day Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech at the U.N. General Assembly harshly criticizing Israel and accusing it of undermining all efforts to reach a negotiated settlement.

Abbas said that as long as Israel refuses to commit to signed agreements, to cease settlement activity in the disputed territories and to release more Palestinian prisoners, the P.A. would no longer consider itself bound by the Oslo accords, the two decade-old agreements that led to the establishment of the P.A. and to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Asked her reaction to the announcement, Mogherini said she had spoken to Abbas, and that she interpreted his words as a warning, reflecting the urgency of the situation.

“I have interpreted his words as a scenario that is going to happen if – and there is an ‘if.’ Now on that ‘if’ we will have to work,” she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office in a statement said Abbas’ speech was   “deceitful and encourages incitement and lawlessness.”

“We expect and call on the [Palestinian] Authority and its leader to act responsibly and accede to the proposal of the prime minister of Israel and enter into direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions,” it said. “The fact that he – time and again – has refused to do so is the best possible proof of the fact he does not intend to reach a peace agreement.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.

The Quartet meeting came on a day otherwise dominated by the news that Russia had launched its first airstrikes inside Syria. Russia says it is targeting ISIS but its intervention is widely viewed as an attempt to strengthen its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian autocrat is confronting a rebellion involving ISIS, other extremists, and a range of other groups, including some backed by the U.S. and its allies.

Elsewhere in the region, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a speech Wednesday lashing out at Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s handling of a stampede that killed more than 800 Islamic pilgrims, including more than 200 Iranians, near Mecca on Sept. 24.

It was not the first time since the tragedy that Shi’ite Iran has criticized its longstanding Sunni rival, but this time Khamenei stepped up the rhetoric.

“Iran has so far shown self-restraint, and has observed Islamic ethics and fraternal grace in the world of Islam,” he said. “But they [the Saudi government] must know that Iran has the upper hand vis-à-vis many countries and possesses more facilities, and if it decides to react against cunning, bothering elements, their condition will not be good and cannot stand against Iran in any battlefield.”

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