European, Arab ministers hold talks on Mideast peace

DUBLIN (AFP) – European and Arab ministers held closed-door talks in Ireland on Tuesday on “how best to move forward” in the Middle East peace process, the Irish Foreign Ministry said.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney headed the “retreat-style” meeting with his counterparts from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Jordan, Spain, Sweden, as well as Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki.

The ministers were joined by Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

“Ireland’s experience in the past has been that confidentiality can allow for a better discussion between different participants,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

“The intention was not to launch any new process but to consider ways to support and shape engagement on this issue in other fora.”

The “confidential discussion on the present state of the Middle East peace process and how best to move forward” was held at Farmleigh, a manor house in Dublin used for visiting dignitaries.

The Irish meeting comes just days after Jared Kushner, United States (US) President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, outlined plans for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians at the Munich Security Conference.

The US plans are to be formally presented after Israel’s April 9 elections.

But the Palestinian Authority says it can no longer trust the US as an honest broker after Trump in 2017 recognised Jerusalem – holy to the three major monotheistic religions – as Israel’s capital.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past hit out at what he describes as the European Union (EU)’s “hypocritical and hostile attitude” – referring to the its criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

And Ireland has drawn critism from Israel in recent months over a bill progressing through parliament which would outlaw the import of goods from the occupied territories.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon in December called it “a dangerous piece of legislation”.

Tuesday’s meeting comes ahead of the first ever summit EU-Arab League summit in Egypt on February 24-25.