European Union foreign ministers pressed Israel’s top diplomat on Monday to ease civilian suffering in Gaza and move toward supporting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, in a closed-door meeting that highlighted the governments’ differences over the war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has been pushing back against international allies, doubling down in recent days on his opposition to a two-state solution. He is also facing growing anger at home over the government’s failure to secure the release of the hostages and frustration over its handling of the war.
The Monday meeting at E.U. headquarters in Brussels largely reinforced the disconnect over the war in Gaza, where more than 25,000 people have been killed, according to health officials there. Rather than garner international support, Israel’s foreign minister, Yisrael Katz, left European officials confused about Israeli plans for the enclave.
Mr. Katz surprised the room of 27 E.U. foreign ministers by screening a video of a proposal — first raised several years ago — to create an artificial island off Gaza as a logistics base to inspect cargo and passengers arriving by sea into the territory, according to six European diplomats and officials familiar with the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press on the discussions.
Mr. Katz, the officials said, did not propose that Palestinians be moved to this island to live, but he also didn’t offer much context on why exactly he was screening it, nor did he elaborate on how it plays into the urgent discussions among Israel and its allies over how to manage Gaza after the war is over.
The video was shown as early as 2017, when Mr. Katz was transport and intelligence minister. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, told The New York Times after the meeting on Monday that Mr. Katz’s proposal was not government policy.
The Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, who met separately with the E.U. ministers after Mr. Katz, seized on the video.
“We do not need any island. Not a natural one, not an artificial one. We will remain in our homeland. The land of Palestine is ours, it belongs to us, and we will remain in it,” he told reporters, emphasizing that he would advocate for Palestinian statehood and a cease-fire.
“We will not accept anything less than a cease-fire,” he added. “We will not accept anything short of a clear rejection of statements by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the two-state solution and that he will work on preventing it.”
The European Union is striving to find a common voice on the war in Gaza despite divisions among member states. Before the meeting, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the bloc’s top diplomat, drafted an informal policy paper for discussion that strongly backs the establishment of an independent Palestinian state — an idea that is also backed by the Biden administration.
On Saturday, Mr. Netanyahu said on social media: “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control of the entire area west of the Jordan River — and that is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state.”
The creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one was first proposed in 1947 at the time of Israel’s creation, and was rejected by regional Arab governments. In the years since, plans for a two-state solution have been proposed and stymied by both Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Mr. Netanyahu, who even before Oct. 7 opposed the creation of such a state, is particularly adamant that the Palestinians not be rewarded with statehood after Hamas launched its terror attack in October.
Foreign policy is set by E.U. national governments, and is not an area where the bloc has collective force as it does in trade and economic affairs, and the 27 E.U. member states have often struggled to agree on diplomatic issues including the conflict in the Middle East. But on Monday, even the foreign minister of Germany, seen as Israel’s strongest advocate in the bloc, defended the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
“We are doing everything we can to move toward a two-state solution,” said the German minister, Annalena Baerbock. “There is no alternative that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and dignity.”