Coveney to host meeting of foreign ministers about Middle East

‘Confidential discussion’ seen as way to engage with Palestinians ahead of new US initiative

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will host a private meeting of a group of Arab and EU foreign ministers on Monday to discuss the Middle East peace process.

The consultative meeting takes place against the background of the imminent announcement of a new US peace initiative, and, sources say, is an attempt by the more sympathetic EU states to engage with the Palestinans ahead of time.

US president Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has special responsibility for the issue, is expected to unveil US proposals after the Israeli elections in early April.

Israel’s Channel 15 TV quotes an Irish diplomatic source saying that the participants want the Palestinians “to feel that they are not alone and have the support of both Arab and European countries”.


Mr Coveney is hosting a dinner on Monday and a meeting on Tuesday – described by the Department of Foreign Affairs as a “retreat-style meeting” – in Farmleigh.

It will be a “confidential discussion on the present state of the Middle East peace process and how best to move forward”.

The confirmed attendance includes representatives from France, Egypt, Jordan, Sweden, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the secretary general of the League of Arab States, and the Palestinian authority.

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

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

Egypt's Sameh Shoukry is understood to have flown to Dublin on Sunday evening – his visit will be the first by an Egyptian foreign minister to Ireland in 12 years. He will also meet President Michael D Higgins and the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl. Mr Shoukry expected to make a speech to the Institute of International and European Affairs.

Middle East media reports suggest that "Israel is aware of the upcoming conference and staunchly opposed to it".

A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, alluding to the Dáil’s recent attempt to ban products from the Occupied Territories, asked “how Ireland can be an arbiter when it acts against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East?” Mr Coveney, however, is understood to been in touch with Washington and have allayed US concerns about the meeting.

Diplomatic sources stressed that Ireland remains committed to a “two-state solution”, about which the US has been deeply equivocal recently, and would also hope to see discussions about Palestinian “red lines”, settlements and reconciliation within its community. Egyptian participation is seen as particularly important in this context.

The Palestinian ambassador to Ireland Ahmad Abdelrazek is quoted in Middle East Monitor saying that planning for the meeting has been going on for five months and noting that "the obstacles Israel used to try [to] halt the meeting have been removed".

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times