Has the EU lost its patience with Israel?
European states are fed up after years of investing in a two-state solution
For decades, much of the Palestinian leadership entertained two distant hopes: Firstly, that the U.S. would somehow morph into a brilliant, neutral mediator in talks between Palestine and Israel and secondly, that Europe would rise from its slumber and start to punch its weight and be a player not just a payer. Could the EU start to assert real, meaningful pressure on Israel to end its occupation? Will the U.S. lose its status as the only major outside player involved?
The current United States administration looks exhausted, worn out from its never-ending squabbles with the Netanyahu coalition. There is barely anything that the two agree on from Palestine, to Iran to Syria to Ukraine. President Obama looks fed up and disinterested and certainly not prepared to invest any political capital in confronting the obstinate Israeli prime minister and his even more extreme cabinet rivals over Palestine. If Obama is going to enter the ring again with Bibi it will be over Iran where he has thwarted his Israeli adversary thus far. Senior Democrats and Republicans will also have taken note not to invest too much effort in Middle East peacemaking. However, should the U.S. administration feel so-minded, it can also indirectly pressure Israel by tacitly encouraging the EU to take a tougher line.
European states are fed up after years of investing in a two-state solution that Netanyahu has energetically, almost zealously, been underminingChris Doyle
European states are fed up after years of investing in a two-state solution that Netanyahu has energetically, almost zealously, been undermining. The EU is by far the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority but the billions of Euros invested since Oslo were based on the premise that there would be two states for two peoples. European taxpayers, fearing another economic meltdown, are waking up to the costs of the Israel destruction of EU funded projects both in Gaza and in the West Bank. The almost weekly settlement announcements may play well to Netanyahu’s domestic coalition partners but elsewhere they are seen correctly as crushing hopes for peace. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo summed this up: “Either we do something fairly quickly or the two-state solution will be physically impossible.” The new EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, claims she wants a Palestinian state during her five-year term of office.
Belatedly, European states are waking up. Is the 28-state giant rising? The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz revealed the text of an internal EU document, a non-paper, that has been doing the diplomatic rounds that outlines a series of sticks and carrots. These range from taking action against companies doing business with settlements to denying visas to violent settlers, even to recalling envoys. These go some way beyond labeling Israeli settlement products, many assumed to be the next step for those countries who have not done so. All this had followed harsher and more aggressive language not least over the confiscation of 4,000 dunums near Bethlehem and the approval of plans for the settlement of Givat Hamatos. Ha’aretz claimed a European diplomat said that a large number of member states had pushed for this.
All this may not happen. Israel will work furiously to block this but on ever weakening foundations, having lost its credibility and many friendships. Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman argues in vain “There is no place for linking the bilateral relations between Israel and the European Union to the relations between Israel and the Palestinians.”
All this is highlighted by a series of moves on Palestinian statehood. This is an easy option for states and elected bodies who want to demonstrate support for the two-state solution but avoid sanctions-like activity at present. It kicked off with Sweden announcing recognition of Palestine. The British Parliament voted overwhelmingly to call on Britain to do likewise and the Irish Upper House has done likewise. Following this up, the Spanish Parliament has just voted unanimously to do the same. The French Parliament will probably join the rush in a vote on November 28. If so, these successive votes indicate an impressive display of intent but also just how low Israel’s stock has fallen.
Israeli officials push two contradictory messages. On the one hand they have declared in private that supporting Palestinian statehood is akin to declaring war on Israel. On the other, they are dismissive belittling the motions as merely symbolic posturing, which makes no difference on the ground. Well, it cannot be both.
Can Europe make a difference? If there is the political will it can certainly have a huge impact on Israel. Hopefully it will not need too many sticks for Israel and Israelis to reassess the direction in which their country is heading.
But is all this is all too slow, too little and too late. Fashioning a viable Palestinian state from the ashes of prolonged occupation, blockade and fragmentation requires immediate and determined action that is unlikely to be brought about by a few light slaps on the Israeli wrist or Parliamentary votes.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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