Why Europe can't bring peace to the Middle East
Elliott Abrams 4-21-13
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign policy official, has received a remarkable letter from the "European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process." This self-selected collectivity might more accurately be called the "Formerly Eminent Persons Group," inasmuch as the first word describing each one of its members is "Former," but I suppose that these Formerly Eminent Persons do indeed also represent the views of Currently Eminent European Persons.
The letter is important in one way: It shows that European official and elite thinking continues to blame Israel for everything related to the so-called peace process. To take one example, the letter states that:
"We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion. We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories."
The failure of the parties? Five years? Five years ago, in the spring of 2008, the parties were negotiating, apparently seriously, as part of what was then called "the Annapolis process." That failed when Mahmoud Abbas refused an extremely generous offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Formerly Eminent Persons appear to have forgotten this, or, far more likely, appear to be seeking to avoid that truth. Equally inaccurate is their line about the "failure of the parties," a phrase that refuses to acknowledge that only the Palestinians have refused to negotiate in the last four years, not "the parties."
In any event, the Formerly Eminent Persons soon arrive at their key insight, which is "that the Peace Process as conceived in the Oslo Agreements has nothing more to offer." What does this mean, actually? Turns out, rather unsurprisingly, that it means we must all get tougher now with Israel. We must all insist that Israel's borders are the 1967 lines and everything beyond that is illegal and illegitimate. Everything -- including such things as Israel's control of the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, from which Israelis were kept away when Jordan controlled the area. The Formerly Eminent Persons wish above all to erase the letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from President George W. Bush in 2004, where he called the major settlement blocks "new realities on the ground" that all efforts at negotiation had acknowledged Israel would keep.
There is more in the letter that is wrong, such as the notion that human rights conditions in the West Bank are deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation. One can make a good argument that they are deteriorating in the Gaza Strip due to Hamas and in the West Bank due to the growing pressure from the Palestinian Authority against journalists. The letter does not appear to consider the possibility that any problem in Palestinian areas might possibly be the fault of Palestinians.
The letter's greatest sins are those that are quite familiar in letters from Europe, whether from Formerly Eminent Persons or from Currently Eminent Persons: the sin of blaming everything on Israel and nothing on the Palestinians, demanding nothing of the Palestinians, and treating the Palestinians like objects rather than people. Nowhere does the letter mention the issue of anti-Semitic broadcasting and hate speech in Palestinian official media, nor the matter of the glorification of terrorism and terrorists by the PA, and the impact such conduct has on prospects for peace.
The letter takes a shot at U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that all he said and did during his trip to Israel "gave no indication of action to break the deep stagnation." Just talk from the Americans, you see; we are all, including Obama, seen as coddling Israel (and we do not even have Formerly Eminent Persons writing letters).
This letter is a useful reminder of European attitudes, at least at the level of the Eminent: Blame Israel, treat the Palestinians as children, wring your hands over the terrible way the Americans conduct diplomacy. The Israelis will treat this letter with the derision it deserves, and the Palestinians will understand that because this kind of thing reduces European influence with Israel, the EU just can't deliver much. Indeed it cannot, and the bias, poor reasoning, and refusal to face facts in this letter all suggest that this won't be changing any time soon.
Here is the letter and its list of signatories:
THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
Dear High Representative
We, the under-signed members of the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process, are writing to you to express our strong concern about the dying chances of a settlement based on two separate, sovereign and peaceful states of Israel and Palestine.
The Eminent Persons Group is composed of a number of former Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and senior officials of EU Member States who have decided to concert their efforts to encourage a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion. We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories. The security and long-term stability of Israel, an essential objective in any process, cannot be assured in such conditions, any more than the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people.
President Obama made some of these points during his March 2013 visit to the region, particularly in his address to the people of Israel, but he gave no indication of action to break the deep stagnation, nor any sign that he sought something other than the re-start of talks between West Bank and Israeli leaders under the Oslo Process, which lost its momentum long ago.
We are therefore appealing to you, and through you to the members of the Council of Ministers, to recognise that the Peace Process as conceived in the Oslo Agreements has nothing more to offer. Yet the present political stalemate, while the situation deteriorates on the ground, is unsustainable, given the disturbed politics of the region and the bitterness generated by the harsh conditions of life under the Occupation.
The concern of the European Union at this deterioration, clearly expressed in a series of statements, not least the European Council Conclusions of 14 May 2012, has not been matched by any action likely to improve the situation. The aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis and the interests of the European Union, prominently referred to in those Conclusions and in other relevant EU documents, cannot be met by the current stagnation.
It is time to give a stark warning that the Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy. The Palestinian Authority cannot survive without leaning on Israeli security assistance and Western funding and, since the PA offers little hope of progress towards self-determination for the Palestinian people, it is fast losing respect and support from its domestic constituency. The steady increase in the extent and population of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and the entrenchment of Israeli control over the OT in defiance of international law, indicate a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights.
We have reached the conclusion that there must be a new approach. Letting the situation lie unaddressed is highly dangerous when such an explosive issue sits in such a turbulent environment.
A realistic but active policy, set in the context of current regional events, needs to be composed of the following elements:
For all the good sense of EU statements on this issue over the years, the EU's inactivity in the face of an increasingly dangerous stagnation is both unprincipled and unwise. European leaders cannot wait for ever for action from the United States when the evidence accumulates of American failure to recognise and promote the equal status of Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a settlement, as accepted in United Nations resolutions.
Later generations will see it as unforgivable that we Europeans not only allowed the situation to develop to this point of acute tension, but took no action now to remedy the continuing destruction of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. We regard it as essential for EU interests that the Council of Ministers and you take rapid action to correct this unacceptable state of affairs.
We are sending copies of this letter to Members of the Council of Ministers and to the US Secretary of State.
Members of the EEPG send you their respectful greetings.
Guiliano Amato, Former Prime Minister of Italy
Frans Andriessen, Former Vice-President of the European Commission
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Former Vice-Prime Minister of the Netherlands
John Bruton, Former Prime Minister of Ireland
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Former European Commissioner and Former Foreign Minister of Austria
Teresa Patricio Gouveia, Former Foreign Minister of Portugal
Jeremy Greenstock, Former UK Ambassador to the UN and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Lena Hjelm-Wallén, Former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden
Wolfgang Ischinger, Former State Secretary of the German Foreign Ministry and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Lionel Jospin, Former Prime Minister of France
Miguel Moratinos, Former Foreign Minister of Spain
Ruprecht Polenz, Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag
Pierre Schori, Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Sweden
Javier Solana, Former High Representative and Former NATO Secretary-General
Peter Sutherland, Former EU Commissioner and Director General of the WTO
Andreas van Agt, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Hans van den Broek, Former Netherlands Foreign Minister and Former EU Commissioner for External Relations
Hubert Védrine, Former Foreign Minister of France and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia