Europe?s road to a new Jerusalem

The EU?s new policy statement on Israel and Palestine is pretty good. Now Europe needs to use it ? and the money poured into Palestine ? as the basis for real change.

Accenture’s advertisement featuring Tiger Woods,
which declares brightly that “It’s what you do next that counts”, should have
as much resonance for EU foreign ministers as for the unfortunate golfer. Last
week, thanks to the energetic chairmanship of Sweden’s
Carl Bildt,
these ministers agreed a comprehensive statement of policy on Palestine
and Israel.
It was not quite as good as it should have been. Acting seemingly on
instruction from Israel’s
foreign ministry, Italy, Hungary, the Czech
Republic and Romania fought
to dilute the original text. But what survived was still pretty good.

The ministers called for the urgent resumption of negotiations, within an
agreed time-frame, for a comprehensive peace for Israel
and Palestine.

They recommitted themselves to an independent Palestinian state whose
borders, including those of Jerusalem,
should go back to the pre-1967 borders unless otherwise agreed. They promised
to develop their relationship with the Palestinian authority and to help
implement its plan for building state institutions.

In addition they argued that Jerusalem should
emerge from negotiations as the capital of both Israel
and Palestine, that the fragmentation of Palestine between Gaza, the
West Bank and East Jerusalem should be
avoided, that Palestinian elections should be held, and, of course, that Israeli
settlement activity
should end.

Does it end there? After so much puffing and panting to get this far, the
ministers could be excused for thinking they can rest on their spades for a while.
But the words from Brussels
should be regarded as the beginning of diplomatic activity, not the end. Europe needs to move quickly to do two things.

First, the statement should be the basis not only for the EU’s relations
with Israel and Palestine but also for
its work with international partners in trying to promote a settlement.
Sensible Europeans accept that the US, the precise terms of whose engagement
have become increasingly unclear in the months since President Barack Obama’s
pellucid Cairo address, has the lead role in trying to mobilise activity
leading to a settlement. But that does not mean Europeans should fail to tell
the US
where they stand. Baroness Ashton, the new high representative for Europe’s
common foreign and security policy, should encourage Washington to support the EU statement or
make clear where there are differences of opinion. In particular, the
importance of setting a time frame for progress should be underlined. Lady
Ashton will presumably now be the EU’s sole representative in the “quartet”
(which used to have three EU members) – the organisation joining the US, UN, Russia and the EU in support of a
peace process. The latest statement should provide Europe’s
agenda at future meetings of this lacklustre body.

Second, Europe can play a particularly valuable role in preventing the
splintering of Palestine
and in establishing a functioning Palestinian authority, ready to morph into
the government of a future state. Europe
should help prepare the Palestinian elections next year and monitor them. We
should state clearly that Europeans will accept the results provided the
process is fair. Our preference should be the emergence of a government of
national unity. We should go further and say explicitly that we will deal with
and support such a government, if it unequivocally supports a cease-fire and
keeps to past commitments (it is a pity that Israel has not done so). Moreover
we should encourage such a government to negotiate a settlement with Israel and
undertake to put the results of any agreement to all Palestinians in a
referendum, abiding by the result.

Beyond this, the EU should continue to work with Norway
and others in building state institutions in Palestine
and providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians whose lives have been
blighted by Israel’s
blockade and other policies. But we should be clear that this cannot be an
open-ended commitment to pay the costs of Israel’s
occupation of Palestine.
At present, international donors meet most of the bill for the consequences of
occupation that should be met under the Geneva convention by Israel. Over
the last year, the cost to the EU and its members has risen to about €1bn.

How long can donors justify this expenditure? If Israel continues, as its prime
minister says it will, to build settlements, making an agreement on a viable
Palestinian state all but impossible, should the international community simply
shrug its shoulders and write more cheques? The money that I spent in Palestine on behalf of
European voters and taxpayers over five years as a European commissioner has
drained away into the blood-soaked sand. Many projects funded by European
taxpayers have been reduced to rubble by the Israeli Defence Forces. Is Europe’s role in the region to be the paymaster for
intransigence and the use of disproportionate force?

Europe’s statement dwelt at some length on Jerusalem,
whose annexation by Israel
has never been accepted by EU governments. This emphasis plainly owed much to
the concern felt in European capitals as a result of consular reports from Jerusalem on the
harassment of the Arab population there. European governments should ask their
consuls-general in Jerusalem
to report to EU foreign ministers regularly, and should publish a summary of
these reports rather than have them leaked selectively (as has happened) to
Israeli newspapers.

This agenda for Europe, based on what has
just been agreed, could help (to borrow from Woods’ vocabulary) to get
negotiations back on to the fairway. The present stand-off between Israel and the
Palestinians is not the basis for a sustainable peace. Drift and despair are
not options.

Lord Patten is co-chair of the International Crisis Group and a former
European commissioner for external affairs. He is also an ECFR council member.

This piece was first published in the Financial Times

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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