Former UK ambassador deplores EU failure to use power for Mid-East progress
Former ambassador Tom Philips. Photo by Guy Raivitz
Jonathan Cook, The National
July 29, 2012
Israel has barely put a foot right with the international community since its attack on Gaza more than three years ago provoked global revulsion.
The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu has serially defied and insulted foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama; given the settlers virtual free rein; blocked peace talks with the Palestinians; intimidated and marginalised human rights groups, UN agencies and even the Israeli courts; and fuelled a popular wave of Jewish ethnic and religious chauvinism against the country’s Palestinian minority, foreign workers and asylum seekers.
No wonder, then, that in poll after poll Israel ranks as one of the countries with the most negative influence on international affairs.
And yet, the lower Israel sinks in public estimation, the more generous western leaders are in handing out aid and special favours to their wayward ally. The past few days have been particularly shameless.
It was revealed last week that the European Union had approved a massive upgrade in Israel’s special trading status, strengthening economic ties in dozens of different fields. The decision was a reversal of a freeze imposed in the wake of the Gaza attack of winter 2008.
Amnesty International pointed out that the EU was violating its own commitments in the European Neighbourhood Policy, which requires that, as a preferred trading partner, Israel respect international human rights, democratic values and its humanitarian obligations.
Equally troubling, the EU is apparently preparing to upend what had looked like an emerging consensus in favour of banning settlement products – the only meaningful punishment the EU has threatened to inflict on Israel.
With some irony, Europe’s turnabout was revealed the same day that Israel announced it was planning to destroy eight villages in the West Bank, expelling their 1,500 Palestinian inhabitants, to make way for a military firing zone. Four more villages are also under threat.
The villagers’ expulsion was further confirmation that Israel is conducting a “forced transfer” of Palestinians, as recent EU reports have warned, from the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank under its control.
Europe’s only real leverage over Israel is economic: business between the two already accounts for about 60 per cent of Israeli trade, worth nearly 30 billion euros (Dh136 billion). But rather than penalising Israel for repeatedly stomping over the flimsiest prospects for a two-state solution, the EU is handsomely rewarding it.
It is not alone. The United States is also showering economic benefits and military goodies on Israel, in addition to the billions of dollars in aid it hands over every year.
In the past few days alone, President Obama signed a new law greatly expanding military cooperation with Israel and donated a further $70 million to develop its Iron Dome missile defence system; the Pentagon arm-twisted Lockheed Martin into collaborating with Israeli firms in revamping the new F-35 fighter jet; and Congress approved a four-year extension of US loan guarantees to make it cheaper for Israel to borrow money on the international markets.
All this munificence is coming from the two dominant parties to the Quartet – the international group comprising the US, the EU, the United Nations and Russia. The Quartet’s role is to champion the very two-state solution Israel is striving so strenuously to destroy.
In a further irony, the World Bank issued last week its latest report on the state of the Palestinian economy, concluding that its situation was so dire the Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Palestinian Authority, could not be considered ready for independent statehood. The report noted that the Palestinians were heavily reliant on foreign donors and that local private businesses, agriculture and manufacturing were all in decline.
With feigned obtuseness, the World Bank recommended that the PA increase exports to foreign markets, glossing over the biggest impediment to such trade: the severe restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods into and out of Palestinian territory.
As the Quartet has grown ever more silent in the face of Israeli transgressions, US politicians have stepped in with cynical manoeuvres to shore up Israel’s intransigence and destroy any hopes of a peaceful solution.
Last week, for example, US lawmakers were reported to have put their names to a congressional resolution recognising the recent report of Israel’s controversial Levy Committee. The report concluded that Israel was not occupying the West Bank and that consequently the settlements there are legal.
The topsy-turvy character of international diplomacy was acknowledged this month by a recently retired British ambassador to the Middle East. Tom Philips, who served in Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes in the latest edition of Prospect magazine that Europe and the US need to use “big carrots and big sticks” if there is to be any hope of reviving the peace process.
But Mr Philips believes the US is “genetically indisposed” to forcing change on Israel. He proposes instead choking off donor money to the PA so as “to put the full weight of the occupation on Israel, a burden I do not think they would be able to endure”.
In another of the rich ironies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it now seems even some diplomats are concluding that the Palestinians will be best served by destroying the fledgling government that was supposed to be the harbinger of their independence.
The real obstacles to peace – Israel, its occupation and western complicity – might then be laid bare for all to see.
Jonathan Cook is a journalist based in Nazareth and the recipient of the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism
In an op-ed in a British magazine, former envoy to Israel and Saudi Arabia lays down ten reasons the chances of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are slim.
By Akiva Eldar, Ha’aretz
Tom Philips, one of the most influential Western diplomats to serve in the Middle East in recent years, suggests that the European Union rethink its aid to the Palestinian Authority, so as to place the whole burden of responsibility for the occupation on Israel – a load the Israeli public is not likely to succeed in carrying.
In a long op-ed published in the British monthly “Prospect Magazine,” Philips laid down ten rules which paint a grim picture of the chances of reaching an implementing a peace agreement to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Philips wrote that he cannot imagine an American government will come about that will be able to do what is required in order to pressure Israel into doing what is in its best interest.
He doesn’t think there will be Israeli government able to rein in the settlement movement in the West Bank and Jerusalem, in order to make a two state solution feasible.
Nor does Philips believe that no Palestinian leadership will be able to make the necessary compromises on the “Right of Return,” without which no Israeli would make any kind of peace agreement.
The ambassador, who served as a delegate in the British embassy in Israel during the 1990s, also doubts that Arab leadership will be able to transform the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 into a government program that supports peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The retired European diplomat criticizes the European Union for not using the tools in its possession for initiating the diplomatic process. Philips wrote that over the years, the EU did not strategically use its leverage as chief importer of Israeli goods and economic partner. At the same time, Europe was unsuccessful at containing other radical factions in the area. Philips suggests that the focus be on a transatlantic agreement that would be based on the big carrots needed for encouraging the two sides to move forward, and the big stick, necessary in case they fail to make progress.
Philips claims that the United States favors Israel, and therefore can never be a true, unbiased mediator. He writes that Yasser Arafat was justifiably suspicious of the Americans, as they “cooked-up” the Camp David Accords in advance with Israel, in 2000.
According to Philips, President Obama must prove that he can be the exception to the rule in the subject, and that there is hope that should be be reelected, he will increase the pressure on Israel.
Philip notes that the exorbitant amounts of money donated to the Palestinian Authority by foreign powers create dependence. He claims that the Arabs believe that the Israelis needs a two-state solution more than the Palestinian side, because, as in the days of the crusader kingdoms, if Israel fails to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and continues to rely on assistance from abroad, Israel will be annihilated.
The retired senior diplomat points out that one of the obstacles on the path to peace is each side’s fear of being labeled “suckers.” The two sides feel that concessions they’ve made in the past have gone unreciprocated, and thus remain steadfast in refusing to make more.
In general, Israel holds more cards, and thus will be forced to make more painful compromises, according to Philips.
Philips concedes that that the most difficult concession – without which an agreement is impossible – is the need to divide Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Philips ends his piece by calling the situation a Greek tragedy, with no happy end in sight. “I hope I’m wrong.”