EU, a great pretence of doing something
This posting has these items:
1) Nick Witney: Europe and the vanishing two-state solution, excerpts from report for European Council for Foreign Relations;
2) Le Monde Diplomatique: The wandering Europeans , comment by Sam Bahour on Vanishing Two State Solution;
3) Notes and links ;
‘The Israeli bulldozer is destroying all hopes for peace’- so the EU should stop pussyfooting around. See 2nd item by Sam Bahour. Photo of Israeli machine bulldozing homes in Bethlehem by Ghassan Bannoura, IMEMC.
Europe and the vanishing two-state solution
Nick Witney, European Council on Foreign Relations
The first months of 2013 have deepened the gloom over prospects for the two-state solution. Israel’s election has produced a new government with an even more pronounced annexationist bent towards the West Bank, while US President Obama’s visit to the region lived down to the minimal expectations prepared for it. Leading Arab actors are preoccupied elsewhere. It is hard to see who might help avert the final extinction of hope for a two-state solution if not the Europeans.
Chapter 1: What do Europeans think?
We have analysed views across the European Union. Most member states acknowledge the strategic and economic importance of Middle East peace; many feel a strong political, even emotional, attachment to the aim. But few are much concerned to act decisively. Most prefer to treat the EU’s carefully elaborated positions on the “Middle East Peace Process” as a collective alibi, useful for deflecting criticism from the protagonists while they develop bilateral relations on the basis of national interest.
Meanwhile, in the absence of clear instructions to the contrary, the European Commission continues to thicken the EU’s relations with Israel despite the suspension of an “upgrade” declared in 2009. Yet if elites favour “business as usual” with Israel, public opinion across the EU is consistently less patient with Israeli policies and more sympathetic to the Palestinians’ predicament. And the successive votes at the UN in 2011 and 2012 show that governments are now moving in a similar direction. Israel is in danger of “losing” Europe.
Chapter 2: The case for European action
Recent reporting by the EU heads of mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah has brought out how far the Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank is being undermined. This is Israeli state policy, and it is hard to influence from outside. Should Europeans quietly acquiesce? We argue they should not.
Further entrenchment of the occupation as hope for a two-state solution fades will make the parallels with apartheid South Africa increasingly difficult to ignore. Sanctions and international isolation will follow; and an eventual bloody catastrophe seems more probable than a “Rainbow Nation” sequel.
So Europeans must do what they can – concentrating, given the asymmetry of power between the parties, on Israel. They will not create peace by themselves; but they can hope to preserve the two-state possibility, or even prepare the ground for a new American initiative that should not be ruled out later in Obama’s second term.
Chapter 3: What Europe can do
European efforts to restrain Israel from entrenching its occupation have had little impact. Their efforts to sustain the Palestinian Authority (backed by more than an annual €1 billion of aid) have not fared much better. “State building” has been a dead end, contributing to the creation of a dependency culture in the West Bank and masking the hollowing-out of the real economy. It is time to treat both parties with tougher love.
Working on Israelis
Identifying ways to influence Israel is not easy. There is simply no appetite among European governments for anything that might look like sanctioning or punishing Israel. Yet finding positive incentives – carrots, as opposed to sticks – is difficult also. Israelis already enjoy the main things they want from Europe: commercial access to the world’s largest market, visa-free travel, and a unique position in the EU’s research and innovation programmes. But limited steps are nonetheless available – mostly to do with ensuring that benefits are 6 not inadvertently conferred – which may influence behaviour at the margin and could in particular underline for Israelis how they are “losing Europe”.
The newly formed government may look implacable, but the recent elections revealed segments of Israeli society that may be more sensitive to the costs of the occupation and settlement expansion for Israel’s relations with Europe and the wider world. The campaign already underway to ensure that Europeans do not lazily extend to the settlements benefits (such as preferential access to the EU market) that should be limited to Israel proper is necessary to ensure that European actions match their policy, and indeed, international law – it will also usefully signal Europe’s non-acquiescence. The effort should be extended to cover advice to businesses and investors; removal of tax advantages for financial support to settlements; imposition of visa requirements for settlers; and avoidance of contact with the first university in the settlements.
Such moves can be seen as actions that Europeans have no choice but to take.
So a more impactful way for Europeans to alert the Israeli public to their increasing isolation will be a more independent policy in the region, involving a bigger push for Palestinian reconciliation; giving up efforts to deter the Palestinians from bringing in the International Criminal Court; and a more nuanced position on Iran. Mainly, though, Europeans should ensure that no new steps are taken to enhance the EU–Israel bilateral relationship without considering what they might be traded for, in terms of easing occupation controls and restrictions.
Working on Palestinians
Thus far, European aid has served to prolong the occupation, easing the impact on Palestinians and paying Israel’s costs. Europeans should reduce their budgetary help to the Palestinian Authority over time and work with the Palestinians to develop the real economy instead.
This will not work without changing the established terms of the occupation: making more land available for Palestinian development; reformulating the Paris Protocol, which has regulated economic relations between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs), to the latter’s disadvantage; ensuring a fairer division of water resources; and, of course, easing the closure of Gaza. Europeans must work with the Palestinian Authority – individual EU states could “mentor” different sectors – to formulate the key “asks” needed to put life back in the Palestinian economy. These should then become the reciprocal moves from the Israeli government that Europeans seek the next time some new step is proposed to bring Israel closer to Europe.
The major EU aid donors (the “big three” of France, Germany, and the UK, with the Nordics (including Norway) and the main Benelux countries) would be a natural grouping to develop a new aid strategy for the Palestinians, and then, by extension and in concert with the European External Action Service (EEAS), to define what changes in the occupation to press for, and how to encourage Israel to make them.
Working on Arabs
Europe must work to get key Arab states, and Turkey, (re-)engaged. They will need to take up the financial slack as EU aid is reduced; to embolden the Palestinian Authority; to press for Palestinian reconciliation; and to remind Israelis that a recognised place awaits them in the neighbourhood if they give up the occupation.
Before it is too late, Europe needs to recalibrate its engagement with the Israel/Palestine conflict. It must act to bring it home to Israelis how close they are to the danger of international isolation. And it must wind down its financial support of the status quo, working with and on both sides for changes to the terms of the occupation that will enable the Palestinians to grow their real economy. A harder-nosed and more independent policy from Europe will strengthen Washington’s hand in Israel and improve the chances for a decisive US peace initiative before Obama leaves office and before the occupation enters its fiftieth year.
Chapter 1: What do Europeans think?
Few international issues command as much attention, or arouse such passion, in Europe as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 1980 Venice Declaration, in which the then-nine members of the EU first proposed a two-state solution, was the EU’s first significant venture into collective diplomacy – and no subject has reappeared with greater frequency on the agendas of European ministers meeting in Brussels. No conflict has taken up more of the time of the current High Representative Catherine Ashton or of her predecessor. 2012 alone saw three sets of European Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process; seven statements by or on behalf of Ashton deploring Israeli settlement activity; and visits to Israel by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Ashton (twice), and the 27 ambassadors of the Political and Security Committee, en groupe.
The EU’s investment in the issue is not only diplomatic. EU institutions and member states together have provided over €1 billion annually to support the PA (the EU contributes over half the international financial assistance to the PA), spur economic development in the OPTs, and assist Palestinian refugees (the EU is the biggest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA).
Why this preoccupation? There are comparably dangerous disputes elsewhere in the world – Kashmir, for example – where Europe feels no urge to intervene. But the Holy Land has commanded the attention of Europeans ever since Pope Urban II launched the first Crusade, in 1095, while more recent overlays of historical connection include colonial occupation, the creation of a Jewish homeland, and the mass migration of Jewish survivors of Europe’s Holocaust. A number of European states, starting with Germany, feel a special responsibility towards Israel; and all enjoy close cultural and personal ties. More than a quarter of a million Israelis were born in Europe (excluding the former USSR) – as were
the fathers of almost half a million more.
The Arab world, too, has been an object of European fascination, from the wave of Orientalism prompted by Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798 through the Lawrence of Arabia romanticism allegedly still detectable at the British
Foreign Office. In more recent years, significant Arab immigrant communities, mainly from North Africa, have established themselves in many of Europe’s cities, while energy imports have raised the strategic importance of the Middle East for Europeans. Most European countries have sought to retrieve their petrodollars via arms and other exports, and by tapping the sovereign wealth funds of the Gulf for inward investment. Since the middle of the last century these vital commercial and economic links have been repeatedly interrupted by rounds of warfare between Israel and its neighbours – with the Arab oil embargo of 1973 the most pointed reminder of Europe’s economic vulnerability to the unresolved conflict.
Palestinian terrorism, too, brought home to Europeans that the problem would not simply disappear with time. Even the more recent attacks on Europeans committed in the name of al-Qaeda have underlined the message that Europe has no option but to seek the best possible modus vivendi with the Arab, and wider Islamic, worlds. Given the totemic importance those worlds attach to the Palestinian question, Europe could hardly ignore it even if it wished to.
Europe’s fixation on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, then, is no surprise. Rather, in view of the extent of the EU’s links and interests with both sides of the conflict and the amount of diplomatic attention it has given it, what is perhaps surprising is how ineffective Europe’s role has been.
Determined, as the cliché has it, to play as well as pay, Europe has insisted on its place in the Quartet (the group comprising the UN, the US, the EU, and Russia, created at the behest of the Bush Administration in 2002 to revive a peace process that had collapsed in the wake of the 2000 Camp David talks and the Second Intifada). But its role in that group has been reduced to urging an increasingly disengaged US to try harder. For the rest, Europe’s ambition to “play” seems limited to assuming the role of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, voicing a stream of anxieties and lamentations but leaving the action to others.
Mysteriously, then, Europe seems to be united on the importance of resolving the conflict; united on a uniquely detailed policy prescription to effect such a resolution; united on how that resolution should be achieved (direct negotiations between the parties, sponsored by the US); but in permanent disarray over where the onus of responsibility lies for bringing this happy outcome to pass – and what action should be taken in pursuit of that end, whether by the protagonists or by Europeans themselves (beyond, that is, issuing statements and writing cheques). Challenge the Europeans with a specific question, such as the 2011 question of whether the Palestinians should be admitted to membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and 27 EU member states managed to divide three different ways (11 for “yes”, five for “no”, and 11 for “won’t say”).
Less a policy than an alibi
Faced with these conundrums – preoccupation allied with passivity, a common policy dividing its proponents – we commissioned structured input from experts in all 27 member states, seeking a better understanding of what Europeans really think and feel about the conflict, and why. Perhaps the single most striking conclusion to emerge was the importance almost all member states attach to maintaining a unified European position – less as a means of bringing to bear the EU’s collective weight, than as a form of mutual protection. A minority of member states seek action to affect the course of the conflict. Thus the Irish, with their tradition of neutrality and commitment to international law – and buoyed by the recent success of peace-making efforts on their own island – consistently press for Europe to act in support of Palestinian rights. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also pushed the issue hard during Sweden’s EU presidency in 2009, producing European Council “conclusions”, which toughened the EU line against settlements.
On the opposite flank, centre-right Czech elites reflect a tradition of support for Zionism going back to
the 1920s, and see their role as both balancing a “pro-Palestinian bias” within the EU and ensuring that Europe toes Washington’s line. In the joint statement issued after the first Czech-Israeli “intergovernmental consultations” – in effect, restricted joint cabinet meetings – in 2011, the Czech side declared its readiness to “provide a gateway for the State of Israel” into European space programmes. At somewhat different points between these two positions, the “big three” of France, Germany, and the UK share a sense that time is running out for a political solution to the conflict, and of the need for Europe to find some effective way to engage before it becomes too late.
For the majority of EU states, however, the real point of a shared European position is herding together for safety. Addressing the conflict is, after all, a dangerous activity. It is internally divisive (we return to that below); and it
can lead to unpleasant, even damaging, friction with the protagonists or their principal backers.
Israel’s supporters in Europe may lack the power of their American equivalents, but they are active, well organised, and backed by effective and forthright Israeli (and occasionally also US) diplomacy. In the history of the Holocaust, they
have a powerful moral and emotional argument to silence criticism, accusing those who challenge Israel of manifesting anti-Semitism – a charge to which Europeans are the more sensitive at a time when the prevailing economic crisis is giving rise to some nasty xenophobia. (It does not feel like much of a defence to point out that this expresses itself in Islamophobia more typically than as anti-Semitism.)
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal was no doubt right to remind Israelis that World War II was changing “from memory to history”. But it is a history that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have only begun to come to terms
with since 1989 and are still processing. In the case of Bulgaria, the country’s refusal to comply with anti-Jewish measures and therefore the saving of the entire Bulgarian Jewish community contributes to today’s friendly relations with Israel. Bulgaria is the most popular overseas destination for Israelis after the US (nearly 140,000 visited in 2011) – a fact of which the perpetrators of the recent murder of Israeli tourists in Burgas were clearly aware. Lithuania, by contrast, with its unhappier history of anti-Semitism, finds that even two formal government apologies for Lithuanians’ role in the Holocaust do not protect them from harsh reminders from Israeli officials.
At the governmental level, Israel has encouraged frequent ministerial visits and successfully propagated in recent years the model of annual “governmental consultations”, typically involving heads of government and a clutch of cabinet ministers on both sides. Such arrangements are now in place with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Latvia, and Poland.
On the other side of the argument, Palestinian efforts to present their own case to Europeans are generally under-developed. Prominent representatives such as Leila Shahid (formerly in Paris, now in Brussels) are the exception. Nor is the Arab world collectively inclined any longer to use its economic leverage on behalf of the Palestinian cause as it had done in the 1970s. Still, the occupation regularly produces incidents that offend European opinion, from the wounding by Israeli forces of Irish peace activist Caoimhe Butterly in the Jenin refugee camp to the demolition of European-funded development projects in the West Bank (recent celebrated cases include Polish water-collection cisterns and German solar panels).10
Nor is there any shortage of civil society and non-governmental organisations willing to step in. And European officials are uneasily aware of their vulnerability to charges of double standards when pressing a nuclear non-proliferation agenda or demanding that other countries respect UN resolutions given their acquiescence to Israel’s (formally unacknowledged but generally recognised) possession of nuclear weapons, or its violation of UN resolutions on settlements and other issues.
So, for most Europeans, the joint EU position on the conflict – balanced, judicious, carefully elaborated over time – is first and foremost a sort of sophisticated alibi that can be invoked to deflect accusations from one side or the other. The degree to which the maintenance and further development of this collective shelter has become detached from realities on the ground is illustrated by the use that member states are prepared to make of it to further intra-European agendas. Thus, for Poland – though the country has its own reasons for sympathy with Israel – policy towards the conflict has also become linked to the wider Polish interest in cleaving ever closer to German positions; Spain has used it to demonstrate to fellow Europeans the country’s continued activism and relevance; and Italy, under Mario Monti, has valued the opportunity for a course correction back towards the European mainstream from the atypical pro-Israel policies of the Silvio Berlusconi years.
Little wonder, then, that there is such reluctance in Europe to acknowledge how the tide of events is undermining Europe’s shared policy. The key premise of that policy – the assumption that the US will ultimately, with Europe in a support role, find the opportunity and the political will to bring about a negotiated two-state resolution to the conflict – has had little corroboration over the past decade. Yet our survey confirmed how tenaciously Europeans cling to the belief that the US holds the key to unlocking the conflict if only they could summon the will to turn it. And this despite Netanyahu having demonstrated his ability to generate sufficient political support on Capitol Hill to force Obama into wholesale retreat from his first-term effort to bring the peace process to conclusion. But, though everyone may concede that time is running out for the two-state solution, no one in Europe is prepared to accept the consequences of pronouncing it dead.
The European Commission on autopilot
With this degree of attachment among the assembled officers on the bridge to sticking with the present course, it is unsurprising that no one much wants to call down orders to the engine room – which therefore does its best to maintain
full speed ahead. Which is to say that, unless explicitly ordered to the contrary, the European Commission will automatically use the considerable resources available to it under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) to improve
relations with all the Mediterranean (and Eastern European) neighbours, including both Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, when it comes to external relations, it is in the European Commission’s DNA to assist the neighbours with their economic development while pulling them ever more closely into Europe’s gravitational field, through export of the European acquis, or corpus of law and regulation. Europe’s new diplomatic service, the External Action Service (EEAS), may favour a more politically savvy approach, but the European Commission has the resources and is not about to stop doing what it does best.
The problems inherent in this approach were notoriously exposed by the Arab uprisings, when the EU – the European Commission and member states together – was caught out vigorously pursuing co-operation with North African autocrats; talk of “conditionality”, of pacing economic ties according to the willingness of those regimes to heed European demands on good governance and human rights, turned out to have been just window dressing.
A similar institutional momentum is detectable at the eastern end of the Mediterranean too, despite the Israeli assault on Gaza in early 2009 resulting in a highly unusual order to put the engines in neutral. European foreign ministers had only just agreed, in December 2008, that it was time “to upgrade the level and intensity of [its] bilateral relations with Israel”. Four months later, in the wake of Operation Cast Lead and in the light of the new Netanyahu government’s rejection of the previous negotiating parameters, the EU put the process of negotiating a new umbrella Association Agreement with Israel on hold – where it remains to this day.
The absence of a new umbrella agreement has not, however, done much to inhibit the steady strengthening of ties with Israel. Subsequent meetings of the EU–Israel Association Council have stressed the desirability of ensuring that every remaining opportunity for closer co-operation should be wrung out of the old agreement – and there seems to have been plenty of scope. 19A new agreement to liberalise trade in agriculture and fisheries products was signed at the end of 2009, while a protocol for mutual recognition of industrial standards, starting in the important pharmaceuticals industry, was signed in 2010 (albeit then delayed by the European Parliament, as we discuss below).
A co-operation agreement between Israel and the European Space Agency was signed in 2011; a new EU–Israel civil aviation agreement has been negotiated; and EU-funded educational exchanges and “twinning” projects (linking public administrations in Israel and Europe) have grown. The most recent Association Council meeting in July 2012 identified a list of 60 concrete actions in 15 fields (migration, energy, transport, and so on) whereby the EU–Israel relationship could be further thickened.11 Little wonder that the event was reported as a “wide-ranging boost to bilateral relations”, “[stopping] just short of the full upgrade”.
And all the while, probably more important than the rest put together, Israel has continued to enjoy its unique access, dating from 1996, to the EU’s research and innovation Framework Programmes.13 Israeli proposals typically attract around €100 million per annum from the foreign-policy budget – a better success rate than that enjoyed by half of the EU member states.14 As of December 2012, over 1,200 projects involving nearly 1,500 Israeli participants were funded under the current version, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). This makes the EU Israel’s first biggest source of public research funding.15 These EU grants are, of course, substantially covered by the contribution Israel makes to the FP7 budget. But the opportunity to collaborate with the best institutions and researchers across Europe has been key to transforming Israel into the hightech economy it is today, and remains invaluable.
Against this background, the 2011 insistence by Stefan Füle, the European commissioner in charge of the ENP, that “upgraded ties depend on peace”, may have been taken by his Israeli audience with a pinch of salt. Indeed, Füle’s conclusion after the July 2012 Association Council meeting that “the concrete achievements over the past year and the scale of specific proposed activities are a clear indication of how strong and vibrant our relations are, despite some occasional difficulties”16 would seem a fairer reflection of Brussels’s lack of seriousness about making closer relations with Israel conditional on a genuine commitment to advancing the two-state solution.
As in North Africa before the Arab uprisings, the bureaucratic momentum behind the EU’s instinct to draw Israel ever closer ensures that Israeli politicians will naturally calculate that European statements about peace, settlements, and two states can safely be dismissed as so much huffing and puffing – more to do with maintaining a European political alibi than with any real intention to shape events in the region.
A growing elite/public divide
National leaders in Europe, though aware that the regional ground is shifting beneath their feet, are on the whole not yet sufficiently discomforted as to be ready to countenance practical pressure to Israel. They may, however, be more concerned at the accumulating evidence that their own publics are diverging from their preferred path of “even-handedness”.
In autumn 2011, in the context of the first Palestinian effort to achieve membership at the UN, the campaigning organisation Avaaz commissioned polling on the conflict in the three major European countries. Substantial majorities in France, Germany, and the UK supported the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and their own state. Even on the esoteric but clearly contentious issue of UN recognition of Palestinian statehood, majorities in all three countries – France 69 percent, Germany 76 percent, the UK 59 percent – came down in favour. One might expect this response from the electorates of France and the UK. To the extent that Britons feel historical guilt about the Middle East situation, it is an uneasy feeling of having visited the Palestinians’ problems upon them by how they discharged their mandate in Palestine. France, too, has a long tradition of adopting pro-Arab political postures – even if the large and influential Jewish community in France has ensured that this generally remains at the level of political posturing. The German results, however, are striking – and
a confirmation of the sense that a generational shift is underway in German attitudes. Chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated Germany’s unswerving sense of historic responsibility for the security of Israel – a commitment made concrete by the provision of submarines that are rumoured to carry Israel’s “second strike” nuclear capability. But recent German government statements, and UN votes, have made clear an increasing sense of exasperation with Israel’s persistent settlement of the West Bank.
The Avaaz poll’s findings were hardly unique. In 2012, the German Marshall Fund’s annual Transatlantic Trends survey sought views about Israel in 11 EU member states.19 In Bulgaria and Romania, those with a favourable opinion of Israel outnumbered those with an unfavourable view. In the other nine countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK) the reverse was true. The weighted average across the 11 was 34 percent favourable, 51 percent unfavourable.The result for the Netherlands might surprise, given that country’s role as a staunch supporter of Israel, especially during the tenure of the 2010–2012 centre-right coalition government. But, again, public opinion polling (from 2007) reveals majorities in favour of such propositions as pressuring Israel to evacuate all settlements and including Hamas in peace negotiations.
The respondents in our own survey saw various reasons for the failure of Europe’s elites to keep pace with the shift in public opinion. One was the effectiveness of lobbying by Israel’s supporters – many of whom belong to those elites themselves. The role of individual leaders was also mentioned, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. It is also probable that the diplomats who advise on national policies are particularly susceptible to the arguments that Europe must avoid “taking sides” if it is to have an effective mediating role in the conflict – and that Israeli policies will be better moderated by a reassuring embrace than by confrontation. In this context, it may be significant that in two cases (Belgium and Italy) it seems that the foreign minister was preparing to abstain in the 2012 UN Palestine vote, but was overruled by the head of government and ordered to vote in favour.
But the simplest and most plausible explanation for elite reluctance to risk incurring Israeli wrath, aside from the desire for a quiet life, seems to be awareness of the extent of benefits derived from close relations with Israel. The country may be small, but it has a big economy – Israel ranks in terms of GDP around the middle of the EU member state league table. It is the EU’s largest trading partner in the Mediterranean, and 24th in the world – ahead of such economies as Indonesia or Argentina. And, especially gratifying to crisis-ridden Europeans, 57 percent of the total €29.5 billion goods trade in 2011 was in European exports. (By comparison, European trade with the OPTs is negligible – €87 million of exports and a trivial €12 million of imports in 2011.) Europe’s trade with Israel is growing strongly too – up by some 20 percent since the middle of the last decade, despite a dip in 2009. Europeans have more than €22 billion invested in Israel (more than half the country’s foreign investment total); Israel’s investments in the EU, though only a quarter of this figure, are growing fast.20
For individual member states the economic links can, of course, be even more significant. Thus Cyprus does a remarkable 28 percent of its trade with Israel; and Israel has become the Czech Republic’s fifth-largest non-EU export market, as well as a significant source of investment (e.g. by Teva, the Israeli pharmaceuticals giant). Israel has also funded gas projects in Bulgaria, while Antwerp’s diamond trade links with Israel remain important to Belgium. The Netherlands has been the main European destination for Israeli investment in recent years.
Quality may matter even more than quantity. Israel has developed an exceptionally strong technological and research base. It is thus a prized collaborative partner (as the figures quoted above for the EU’s FP7 research programme demonstrate), and a valued source of advanced technologies and equipment, not least in the defence, security, and aerospace domains. In recent years, Israel has been among the top ten global arms exporters. Several of our correspondents identified links in these areas as lying at the heart of bilateral economic relations with Israel. Only Germany and Italy among the EU member states have recently sold arms to Israel in any significant quantities – but most buy them, benefitting from Israeli expertise in such fields as unmanned aerial systems (drones). Such ties are reinforced by extensive links between intelligence and security services.
Austerity Europe is in no position to disregard its economic and commercial relations. But what is detectable here is the traditional vice of European foreign policy, whereby the member states adopt principled positions at the collective EU level in Brussels and then away from the limelight behave altogether more pragmatically in the pursuit of their own national economic interest (even in opposition to public opinion). In this, as noted above, they are almost unwittingly aided by the technocrats of the European Commission. Again, as noted above, if member states are behaving this way in relation to the Middle East conflict, they are only repeating the pattern of their relations with North African autocrats prior to the Arab uprisings – seeking their own economic advantage under cover of a more morally defensible declared European policy.
Europe shifts towards Palestine
European elites may be loath to back their rhetoric with action; but the crunch comes at moments when external events generate pressure for action in conformity with declared policy, and saying one thing and doing another becomes untenable. Such crunches are uncomfortable (and potentially costly) – so it was no wonder that Europeans did all they could to support US efforts to deter PA President Mahmoud Abbas from taking his bid for state recognition to the UN, where everyone would have to stand up and be counted. And votes did indeed take place – on admitting Palestine to UNESCO, in October 2011, and on recognising it as a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly, in November 2012.
Like any spooked herd, European states responded with a good deal of milling around, trying to work out which direction the majority would move in and where safety might therefore lie. Collective abstention might have seemed the obvious (if also visibly feeble) choice. But one or two mavericks on each side rejected such a compromise – so the herd was fatally split The most striking feature is that whereas in 2011 five member states were prepared to vote “no”, the following year that number had fallen to one – with Germany, the Netherlands, and Lithuania changing their vote to abstention, and Sweden moving to the “yes” column. Mirroring this shift in sentiment towards the Palestinians, three member states – Denmark, Italy, and Portugal – moved from abstention to “yes”. Only one movement in the opposite direction occurred, with Slovenia switching from “yes” to abstention.
There are, of course, a number of factors at work here. In a situation of confused milling, it is easy to get things wrong and end up in unintended company. This is what seems to have happened to Slovenia,where the government was roundly criticised after the vote. Similarly, Sweden’s vote in 2012 was less a change of policy than correction of a “mistake” in 2011; the fact that the debate was then about UNESCO led to some confusion within the Swedish administration about decision-taking responsibilities, so that the country ended up in the “wrong” company.
But the changes of posture by Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany are of real significance. In the first two cases, the voting shift confirms that with changes of government (Monti replacing Berlusconi in Italy; a new coalition in the Netherlands, with Frans Timmermans replacing Rosenthal as foreign minister) Israel has lost, at least for now, two of its staunchest backers in the EU. And, for reasons both of history and present-day power, no member state’s vote matters more than Germany’s – making its move from “no” to abstention the single most important evolution of Europe’s position. That certainly emboldened Lithuania to join the move out of the pro-Israel camp, and join almost every other Central and Eastern European member state securely herding with Germany under “abstain” – the next best thing to a unified EU 27 vote. Only the Czechs held out in the “no” column – though, by one account, only because they failed to realise until too late that Germany would abstain.
UN votes are not the whole story. Indeed, our correspondents point out that, though they continue to vote consistently with their traditional pro-Palestinian stances, Greece and Cyprus are both moving closer to Israel – partly in the economic problems, and partly in reaction to Turkey’s growing wealth and regional influence. But elsewhere, the pattern is consistently one of increasing frustration with Israel, and of growing concern for the continuing viability of the two-state solution.
Certainly, the last few years have not been good for Israel’s stock in Europe. Though Europeans understand, even admire, Israel’s tough-mindedness in defending its security interests, the assaults on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009 seemed a wholly disproportionate use of lethal force. Subsequently, it has been almost impossible for Europeans to feel sympathy with a government that chose to present itself to the world in the person of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (an advocate of responding to stone-throwing with live ammunition); and, as prime minister, Netanyahu has seemed almost equally uncompromising, with his readiness to “punish” the Palestinians by pressing on with settlements and withholding their own tax and customs revenues from them – and his dismissal of the idea that however the future of the West Bank is resolved, this could involve withdrawal of Israeli settlers.
Europeans, too, are inevitably influenced by the mood music from Washington. The neocon narrative of the Bush era, which had Israel as a beacon of democracy and a key ally in the “war on terror”, has given way to a situation in which Obama lets it be known that he has become “inured” to the “self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart”.
Israel’s democratic exceptionalism has been trumped by the democratic uprisings of the Arab Awakening – and undermined by illiberal legislation promoted in the Knesset. And all this to the steady churn of the West Bank concrete mixers. No wonder that Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, no dove, should reportedly be feeling real concern over Israel’s loss of friends in the international community and the impossibility of defending such steps as the settlement of the E1 block to even friendly foreign leaders.
So polling, and voting, and official statements all tell the same story – that Europe is becoming increasingly concerned for the continued viability of the two-state solution, and increasingly ready to tag Israel with the main responsibility for the impasse in negotiations and the deterioration of prospects for viable Palestinian statehood. But shifting attitudes are one thing, decisive policy changes another. Sensing the need to shore up the crumbling position of Abbas, a number of member states upgraded the diplomatic status of the Palestinian representations in their capitals in 2011. Further “signals” have been sent by the two UN votes discussed above and the near-unanimous European action in summoning Israeli ambassadors to protest against Netanyahu’s punitive reaction to the Palestinians’ UN success in 2012.
But as for measures that go beyond symbolic rebuke – concrete actions that might arrest the erosion of the geographic basis for a future Palestinian state, or induce Israel to co-operate in its creation – Europeans are left scratching their heads. What could stand a chance both of securing unanimous consent in Brussels and of changing Israeli behaviour? We therefore now turn to reviewing the options.
By Sam Bahour, Le Monde Diplomatique (English)
June 04, 2013
Next to U.S. support for Israel, the main reason why the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues is that the Europeans have reduced themselves to a subservient role in the Middle East Peace Process: one in which they underwrite the cost of Israel’s occupation by artificially propping up the Palestinian Authority, which created from the Oslo Peace Accords but has no sovereign authority whatever.
Coming on the heels of a recently published open letter on the Middle East peace process from ‘the European Eminent Persons Group’, a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution, spills the beans, and they’re all Europeans beans. The author is not your average run-of-the-mill report writer, he is Nick Witney, who previously worked for the European Defence Agency where he was first chief executive. Before that, his career was divided between the UK diplomatic service and UK defence ministry. So Witney is in a position to know.
After reading this new report, I was moved to write this opinion piece and call it “The wandering Europeans”. The title is not innocent (the original version of the legend about “the wandering Jew” concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming). This piece concerns a European Union of 27 states, comprising of a population of over 500 million (7.3% of the world population), which entered the Middle East peace process in the back seat of an American-driven U.S. car; it paid the ride’s expenses but refused to take the wheel, acknowledging that the driver was drunk and swaying near the cliff.
The EU remains the largest financial donor to the Palestinian Authority, but refuses to address this political conflict by using the non-violent tools available to it, diplomatic, economic or political. The most we have come to expect — rather late in the game — from EU bureaucracy are well-crafted statements, condemnations and reports. The EU knows exactly what is happening on the ground. They have documented Israel’s illegal military occupation for all to read. EU officials can rattle off the exact violations of international law and know, in minute detail, in what Palestinian city, village, refugee camp and hamlet the violations are taking place. Yet no real action is taken to stop, or even hinder, the Israeli bulldozer which is destroying all hopes for peace.
At first glance, the European Eminent Persons Group’s open letter sounds bold; it depicts the two-state solution as being on a crash course with history. However, a closer look finds loaded language, such as calling the Israeli colonization of Palestine a mere “dispute,” or laying equal blame on Palestinians and Israelis for the failure of restarting negotiations, or stating that the two-state “solution” is the “only one recognized by the UN resolutions as just and equitable”[bold added]. The report goes on to encourage reform of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but interferes in internal Palestinian affairs by conditioning this representation as it sees fit, by ignoring the majority of Palestinians who are refugees and who happen to live outside of Palestine. This group comprises a number of former presidents, prime ministers, ministers and senior officials of EU member states, some of whom were in office when the EU issued its damning reports about Israel’s violations of international law, so one would have expected a more accurate articulation of the current state of affairs.
The European Council on Foreign Relations report (Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution) is much more honest. Starting with the title, it makes a clear link between the loss of the two-state solution and Europe. Also it addresses the exact state of affairs the region faces: the loss of a historic paradigm called two states. The report leaves the European emperor not only naked but holding a checkbook, ready to continue to underwrite the status quo that is leading the region to a historic collapse. The report notes:
Israel’s election has produced a new government with an even more pronounced annexationist bent towards the West Bank, while US President Obama’s visit to the region lived down to the minimal expectations prepared for it.
Most [EU] member states acknowledge the strategic and economic importance of Middle East peace; many feel a strong political, even emotional, attachment to the aim. But few are much concerned to act decisively. Most prefer to treat the EU’s carefully elaborated positions on the “Middle East Peace Process” as a collective alibi, useful for deflecting criticism from the protagonists while they develop bilateral relations on the basis of national interest.
It [Israel] is the EU’s largest trading partner in the Mediterranean, and 24th in the world — ahead of such economies as Indonesia or Argentina.
In recent years, Israel has been among the top ten global arms exporters. Several of our correspondents identified links in these areas as lying at the heart of bilateral economic relations with Israel.
As employer of last resort, the [Palestinian Authority] public sector now accounts for 23 percent of jobs. The recent resignation of Fayyad confirms that “Fayyadism” has reached a dead end.
Israel is at pains to obscure the scale of its budgetary support to the settlement enterprise. But recent estimates of the direct and indirect subsidy, excluding security-related costs, are of the order of €200 million to €300 million a year. At one level, of course, these figures are a depressing confirmation of the commitment of the Israeli state to the settlers’ agenda.
…if elites favour “business as usual” with Israel, public opinion across the EU is consistently less patient with Israeli policies and more sympathetic to the Palestinians’ predicament. And the successive votes at the UN in 2011 and 2012 show that governments are now moving in a similar direction. Israel is in danger of “losing” Europe.
Further entrenchment of the occupation as hope for a two-state solution fades will make the parallels with apartheid South Africa increasingly difficult to ignore. Sanctions and international isolation will follow; and an eventual bloody catastrophe seems more probable than a “Rainbow Nation” [a “one-state solution”] sequel.
European efforts to restrain Israel from entrenching its occupation have had little impact. Their efforts to sustain the Palestinian Authority (backed by more than an annual €1 billion of aid) have not fared much better. “State building” has been a dead end, contributing to the creation of a dependency culture in the West Bank and masking the hollowing-out of the real economy.
So polling, and voting, and official statements all tell the same story — that Europe is becoming increasingly concerned for the continued viability of the two-state solution, and increasingly ready to tag Israel with the main responsibility for the impasse in negotiations and the deterioration of prospects for viable Palestinian statehood.
This non-Jewish cuckoo in the nest is what makes the mindset of “managing” the conflict with the Palestinians rather than resolving it so self-deluding. And it is what makes the vision of an Israel that comes to embrace Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] and yet remains both Jewish and democratic simply unattainable. The Israel of the future can be any two out of the three of Jewish, democratic, and enlarged to the banks of the Jordan — but it cannot, without large-scale ethnic cleansing, be all three.
The report goes on in great detail. However, like all previous reports, when it comes to what to do with all this information, it falls short. It notes: “[U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry has evidently seized this point [need for “bolder” economic efforts] and is working on a package of measures to promote economic development in the West Bank. For European donors, the strategy should be to put the PA on notice that the days of the dependency state are numbered — but that Europe will stay around long enough to assist them in shifting their focus from “state-building” to “economy-building”.
After building a reality of dependency, the suggestion that Europe drops the issue of a Palestinian state, a state that all but one EU member state just voted for UN membership this past November! But this and other EU reports reveal the elementary finding that, without statehood, there is no sustainable Palestinian economy under military occupation.
The report ends with more unfeasible advice. “Palestinians must be empowered to earn their own living — matching a progressive reduction in European budgetary support — and the terms of the occupation must be altered to enable the Oslo intention of a progressive build-up in the role and authority of the PA.” Speaking of any tomorrow that leaves the Israeli military occupation in place, regardless of the “terms,” is an insult, not only to readers’ intelligence but to the very same EU that keeps pumping out report after report and statement after statement calling for an end to the over four decades of Israeli occupation.
The “wandering Europeans” are doomed to remain in the back seat of the American-driven, U.S. car paying all the while for the ride’s expenses. The only modification to this revised legend is that when the car falls off the two-state cliff, the Europeans will not be able to say they didn’t know, since they wrote the script for the fall line by line.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio, living in the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and blogs at www.epalestine.com.
Notes and links
Chapter 2 of Nick Witney’s report begins (to whet your appetite)
A good place to start would be with a little intellectual honesty. First, Europeans need to acknowledge that Israel’s policy of settlement expansion (with the concomitant displacement and dispossession of Palestinians), and in particular the progressive absorption of East Jerusalem, are entrenching the occupation and progressively erasing the “Green Line”. …
Europe and the Vanishing Two-state Solution Full report, pdf file.
What is the European Council on Foreign Relations?
ECFR About Us
It is “the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values-based foreign policy. It is independent and has no connection to the institutions of the EU.”
Nick Witney was appointed first Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency in 2004 after he had been seconded from the UK’s MoD in January to oversee the setting up of the new EU Agency. He was formerly Director General of International Security Policy.
Group of elders urges EU to ditch Oslo and start afresh Posting about the Eminent Persons Group and copy of their letter to Lady Ashton, April 2013