An agency of the EU

European involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict

Chaillot Paper - No124 - 17 December 2010

edited by Esra Bulut Aymat

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Executive Summary:

The Chaillot Paper examines European involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It focuses on European Union involvement in the conflict, with special, but not exclusive, attention to EU involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian dimension of the conflict. Three decades on from the landmark 1980 Venice Declaration of the then nine Member States of the European Community, 2010 has seen new setbacks in efforts to resolve the conflict, and negative trends that increasingly fuel doubts about the very possibility of a two-state solution. This contrasts sharply against the optimistic objectives of the latest US peace initiative and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan for a Palestinian state, both of which envisage 2011 as a key year for moving towards a two-state solution. These contrasts invite far-reaching, honest and critical reflection on where European involvement in the conflict has left the EU and its Member States, and how it has impacted on peace prospects. Drawing on the expertise and distinct approaches of researchers from across Europe, the volume combines discussion of past and present EU policies, basic challenges for the EU, European interests and lessons learned, with elaboration of policy implications and recommendations.

Chapter summaries 

Chapter One (Esra Bulut Aymat) introduces the overall contributions and findings of the chapters, and provides chapter summaries. Overall, the findings confirm the EU’s crucial relevance to the conflict, invite fresh scrutiny of the key relationships between the EU and other parties involved in the conflict, and caution against bending to multiple pressures that result in the EU becoming more embedded in the conflict in a way that does not serve basic European interests. Chapter Two (Rosemary Hollis) outlines the basic stakes for the EU and Member States regarding the conflict, and provides a historical overview of the EU’s formal position on the matter and its evolving role since the 1990s. The author argues that EU policy has been more about issuing declarations and maintaining consensus within the transatlantic alliance than effective conflict resolution. Chapter Three (Agnès Bertrand-Sanz) examines the conflict and the EU’s assistance to the Palestinians. The author argues that without a basic reorientation in EU aid strategies and a rethink of the failed boycott of the Hamas administration in Gaza, current EU policy can only further erode the prospects of a viable Palestinian state-building enterprise. Chapter Four (Nathalie Tocci) examines the conflict and EU-Israeli bilateral relations. The author argues that the EU’s prioritisation of cooperation with Israel has worked against prospects of a two-state solution, and led the EU to compromise its adherence to its own norms and laws. Chapter Five (Daniel Möckli) explores the interplay between transatlantic ties, the Quartet and EU policies towards the conflict. While transatlantic convergence over the conflict has reached an all-time high since 2009, this has failed to translate into substantial progress on the ground, prompting the need to address a number of issues on the transatlantic agenda through more strategic and effective means.

Chapter Six (Muriel Asseburg) focuses on EU involvement in crisis management and mediation in the Arab-Israeli arena. The author argues that European presence on the ground has at best served to freeze rather than settle the conflict, and that efforts should focus on tackling trends that heighten the risk of renewed violence and destroy prospects of a viable Palestinian state. Chapter Seven (Michelle Pace) examines the interplay between the stalled state of democratisation efforts in the region and a feared eclipse of a two-state solution. The author argues that the EU is left with limited policy choices in both domains in the absence of a clear strategy on the linkage between democracy-building in the region and peaceful resolution of the conflict. Chapter Eight (Jeroen Gunning) tackles the question of engaging Hamas. The author argues that the realities of power balances and political trends across the OPT and within the Hamas movement, coupled with tested alternatives to the current non-engagement policy, make some form of EU engagement, potentially with a Palestinian national unity government, imperative. Chapter Nine (Michael Bauer and Christian-Peter Hanelt) explores regional approaches to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the role of the European Union. The authors propose that the EU should aim to help link regional ownership to international support of promising initiatives, most notably the Arab Peace Initiative. 

Policy recommendations 

As a multi-author volume, the Chaillot Paper does not have one set of recommendations shared by all the authors, nor does it propose a single route for future EU policy. Nevertheless, the vast majority of chapters converge in their assessment that the current priority lies in encouraging and enabling intra-Palestinian reconciliation. The current EU and US policy towards Hamas is unsustainable and counter-productive in this respect, and some form of engagement with Hamas will be required if progress is to be attained. The chapters offer a variety of concrete proposals on how this might be achieved. The EU could work with the US and Quartet partners to foster coordinated and creative thinking on Palestinian reconciliation. Treating the Quartet principles as crucial goals rather than preconditions, the EU could lead the way on encouraging the formation of a Palestinian National Unity government committed to maintaining a ceasefire, dealing with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders and respecting previous agreements. The EU could help dismantle the current incentive structure that makes a National Unity government unattractive to the Palestinian factions, for example by spelling out the rewards on offer to a potential new Palestinian unity government, or by clarifying how it would deal with such an entity. While one author advises the EU should leave mediation to others, another suggests the EU could consider the option of acting as a mediator in Hamas-Fatah unity talks, building on its long-standing direct and indirect interaction with Palestinian factions. 

Another theme that emerges from a number of chapters is the recommendation that the EU place respect for international and European law, and diligence in ensuring appropriate reactions and remedies to violations of both, at the heart of its relations with Palestinians and Israelis. This would include adapting current policy and practice regarding Israeli settlements goods to comply with EU declarations and legal obligations; and seeking reimbursement for additional costs to EU-funded humanitarian relief incurred as a result of illegal practices in the OPT. Other practical measures to deal with the particularly problematic issue of settlement growth might include issuing a code of conduct to discourage European investment in and cooperation with settlement-based companies. In East Jerusalem, the EU and Member States could tighten policies and practice to avoid de facto recognition of the Israeli annexation.

At least twenty further suggestions for improving policy are presented in the following chapters. These include recommendations for the EU to:

 

  • Prioritise bringing about an end to the Gaza blockade, working on durable border arrangements and on ensuring that any further changes to the current closure policies do not entrench a collective punishment logic and isolation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.
  • Renew emphasis on conflict resolution efforts, and on removing obstacles to the emergence of a Palestinian state, in order to improve the effectiveness of EU assistance to the OPT and its CSDP missions on the ground.
  • Seek to clarify its role in Middle East diplomacy in coordination with the US and other Quartet members, including the scope for European unilateral measures on certain issues, such as settlements and relations with Syria.
  • Engage in more timely and consistent confidence-building, early warning, monitoring and crisis mediation, in particular in the most sensitive areas, including on the Lebanon-Israel border and in Jerusalem. 
  • Prepare carefully for the different scenarios surrounding the PA government’s August 2011 deadline for creating a Palestinian state.
  • Assess the sustainability and impact of its current aid policies in the OPT.
  • Develop a more comprehensive policy towards human rights and democracy in its approach to the conflict, revising its democracy support programmes to maximise impact on the ground.
  • Explore playing a more proactive role vis-à-vis constructive regional initiatives towards the conflict, helping link initiatives with regional ownership to effective international support, most notably in the case of the Arab Peace Initiative. 


Overall, these recommendations address both those searching for bold conflict resolution steps and those seeking to minimise the harm done to peace prospects by current trends. This Chaillot Paper thus invites both sceptics and enthusiasts to further explore the full array of policy options and policy constraints that the EU faces with a more grounded and ambitious, and perhaps more ‘European’, vision and purpose. 

 

In the media/comments

  • Chaillot Paper 124 was mentioned in the Jerusalem Post:

    11 April 2011

    The EU Institute for Security Studies published a report in December 2010 quoting the 2003 European Security Strategy, which states that the “Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe,” and “as long as it remains unresolved, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in the Middle East.”

  • EUISS book launch of Chaillot Papers 122 and 124 cited by Le Monde:

    04 February 2011

    La veille, lors d'une réunion du Centre européen d'études de sécurité, un ancien opposant au président tunisien Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali résumait le sentiment qui se répand de Tunis au Caire : "Vous, les Européens, vous avez applaudi la chute du Mur en saluant la victoire de la démocratie à l'Est. Quand la révolte survient au Sud, vous avez peur et vous vous méfiez de la société civile arabe."
    Le Monde

  • EUISS Book Launch of Chaillot Papers 122 and 124 cited by Biladi

    01 February 2011

    L'ouvrage est "une analyse lucide qui permet de relancer le débat sur la coopération stratégique . . ."
    Biladi

  • EUISS Book Launch of Chaillot Papers 122 and 124 cited by Publico

    01 February 2011

    'Esta questão tem vindo a ser colocada por inúmeros intelectuais árabes, e foi repetida várias vezes num debate realizado em Bruxelas pelo Instituto de Estudos de Segurança da União Europeia (ISSEU) . . .'
    Publico