The European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process (EEPG) issued a public letter, addressed to EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, calling for a new European approach and expressing “strong concern about the dying chances of a settlement based on two separate, sovereign and peaceful states of Israel and Palestine”.
The statement appeared in the same week that US secretary of state John Kerry spoke of his belief that there is now a two-year deadline for achieving the two-state solution.
The letter to Ashton was signed by 19 prominent Europeans figures including seven former foreign ministers, four former prime ministers, and a former president from 11 European countries that included UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Latvia.
The letter spoke of the EEPG’s increasing disappointment over the past five years at the absence of any productive discussion of the Middle East peace process, as well as the failure of the international community’s to foster such a discussion.
The statement added: “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.”
The letter emphasized that “the Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy,” calling on Ashton, and the EU’s Council of Ministers, to take a “new approach” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The letter added: “Letting the situation lie unaddressed is highly dangerous when such an explosive issue sits in such a turbulent environment.”
EEPG called for “a sharper focus on the essential need for a two-state solution” adding that this is “the most likely outcome to offer lasting peace and security for the parties and their neighborhood and the only one recognized by UN resolutions as just and equitable.”
The group also called for “an explicit recognition that the current status of the Palestinian Territories is one of occupation, with responsibility for their condition falling under international law on the occupying state,” in addition to “an insistence that Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 lines are illegal, must cease being expanded and will not be recognized as one of the starting points in any new negotiations.”
The statement also pushed for the EU “to play a political and not just a funding role and to resume a more strategic dialogue with the Palestinians,” as well as “a vigorous international drive for the implementation of much improved humanitarian and human rights conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza.”
The EEPG statement concluded, “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 [Ashton] take rapid action to correct this unacceptable state of affairs.”
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK representative to the UN and the co-chairman of the EEPG and one of the letter’s signatories, told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Europeans have both a duty and an interest in making sure that more vigorous action is taken to re-start negotiations on a basis that offers more hope of progress than Oslo-Madrid. They should not just be sitting back to await what might come out of American efforts, which have proved disappointing in the past.”
As for why the EEPG took the decision to issue this call now, he emphasized that “the situation on the ground is deteriorating, in that the number of Israeli settlers in illegal settlements is increasing and the mood at grass-roots level in the Palestinian population is darkening.”
“In the view of EEPG members, the likelihood of a dangerous explosion in the Occupied Territories is growing,” he added.
Asked whether he believes the EU can play a role without the US, the retired British diplomat—who also previously served as the UK’s Special Representative to Iraq—said: “It is always better if the US and the EU act together, but not if they are both more inclined to inaction.”
He added, “With the US, in the view of many observers, handicapped as an objective and neutral actor by its close relationship with Israel, the EU might be able to take on at least some preliminary and exploratory work, for instance, in the areas of promoting Palestinian reconciliation, exposing the illegality of settlement activity, assessing the chances of work on the Arab Peace Initiative, and declaring a greater determination not to allow the possibility of a two-state solution to fade away.”
Regarding what action the EEPG would like to see EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and the Council of Ministers take, Greenstock said: “We would welcome more forceful action on settlements, including in the area of settlement trade,” adding “above all, we want the EU to be more insistent on improvements to the daily lives of ordinary people in the West Bank and Gaza, where the standards of humanitarian care and human rights are far lower than the EU condones in other parts of the world.”
The EEPG open letter was signed by former prime minister of Italy Guiliano Amato; former prime minister of France Lionel Jospin; former prime minister of the Netherlands Andeas van Agt; former UK ambassador to the UK and EEPG Co-Chair Jeremy Greenstock; former foreign minister of Spain Miguel Moratinos; former EU High Representative Javier Solana; former foreign minister of France and EEPG Co-Chair Hubert Védrine; and former president of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga, among others.