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Opinion: Europe's doomed stance on Palestine - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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After US 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. Europeans have underwritten the cost of Israel’s occupation by artificially propping up the Palestinian Authority (PA), created in the aftermath of the Oslo Peace Accords with no sovereign authority whatsoever.

Following a recently published open letter on the Middle East Peace Process from the Council of Europe’s Group of Eminent Persons, a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) entitled Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution reveals the many mistakes the EU has made on Palestine. The author is Nick Witney, who previously worked for the European Defence Agency, where he was the first chief executive. Before that, his career was divided between the UK diplomatic service and the UK Ministry of Defense.

The European Union has 27 member-states, comprising of a population of over 500 million (7.3% of the world population). It entered the Middle East peace process in the back seat of a US-driven 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 PA, but refuses to address this political conflict by using the diplomatic, economic and political tools at its disposal. The most we have come to expect—rather late in the game—from EU’s 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 or hamlet the violations are taking place. Yet no real action is taken to stop, or even hinder, the Israeli bulldozers that are destroying all hopes for peace.

At first glance, the Group of Eminent Person’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,” 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.”

The letter goes on to encourage reform of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but interferes in internal Palestinian affairs by conditioning this representation as it sees fit, 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 ECFR report is much more candid. Staring 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 also 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.”

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 EUR 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 [the 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: “[US Secretary of State John] Kerry has evidently seized this point”—the 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, this is a suggestion that Europe drop the issue of a Palestinian state—the state that all but one EU member-state just approved for UN non-state observer 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 Europeans are doomed to remain in the back seat of the American-driven, American-made car, paying all the while. The only modification to this reality is that when the car falls off the two-state cliff, the Europeans will not be able to say they did not know, since they wrote the script for the fall line by line.

Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour

Sam Bahour is a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network.

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