Tuesday

25th Apr 2017

Opinion

EU diplomacy on Israel/Palestine shifts up a gear

Few issues of diplomatic conversation today have quite the same ability to generate a rolling of the eyes and turning of the page as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Stuck is an understatement.

Israel’s government argues with its Supreme Court over re-locating a few dozen families from an illegal outpost to an illegal settlement, ignoring the bigger picture, whereby one in ten Jewish Israelis now reside in the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Recent EU statements on the Israel and Palestine conflict are more "gritty" (Photo: Israel Defence Forces)

The Palestinian government (West Bank branch) shuffles Ministers, appeals for alms, and issues letters to Israel’s leaders while the ‘statehood’ component of its institution-building project becomes atrophied. The other Palestinian government (Gaza branch) entrenches its control over a tiny sliver of land (approximately one-fifteenth the size of the West Bank). The gulf between the two threatens to become unbridgeable.

Washington meanwhile has a “closed for business until further notice” sign hanging in its window.

Against this backdrop, Europe would seem an unlikely place to look for any sign of hope or fresh thinking. Yet that is precisely what just happened. European Union foreign ministers issue a lot of statements. As a rule of thumb they offer up tedious fayre. The EU Council Conclusions issued on 14 May were something different. Thirty months ago, under the Swedish Presidency, Europe made its last detailed and forward-leaning comments on the peace process. This time the EU pushed the envelope a little further. Interestingly, it received little attention.

The EU did three things of note. First, they described realities on the ground in a gritty, granular and gloss-free way. The detail and brutal accuracy of their statement is unprecedented - on settlement “acceleration” and “settler extremism”, on east Jerusalem and ‘Area C’ (the 60 % of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control).

The statement twice refers to the “forced transfer” of Palestinians, it bemoans the “prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities” in east Jerusalem and invokes the applicability of international humanitarian law and international law, “irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel”.

Secondly, the EU is looking afresh at the trajectory of Israeli-Palestinian developments. Three times the statement discusses the receding “viability of the two-state solution”. Any inquisitive observer will notice how fiendishly difficult a workable two state outcome has become, yet international diplomacy sometimes acts as if a two-state blueprint can be implemented, off-the-shelf, at any time in the future. Europe is starting to acknowledge the realities of a closing window.

Finally Europe has opened the door to operational steps, notably with regard to settlement products and how they access and appear in European markets, but also in terms of leveraging Palestinian development in ‘area C’ and east Jerusalem. The EU Heads of Mission to the territories recently issued two damning reports on Israeli policy in East Jerusalem and ‘Area C’ – the political bosses have now endorsed their findings.

The EU takes care to also stress its “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel”.

Pause. Europe’s latest missive is clearly not going to change Israeli/Palestinian realities overnight. If anything the gap between European rhetoric and European action has widened. Achieving consensus for this statement among the twenty seven was far from easy (the current Czech and Dutch Governments are particularly susceptible to Israeli settler special pleading).

Holding that consensus together as words translate into deliverables, especially if there is a need to respond to (predictable) Israeli intransigence will be challenging. That Council Conclusion also contained plenty of empty old rhetoric, and slippage back to an emphasis on resuming go-nowhere negotiations is always a default option.

The items for immediate follow-up will likely revolve around technical committees and administrative details, notably regarding settlement products. Those are already distinctively labeled in the UK, and other EU member-states are now likely to follow suit (Denmark has gotten that ball rolling). All should go further in applying the provisions of existing agreements more stringently to settlements and Israeli activity beyond the green line. It’s a starting point and its technical nature is one reason for the lack of fanfare surrounding the EU Council conclusions.

Europe has leverage. Contrary to the spin emanating from certain quarters, European leaders tend to be reluctant critics of Israel. In my experience a characteristic of European officials is their caring and positive predisposition towards Israel. European leaders often take a broad view of Israeli and Jewish security needs - unsurprising given European history.

Lifting the veil of impunity on Israel’s self-defeating policies in the territories and insisting on Israeli respect for international and humanitarian law constitute steps that are absolutely consistent with that friendship and with that concern for Israel, not least given the implications of the changes sweeping the Middle East.

The writer directs the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations and is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation

EU to boost Israel trade relations despite settlements row

The EU is today to confirm moves to strengthen economic ties with Israel, facing off criticism that trade conditions should be frozen due to the diplomatic impasse over Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  2. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  5. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  6. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  7. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  9. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  10. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  11. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society

Latest News

  1. Report: Germany blocks post-Dieselgate reform
  2. Russia suspected of Macron hack
  3. EU to exclude financial services from post-Brexit deal
  4. Le Pen-Poutine: des liens qui remontent à loin
  5. Juncker breaks tradition with support for Macron
  6. Les fake news inondent les réseaux sociaux français
  7. Les amis de Le Pen à la Trump Tower
  8. France's election run-off will be far-right versus EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  2. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  3. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  4. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  5. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  6. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  7. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  8. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  10. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  11. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy