Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Opinion

Europe's last stand for the two-state solution?

  • The EU's agreed policy is limited to mandate the high representative Josep Borrell to work to prevent the Israeli annexation (Photo: Aref Daraghmeh, B’Tselem)

The new Israeli coalition government's commitment to a unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank poses a direct challenge to the European Union's efforts to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive.

European governments, despite their different policy sensibilities, are still united in their support for a two-state solution. This may be the last chance Europe has to defend this goal.

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Europe's commitment to the two-state solution cannot be overstated.

It has been a cornerstone of the Union's foreign policy since the 1980's Venice Declaration. However, it has become evident that unanimity is out of reach when it comes to the policy options for the day after annexation.

As a consequence, EU's agreed policy is limited to mandate the high representative Josep Borrell to work to prevent the Israeli annexation.

For this reason the EU is pushing for a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The most adequate framework for this would be the Madrid Quartet.

Since 2002 the Quartet has provided multilateral support to help bring the parties to the negotiating table. In order to provide additional leverage, the Quartet could be enlarged.

This idea is already accepted by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who opened the door for a "Quartet plus" including 'Saudi Arabia, UAE, China and others'.

In its relations with the EU, Israel has underscored the insecurity derived from Iran's nuclear program and deep involvement in regional scenarios, demanding Europeans pay more attention to these regional menaces.

Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to solidify Israeli relations with the monarchies in the Gulf, who share many of those regional concerns, have been substantial.

Engaging with the Europeans and the leading Gulf countries has an obvious appeal for Israel.

'Quartet Plus'

Furthermore, within a "Quartet Plus" framework, the EU could play a much-needed role in helping to reduce the gap between the Trump Administration 'Peace to prosperity' Israeli-driven position and the Palestinian position that demands internationally endorsed parameters as the framework for any talks.

Nevertheless, without the involvement of the United States such efforts would bear limited results, as American leverage over Israel and its participation in the annexation decision is considered crucial.

Up to now, pessimism around the Middle East peace process has not proven to be misguided.

If European diplomatic efforts are not supported by Washington or they fail to seize the opportunities arising from the current regional dynamics, the annexation will be the most important obstacle yet placed in front of the two-state solution.

Confronted with this reality and even in the absence of unanimity some member states may choose to act.

There are increasing calls for economic sanctions on Israel – taking inspiration from the measures placed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea – but such a set of actions would be neither appropriate nor politically viable if Europe intends to play a constructive role.

However, calls for an increased 'policy of differentiation' by national authorities of settlement products and services seem to be gaining political momentum in some countries.

Another potential response might involve the suspension of Israeli participation in some EU programmes – EU's upcoming Horizon Europe has been mentioned as a possibility. Unanimity is required for participation by associate countries, so any country could block it.

A traditional policy option brandished by EU governments when Middle East peace process has stalled is to revive the issue of recognition of the Palestinian state.

Already nine out of 27 EU member states formally recognise the State of Palestine (although in most cases the recognition was made when they were part of the Soviet bloc).

In 2014, following the collapse of the latest round of direct negotiations, multiple EU countries passed parliamentary non-binding resolutions in support of the recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Those resolutions enjoyed strong political support, but only Sweden proceeded towards recognition.

Israel, with US support, has worked hard towards avoiding this scenario, as the recognition by a majority of member states could mean that the 'policy of differentiation' becomes the rule, not the exception.

Traditionally, Israel and the United States have succeeded in preventing such far-reaching decisions by offering an attractive political horizon for direct negotiations.

This time around, given the current state of transatlantic relations and without a revived political process, European countries compliance with such requests should not be taken for granted.

This European price-tag, even in combination with that may be imposed by other regional actors, may not deter the annexation decision.

Though put together with the fading away long-term strategic landscape for Israeli-Palestinian understanding, Europe's effort may be the last stand for the two-state solution.

If it fails, the practical end of the two-state solution will inevitably lead to an increased support for a one-state solution, which will likely be curtailed by a civil rights equality movement with a higher cost for all.

Author bio

Javier Soria Quintana is a Spanish career diplomat, currently serving as deputy head of mission at the Spanish embassy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The views expressed in this piece are his own.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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