The European politics towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently finds itself at a crossroads – one can suspect urgency as well as resignation. This year’s conflict in Gaza demonstrated the need for a fundamental strategic change. However, it is doubtful whether a new strategy would be feasible in the foreseeable future, which is why the EU should make a serious effort to devise one as soon as possible.
The Union’s influence on the peace talks is relatively weak. Instead, the Europeans are heavily, although successfully, engaged in the reformation of Palestinian institutions. The EU efforts were recognized particularly in 2011, when the UN declared the Palestinian institutions ready for statehood. The European political mission is currently focused mainly on the increase of the independence of Palestinian judiciary and on the support of the proposed national consensus government involving both Fatah and Hamas. Nonetheless, peace and stability is a necessary condition for a legitimate functioning of the Palestinian Authority. The situation therefore calls for a more pro-active attitude of the EU during the peace talks.
The summer conflict also led the Union to pay more attention to the situation in Gaza over the situation in the West Bank. This shift of focus also contributed to the allocation of more financial resources for the Gaza reconstruction. If the EU helps to secure the truce, Israel will then most likely agree to end the blockade on Gaza. The European representatives are contemplating launching a mission aimed at building better security capacities on the Gaza-Egypt border.
In the past, the EU was committed to the support of the Palestinian unity in the form of a national consensus government involving both Fatah and Hamas. This should then also contribute to the peace talks. However, the process of convergence is going slowly not only because of technical difficulties (two different systems of state administration), but also because the EU still considers Hamas a terrorist organization and does not communicate with it. The summer conflict has, however, shown that Hamas cannot be isolated anymore.
This year’s short war has, inter alia, deteriorated the already flawed EU-Israel relations. Israel perceives the Union’s attitudes as too critical of the former’s policies. The Union, on the other hand, does not have any leverage against Israel to be deployed during the peace talks. Moreover, there are relatively close ties between some EU Member States and the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless, the Union does not seem to have devised any new plans aiming at achieving a lasting peace in the region. Brussels should continue to support the political unity of Palestine and perhaps wait and see how the situation develops, before it radically alters its policy. This is especially true in the light of the fact that without the support of the regional powers and the U.S., a long-lasting peace cannot be achieved and sustained.
(The study can be downloaded here: http://carnegieeurope.eu/2014/10/21/eu-and-israeli-palestinian-conflict-action-without-script/hsdm)
Richard Youngs (Carnegie Europe)