Can Europe Can Make Peace in the Middle East?

Can Europe Can Make Peace in the Middle East?

The call by the European Union's foreign policy chief for the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state by a certain deadline, even without any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, is intriguing and unimpressive. On Saturday, Javier Solana stated at a lecture in London that, "[a]fter a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution," which he said should address border parameters, refugees, control over the city of Jerusalem, and security arrangements. The move should also accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, set a calendar for implementation, look to resolve other remaining territorial disputes, and "legitimize the end of claims." Solana went on to say that if the parties were not able to stick to a timetable, "then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table."

This intriguing approach has been gradually adopted in recent years by many serious students of the Arab-Israeli conflict who despair of ever seeing the Palestinians and Israelis moving towards a resolution of their conflict on their own. It is also probably unrealistic as a mechanism to resolve the conflict, given the limited ability of external powers to force local actors into specific modes of behavior when the locals are not convinced of the wisdom of such behavior.

Putting a solution on the table would only result in a crowded table that generates much discussion, but not a workable solution that resolves the conflict. The more realistic approach would be for the major global players "“ the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, conveniently packaged in the "Quartet"� of would-be Middle East peacemakers "“ to use their moral, political, economic and military and peace-keeping muscle to push, prod and cajole the parties into a serious negotiation. This would require all Arabs and Israelis to end the use of violence, in return for the expectation that diplomacy would meet their bottom-line needs "“ as in the Northern Ireland negotiations two decades ago.

Solana's call is unimpressive, though, because it captures the self-emasculation of that otherwise remarkable and powerful group of countries when it comes to Arab-Israeli issues. Rather than calling on the elusive "international community,"� it would be much more powerful if the EU were to take unilateral actions and show the way for others who are hobbled either structurally (the UN) or politically (the US), or simply do not have the interest or punch to prod serious mediation (Russia). An important but now vacant diplomatic space that needs to be filled involves the political, legal and moral affirmation of what is the right and decent policy to pursue, suggesting three ways the EU can act.

The first is simply to affirm the requirements of existing law and UN resolutions related to settlements, land annexations, terrorism and other such acts by both sides. The EU should have no problem playing the role of self-appointed monitor of the parties' compliance with international legal norms. The parties and the world would welcome such a move to reclaim that crucial middle ground of law-based conflict resolution that could trigger realistic and mutual political compromises. The EU would do everyone a great service by adopting a policy that, at its most simple, rewards law abiders and punishes law breakers.

A second way for the EU to act is to remind the principals and the world that peace and security will prevail only when Arabs and Israelis are treated equally, with both having the same and simultaneous rights to basic needs like security, sovereignty and water. The US unfortunately has caved in to Israeli blackmail in recent decades and has tried to make conflict-resolution a matter of assuring Israeli security before any other advances. Europe can accurately reframe the conflict as two peoples' quest for secure statehood.

The third step that Europe can take is simply to sit down and talk with all legitimate parties, and end the nonsense of boycotting groups like Hamas and others that fight Israel. A good first step is for the EU to suspend its participation in the Quartet, and then quietly let this diseased body die a merciful death. It is precisely the militants on both sides who use violence who have to be brought into the talks for peace and coexistence. The castrated American political system lacks the ability to act with conviction on the really tough issues and talk to all actors. Europe is not so emasculated, and should avoid at all costs following the US' route to impotent self-marginalization.

Europe was once respected by all in the Middle East. Today it is largely ignored by all, which is unfortunate and unhelpful. It should not look for salvation or redemption from the international community, but rather in its own heart that still beats, even if faintly.

 

Rami G. Khouri is published twice-weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

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