EU and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Can Europe Replace the US?

  • Kateřina Velíšková
  • 19.11.2018 07:55

Though many of us would like to see the EU play a bigger role in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its activities will most likely remain limited to preserving the status quo. A breakthrough in the conflict can only be brought about by a change in the internal dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians.

Over the years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a symbol of an unsolvable problem. The United States, which exerts greater political influence than Europe, have, under their current administration, aligned their policy more with the position of the Israeli government. The European Union has thus become the strongest proponent of the two-state solution, which would lead to the creation of an independent Palestine. Even though many people wish for the European Union to play a more proactive role in solving problems in the Middle East, its internal strife prevents it from fulfilling such task. The risk of the current strategy is that the EU might end up in the unfavourable position of a financial donor, who pays for holding up the status quo and only waits for the other players to change the situation.

 

"Common European foreign policy stems largely from the stance of the Western European countries towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically to the outcome of the Six-Day War of 1967."

 

It is important to remember that common European foreign policy stems largely from the stance of the Western European countries towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically to the outcome of the Six-Day War of 1967. In this conflict, Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Gaza strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. The fate of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza are at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to this day. Over time, Western European nations built a strong position criticising the Israeli occupation of these territories and propagating Palestinians’ right to self-determination. In the 1990s, the newly formed European Union played an important part in negotiating the Oslo Accords and established itself as one of the main donors for the Palestinian National Authority. In the following years, the EU played its most significant role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a member of the so-called Quartet on the Middle East, which has outlined a plan for stopping the violence of the Second Intifada, though unsuccessful in the end. Both examples illustrate the rather optimistic outlook of the EU at the dawn of the new millennium and its hope for a gradual spread of democratic values across the world and the expansion of European influence in the region.

 

"At the dawn of the new millennium, the EU was hoping for a gradual spread of democratic values across the world and the expansion of European influence in the region."

 

However, the coming years led the EU to a rapid change of perspective and attitude. The Oslo Accords did not result in a new Palestinian state and instead reinforced the status quo. Moreover, the violence of the Second Intifada further deepened the rift between Israel and the Palestinians.

The EU itself at the same time expanded to include eastern European countries, including the Czech Republic, which made the formulation of a common position to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult. Apart from that, the Union began to grapple with numerous internal issues including the effects of the financial crash and the subsequent debt crisis.

Another awakening from the optimistic dreams of spreading European democratic values in the Middle East came with the end of the Arab Spring, which ledin many cases either to the establishment of new authoritarian regimes or to lengthy conflicts in the region. The subsequent migrant crisis caused to a large extent by the war in Syria also turned the attention of the EU even more towards its own borders and its own safety and stability.

 

"The EU still remains one of the most important benefactors of the Palestinian National Authority. However, it has also significantly faltered in its attempts at a political resolution to the conflict."

 

Regardless of these developments, the EU still remains one of the most important benefactors of the Palestinian National Authority. However, the Union has also significantly faltered in its attempts at a political resolution to the conflict. The conflict itself seems to be stuck in one place and the hopes for a shift are diminished on one hand by internal disputes on the Palestinian side and on the other by the aggressive right-wing policy of Israel, which continues to support building settlements in the West Bank. The EU itself is observing the situation with a significantly lower degree of optimism and is relatively sceptical towards its ability to shift the balance of power in the conflict in a significant way.

 

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the shifting US policy in the Middle East under the leadership of President Trump. Due to the controversial move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the cessation of support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), many think the US is now even more clearly standing on the side of Israel and thus does not have the necessary mandate to mediate between the two sides of the conflict.

Many have thus looked to the European Union to replace the US in its role as a relatively unbiased mediator. However, this idea does not consider the EU´s cumbersome decision-making process and its current internal problems such as Brexit. On the other hand, the prominent role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the eyes of Europeans and the sheer length of European engagement in the conflict will not let the EU cease its efforts in the region completely.

 

"The EU can support a winning horse… if it finds one". 

 

In the future, we can therefore expect that the European Union will continue to play a key role in financing the Palestinian National Authority and projects aimed at advocating the two-state solution. Those will most likely be increasingly focused towards the support of non-profit organisations with similar political aims and towards activities in Area C of the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel and where most of the Israeli settlements are located.

It is also possible that the United States led by the Trump administration will decide to make further gestures that will attract great media attention, nevertheless, they will most likely not contribute to a true resolution of the situation. A political change can be expected only after a transformation of the internal dynamic of the conflict, caused for example by a change in either the Israeli or the Palestinian leadership. A diplomat working for the EU delegation in Israel summarised the position of the Union, saying: “We can support a winning horse… if we find one”.

About author: Kateřina Velíšková

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