CURRENT AND FUTURE CHALLENGES OF THE EU IN MIDDLE EAST
Today we can hardly understand the situation of Middle East without the inter-relation with Europe. From the “the kidnap of Europe” until Kundera, who when receiving the prize Jerusalem of Literature, pointed out that Israel is “the heart of Europe…a strange heart which lies far from the body”, all the European history and all the events of the East have been closely linked.
The flow of this permanent relation has not always been harmonious and peaceful. Lights and shadows have been walking together in the historic evolution and its contemporary development. This article is not concerned with the recall of historic incidents, although it is necessary to mention those conclusive for the shaping of the current reality. The Sykes-Picot agreements and the Balfour declaration, the holocaust and the creation of the Israel State, are the main milestones helping to explain the current situation. This short list of historic events could be useful to show the vital importance of the European interests in Middle East.
Certainly, Europe –mainly France and the United Kingdom- was overshadowed after the Suez crisis and our influence was diffused by the North American superpower. The Peace Conference in Madrid confirmed the URSS disappearance, the Pax Americana emergence and the loss of European influence. This loss should be clarified, even though it is true that Europe is not in the negotiating table, Europe is a relevant actor with political views and economic capacity to guide the definitive solution in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Without the Venice Declaration and the economic and financial support of Europe to the Palestinian people, the hope for peace in Middle East would have vanished.
Today we are facing an exhausted peace process, stagnant negotiations and no signs of resuming in the near future. And all this, in an international and regional context which could be favourable to a final arrangement if we objectively analyze the strategic consequences of the Arab Spring and the Iranian challenges; events which are not claiming enough attention from the Israeli governing class. Rather the opposite, in view of the uncertainty and the rise of Political Islam, Israel decided to start a new isolation, to turn inwards into itself and to wait for better times to come. They consider, incorrectly, that time is on their side.
These political scenes and events make us question about the role of the European Union, and above all, what they should do. Unfortunately, and despite the Union consensus during the last years in a common position about what the basis of a final agreement should be –conclusions of the Swedish Presidency, November 2009-, they have not been able to exert leadership for the last year and it has showed again the traditional internal cacophony and the meek follow-up of the North American policy, which needs in this moment, due to the pre-election context, the European boost to break the current impasse.
Up until today, we have no map and no road. The efforts and the declarations of the Quartet have not managed to trigger a new dynamic for peace, so it seems necessary to change the negotiating framework and to propose a new one, aiming to relaunch and re-energize the peace process.
Currently Israel shows willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian with no pre-conditions. On the other hand, the National Palestinian Authority refuses to initiate these talks if there is not a previous commitment from Israel to stop the construction of settlements. This political forcing can only be solved if the possible negotiating offers are changed to satisfy both parties and they sit down again around the negotiating table.
It is time for the European Union to retake the initiative and break the current apathy. The only negotiating position that we have today is the recognition of the Palestinian State. We are obliged to propose a new political-diplomatic strategy where both parties find elements of interest. The European could announce the double acknowledgment and establish a deadline for the recognition of the Palestinian State whenever, in a reasonable and pre-set period of time, the peace negotiations had not advanced seriously. On the other hand, the EU could commit itself to make easier the diplomatic normalization in the Arab-Islamic world with Israel in that same period of time.
In parallel, the Israeli and Palestinian people should retake the peace negotiations, focusing on territorial, borders and security related issues. At the same time, the Quartet could adopt the commitment to negotiate and reach an effective and authentic agreement to stop the settlements spread. This strategy does not consist on another declaration, but on achieving on-site the colonization policy to be stopped.
Today, the European Union should consider the composition and mandate of the Quartet. Currently it is not fulfilling the objectives it was intended for and it should be opened and structured again for the main Arab countries to participate, as well as the Arab League and Turkey. In turn, the European Union should propose a new action plan for the Quartet to permanently asses the development of events in Middle East.
If these acts refer to the politic-institutional framework of the European Union, the European civil society could and should play a relevant role in the awareness of the European and international public opinions about the Middle East conflict, with the optimization of their resources and experience in social movements. Today more than ever the soft power, always attached to Europe, can be decisive in the new regional context.
The European, Arab and Israeli civil societies in favour of peace and the final solution of the conflict that have the ability to benefit a new dynamic, promoting and accompanying the final solution. In the last months we have attended the citizens’ movements overthrowing peacefully authoritarian and anachronism regimes. The citizens’ determination can highlight that the impasse situation in Middle East should unblock to walk towards a future of peace and prosperity.
In this sense, the European Union could work as connection between Israel and the new ruling elites from the North of Africa and the Arab world with unquestionable efficiency. Even Israel proclaimed itself as the unique democracy of the region until the so-called Arab Spring, fortunately today the countries forming the neighborhoods proudly confirm that they are for the conquest of the civic and democratic dignity.
The moment where both parties leave their traditional and historic prejudices to shape a new horizon, where North Africans and Arabs divest and free themselves of taboos about Israel, has arrived. Against the systematic boycott position, it is necessary to promote an active diplomacy to defend their interests; a political and diplomatic action which should be explained directly to the government and the Israeli society. Therefore, it would be appropriate to retake the Arab Initiative for Peace and a ministerial delegation could travel and stay in Israel to explain to different speakers (the Knéset, the trade union, business and professional associations, universities, think tanks….) the benefits of the permanent reconciliation and the peace.
The European Union is called to play a key role in the whole process and design an action plan to survey most part of social and political sensitivities, and make easier or propose specific initiatives. Probably this is the moment to focus in the call and preparation of a Euro-Mediterranean Summit to get in contact, to the highest levels, to the political elites of the South and Israel with the responsibility of the European Union. By now, this call has not been raised due to the fact that the Head of States and the European Union government, who are following with interest and uncertainty the development of the events in the Arab world, seem to be paralyzed by the different sources of instability present in the middle-east scenario. They decided to wait for the situation to be more stable in Syria so as to value their impacts in other nations and they do not commit themselves with a pro-active attitude using the diplomatic instrument to speed up the process of change lived in the area.
The EU silences in the last year about the events in the Mediterranean and Middle East raise well-founded suspicions of lack of vision and political will to answer effectively and seriously the results of the different open causes. However, the situation urgently requires a purely European answer, if it does not take place, we will be attending again the European eclipse like the one occurred in 1953 with the Suez crisis, but also Europe will no longer be a reference and influential actor in the international scene to become secondary and irrelevant.
It is more and more evident that the North of Africa and Middle East look more towards the East and the South and they are less concerned about raising their eyes towards the North, where they just receive signs of crisis and distance, incomprehensible, mainly, if we take into account the history and the geography of the region. I really wish and hope that the European leaders read with courage and decision the reality of the Mediterranean and Middle East, and they face with a strategic vision the current and future challenges of Middle East.
Miguel Ángel Moratinos
Ex-ministre of Foreign Affair and Cooperation of Spain