If the EU is serious about support for Palestinian rights and wishes to act on the objectives laid out in its new Global Strategy, then Palestine will (again) emerge as a key litmus test for the EU’s credibility.
While the EU cannot realistically emerge as the lead diplomatic actor in the so-called peace process, and has traditionally struggled to move from being a ‘payer to a player’ in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, contemporary realities may provide an opening for a more coherent EU approach.
The recent intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal, while still in its infancy and open to many challenges, does represent an opportunity for renewed EU engagement. The EU has reacted by increasing aid to UNRWA in Palestine and reaffirmed its commitment to unity between the West Bank and Gaza. Disarming Hamas and reuniting Gaza and the West Bank represent important objectives. Yet, a complete capitulation of Hamas, as some in the region seem to believe is necessary, would likely drive segments of the group underground, and potentially into the hands of more radical actors in the Strip.
Disarming Hamas and reuniting Gaza and the West Bank represent important objectives.
The EU should also use its leverage with Israel and Egypt to (a) substantially increase freedom of movement for Palestinian residents in Gaza, increasing fishing rights and the provision of reconstruction materials to the Strip in coordination with the Palestinian Authority; and (b) exert concerted pressure to lift the 10-year blockade of Gaza, allowing increased trade, energy rights and the (re)building of Gaza’s international airport as well as a seaport, to improve the dire humanitarian conditions in the Strip.
Moving to the occupied West Bank, the EU should redouble its focus on supporting Palestinian economic and social development, particularly in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Equal to over 60% of the occupied West Bank and under complete Israeli civil and military control, Area C is of critical importance to the sustainability of a two state formula. The EU must insist on its right to provide long-term humanitarian and development assistance to these communities, and do so on the condition that the Palestinian Authority is also included in these efforts. Only by increasing the interdependence of urban and development planning between Areas A, B and C of the West Bank can the present cantonization of Palestinian communities be curtailed.
In this context, the EU’s External Action Service should launch a major review of European aid to Palestine, particularly given that reports have indicated that over 72% of foreign aid actually ends up benefitting the Israeli economy. Demanding reparations from Israel for the demolition or confiscation of EU-funded humanitarian structures in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is another important area for increased EU and member state activism. Since 2009, when the EU first began reporting on such instances, some 400 EU-funded structures have been demolished or seized by Israel, worth over 1.2 million of EU taxpayer money.
The objective would be to create a close knit group of countries with similar views on the conflict and EU policy.
The EU should prioritize internal coordination among individual member states and EU institutions on an agreed set of principles to guide EU policy towards Israel and Palestine. The objective would be to create a close knit group of countries with similar views on the conflict and EU policy, a sort of EU contact group or a kind of ‘differentiated integration’ among EU states on the topic of EU policy towards Israel, Palestine and the conflict. These should pool their leverage and come up with new benchmarks and targeted accountability measures capable of bringing concrete benefits to local communities while simultaneously preserving the eventuality of a two state framework.
With the Trump administration reportedly preparing to unveil a new peace ‘plan’ in the coming months, Europe must act now to preserve a degree of balance and credibility in international diplomatic efforts on Palestine. It is not enough for Europe to sit on the sidelines while seeking to influence the US administration behind closed doors. Media reports have hinted that the plan is highly favorable to Israel with the Palestinians reportedly being asked to accept a non- contiguous territory with limited forms of autonomy, no right of return and no capital in East Jerusalem. With pressure being brought to bear on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept the plan or resign, there is a real chance for renewed outbreaks of violence. No Palestinian leader can be expected to accept such a plan and if one is found that will, he is likely to face a similar fate to that of other Arab leaders, whether it be Jordan’s late king, Abdullah I, assassinated in 1951, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, killed in 1981, or Lebanon’s Bachir Gemayel, murdered in 1982.
After 50 years of occupation, it is clear that no quick fix solutions exist. Any policy approach will be open to criticisms of double standards or simply falling short of what many believe to be a lost cause. Yet, the unveiling of the EU’s Global Strategy, with its key emphasis on pooling EU leverage and influence from a variety of EU policy sectors and instruments, can represent an opportunity – perhaps the last opportunity – for a more coherent EU approach.
A different, extended version of this article was first published as a IAI Commentary on 13 November 2017, http://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/iaicom1724.pdf