Almost 25 years after the Oslo agreements, peace between Israelis and Palestinians is as distant and elusive as ever. Is the two-state solution still a relevant blueprint? EU Special Representative Gentilini argues that there is no realistic alternative and sets out what the EU can do to help advance the Middle East peace process.
The term ‘peace process’ has become code for a sense of frustration on both sides. For many Israelis, it stands today for an illusion of peace shattered by a bloody intifada and three Gaza wars. For most Palestinians, ‘Oslo’ has become a metaphor for perpetuating a 50-year old occupation instead of ending it. Many argue that the two-state solution is not relevant anymore. Why should the EU remain wedded to two states as the only realistic and viable solution? Let’s look at the context first.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long lost its claim to be “the mother of all conflicts” in the Middle East. Syria, Libya, Yemen, the fight against Daesh, the conflict between Qatar and other Gulf countries – there is no shortage of crises in the region. But this has made peace between Israelis and Palestinians more and not less urgent. It is urgent not because it would magically pacify the rest of the Middle East but because it would remove a principal driver of radicalisation and unlock unprecedented opportunities for regional cooperation, security and prosperity for all, in a region that is Europe’s immediate neighbourhood.
EU fully united on two state solution
This is why the European Union will not give up on peace between Israelis and Palestinians. No one can impose a solution on the parties. But we can help them rebuild trust and chart a path back to serious talks. The EU has been the largest donor and a reliable partner of the Palestinians in their quest for statehood. Europe and Israel share history, culture and values. Israel’s security is non-negotiable for us. Years of EU support to the Palestinian Authority, including our police training mission called EUPOL COPPS, have contributed to security and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike. The rationale of our engagement has always been the prospect of two states. Is it time to revise this paradigm?
It is understandable that, after years of failure, people start looking for alternatives. There is no shortage of ideas. However, none of them has ever been able to offer convincing answers, beyond slogans, about how they could work in practice and be acceptable to both parties. For the EU, the two-state solution is not an article of faith. There is simply no other realistic endgame. A binational state would hardly be compatible with Israel’s aspiration to remain the national home of the Jewish people. A two-tier state with unequal rights or a “state minus” with limited autonomy would not meet Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty.
Reaching a two-state solution will be difficult but it is not too late. Past failures offer many lessons, but they do not discredit the end goal. If we want to have any chance to help solve this conflict, we have to insist that the only realistic solution is two states. All 28 EU member states are fully united on this point. What does this mean for the EU today?
What should the EU do now?
First, we must ensure that we do the best we can to help the parties advance towards two states – against all the odds and the negative trends on the ground. In September, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, together with EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn, announced a review of the modalities of the EU’s engagement on the ground. This is not to do less and not to change our policies but, on the contrary, it is to ensure that all EU actions and instruments in support of two states are as effective as they can be.
Second, our best bet is to act in unison with our international and regional partners. That is why all EU foreign ministers have been united in supporting current US efforts. That is why the EU is strongly committed to working within the Quartet, alongside Russia, the US, and the UN, and why we are closely coordinating with our Arab friends in the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Finally, even if a comprehensive deal is far off, both sides can take transformative steps on the ground for progress towards a two-state reality, along the lines of the 2016 Quartet Report. In a situation of occupation, there is no symmetry in obligations under international law, which the EU will continue to insist on. But building the conditions to end the conflict will require courage and bold decisions from both sides. The EU will support them every step of the way.