El - Hassan Bin Talal
The Daily Star (Commentary)
November 1, 2007 - 2:45pm

The European Union's policy in the Middle East is the litmus test of its common foreign and security policy. Many Europeans share this belief, but, as the EU considers entering the fray of Middle East peace talks, it must respond to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's jibe that in the region "you are payers, not players."

Yet Europe's potential contribution should not be underestimated. Europe's financial contribution to the Middle East has been consistent and impressive. Between 1995 and 1999, it spent roughly 3.4 billion euros ($4.9 billion) in the region, to which the European Investment Bank added a further 4.8 billion euros in loans. From 2000 to 2006, Europe spent another 5.35 billion euros, and the EIB approved 6.4 billion euros in loans. This year, the European Commission has committed 320 million euros in Palestine alone.

So much for the role of payer. But has Europe's financial aid brought peace any closer? The Palestinian Authority has received more aid per capita than did post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan, yet the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have foiled hopes of a broader Euro-Mediterranean framework that, through dialogue and investment, would bring tangible improvements to the lives of millions.

Yet it is starkly obvious that peace in the Middle East will not be born out of projects. Rather, it will emerge from a concept that addresses existential needs. A stability charter to address people's concerns in terms of land ownership, the economy, demography, and supra-national cooperation must form the core of future dialogue and investment. For peace to take root, long-term regional interests must overcome national agendas. It is this vital multilateral ethos that Europe must champion.

I believe that a stability pact for the region could help to match what was achieved a decade ago in the Balkans. An enforced template of international law is essential - one with which all state and non-state actors must comply. Violators of international law must be made aware that the Middle East is subject to the same norms as other regions, and that the principles of democracy belong as much to its people as to those of more politically developed nations.

The Middle East urgently needs support in creating a regional stability charter to encompass codes of conduct, goals for regional cooperation, and the mechanisms of a regional cohesion fund to tackle underdevelopment and fund new infrastructure. The complementarities between countries rich in human resources and oil-producing states should be harnessed, while energy-derived investment must be diverted from the old markets of the West to the Gulf's troubled hinterland. The ultimate result would be an interdependent Middle East that fosters stability and nurtures growth.

For to end friction and suffering the crisis-ridden Middle East needs more than troops - a reality that has been recognized in previous conflicts around the World. The Helsinki Process that emerged out of the tensions of the Cold War addressed basic security, economic, and social concerns. It held that Europe's peoples could not be divided in terms of human dignity.

Recognition of cultural rights and humanitarian norms underpinned the activities of brave individuals like Vaclav Havel who knew that a better future was not only possible but essential. In all conflicts, human rights are among the first casualties, and in the Middle East the degradation of human dignity has now undone international conventions agreed over several generations. We should look to the Helsinki Process to show us how to retrieve what has been lost.

With today's emphasis on military action in the so-called "war on terror," the need for a conference to discuss security and military affairs, combined with a stability charter, has become urgent. A regional agenda must be created to help identify priorities, based on a three-pronged strategy that includes energy and water policy, arms control, and debt reduction.

Europe's contributions to the Middle East have been great. Funding from the EU and from member states has helped to alleviate suffering, while compassionate community-building efforts by European individuals and organizations have highlighted the true closeness of all who share a common Mediterranean history. It is vital that Europe's experience, commitment, and heritage of hope be framed in a vision for the Middle East that becomes a model for its future.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan is president of the Arab Thought Forum and president emeritus of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. This commentary is published in collaboration with Project Syndicate (c) www.projectsyndicate.org.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017