Rami Khouri
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
July 17, 2009 - 12:00am

The call by the European Union’s foreign policy chief for the UN Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state by a certain deadline, even without any Israeli-Palestinian agreement, is intriguing and unimpressive. Javier Solana said on July 11, at a lecture in London, that “after a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution.” This, he said, should address border parameters, refugees, control over the city of Jerusalem, and security arrangements. The move should also accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, set a calendar for implementation, look to resolve other remaining territorial disputes, and “legitimise the end of claims.”

Solana said that if the parties are not able to stick to a timetable, “then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table.”

This intriguing approach has been gradually adopted in recent years by many serious students of the Arab-Israeli conflict who despair of ever seeing the Palestinians and Israelis moving towards a resolution of their conflict on their own. It is also probably unrealistic as a mechanism to resolve the conflict, given the limited ability of external powers to force local actors into specific modes of behaviour when the locals are not convinced of the wisdom of such behaviour.

Putting a solution on the table would only result in a crowded table that generates much discussion, but does not generate a workable solution that resolves the conflict. The more realistic approach would be for the major global players - the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, conveniently packaged in the “Quartet” of would-be Middle East peace-makers - to use their moral, political, economic and military/peace-keeping muscle to push, prod and cajole the parties into a serious negotiation. This would require all Arabs and Israelis to end the use of violence, in return for the expectation that diplomacy would meet their bottom line needs - a la the Northern Ireland negotiations two decades ago.

Solana’s call is unimpressive, though, because it captures the self-emasculation - when it comes to Arab-Israeli issues - of that otherwise remarkable and powerful group of countries. Rather than calling on the elusive “international community,” it would be much more powerful if the EU were to take unilateral actions and show the way for others who are hobbled either structurally (the United Nations) or politically (the United States), or simply do not have the interest or punch to prod serious mediation (Russia). An important but now vacant diplomatic space that needs to be filled is about the political, legal and moral affirmation of what is the right and decent policy to pursue. This suggests three ways the EU can act.

The first is simply affirming the requirements of existing law and UN resolutions, related to settlements, land annexations, terrorism, and other such acts by both sides. The EU should have no problem playing the role of self-appointed monitor of the parties’ compliance with international legal norms. The parties and the world would welcome such a move to reclaim that crucial middle ground of law-based conflict resolution that could trigger realistic and mutual political compromises. The EU would do everyone a great service by clearly adopting a policy that, at its most simple, rewards law-abiders and punishes lawbreakers.

The second arena for EU action is in reminding the principals and the world that peace and security will prevail in our region only when Arabs and Israelis are treated equally, with both having the same and simultaneous rights to basic needs, such as security, sovereignty and water. The United States unfortunately has caved in to Israeli blackmail in recent decades and has tried to make conflict-resolution a matter of assuring Israeli security before any other advances. Europe can accurately reframe the conflict as two peoples’ quest for secure statehood.

The third step that Europe can take is simply to sit down and talk with all legitimate parties, and end the nonsense of boycotting groups like Hamas and others that fight Israel. A good first step is for the EU to suspend its participation in the Quartet, and then quietly let this diseased body die a merciful death. It is precisely the militants on both sides who use violence who have to be brought into the talks for peace and coexistence. The castrated American political system lacks the ability to act with conviction on the really tough issues so as to talk to all actors; Europe is not so emasculated, and should avoid at all costs following the United States’ route to impotent self-marginalisation.

Europe was once respected by all in the Middle East. Today it is largely ignored by all, which is unfortunate and unhelpful. It should not look for salvation or redemption from the international community, but rather in its own heart that still beats, even if faintly.


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