Ilan Baruch
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 28, 2013 - 1:00am

Hot on the heels of the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords, signed by the leaders of Egypt and Israel and under the watchful eyes of President Carter, the European Community formulated its own key statement of Middle East policy, the Venice Declaration, signed by the heads of the European Community on June 13th 1980.

This declaration was received in Israel with dismay. It was the most robust expression of European political frustration with the Israeli policy of occupation and settlement, in contradiction to the international law and the UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Furthermore, it took two major steps forward: declaring a European conviction that the Palestinian problem "is not simply one of refugees. The Palestinian People, which is conscious of existing as such, must be placed in a position……to exercise fully its rights of self-determination". Secondly, the Venice Declaration acknowledged that "…the PLO…will have to be associated with the (peace) negotiations".

True, Europe was calculating its expediencies of the day: It was alarmed that the Americans were consolidating their foothold in the region through the Camp David Accords, in order to gain influence in the volatile Mediterranean at the expense of the then-USSR. Europe was reacting nervously to the mounting tide of Palestinian terrorism, which threatened its own stability. Finally, in Venice, Europe gave a nod towards an oil-rich Arab world hostile to the Camp David Accords and to Egypt for breaking away from the traditional Arab backing of the Palestinians and the PLO.

However, Venice was significant. It carried the merit of breaking through Israel’s consistent success in convincing the European Community members to restrain their pro–Arab policies, first and foremost through the diplomatic dialogue between Jerusalem and Bonn. After all, Europe could not but marvel at the audacious Mr. Begin and Mr. Sadat, both statesmen taking personal risks domestically, for the sake of a game-changing agreement transforming the Middle East. But the Camp David Accords were seen as an Egyptian slap in the face of the PLO, so here came Europe to restore the role of the PLO in any future game. The Venice Declaration legacy eventually matured in the Oslo Peace Accords, to be signed thirteen years later.

Thirty-three years later, we are urgently in need of another Venice Declaration. The differences are obvious: The nine European members are now twenty-seven, and Israel is still in a formal state of peace, however brittle, with both Egypt and Jordan. Israel is also benefitting from the all-but-aborted Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinian Authority. However, now as much as in the 1980s, we see the necessary interwining of the US’s solid defense and diplomatic backing of Israel and the ongoing – if muted - European objection to Israeli settlement policy.

Currently, the Netanyahu government is using Israel's overriding military edge to systematically enforce its settlement policy on the Palestinians. Israel is tightening its grip over the West Bank by transforming Area C (60 % of that territory) and East Jerusalem into a de-facto extension of Israel. Europe tolerates such annexationist dynamics to prevail. The two-state solution paradigm will soon crumble and give way to an entrenched Greater Israel paradigm, which will remove the possibility for the Palestinians to achieve self-determination in Palestine.

A new Venice Declaration is required, in which Europe not only declares its vigorous support for a dynamic peace process leading to the creation of the State of Palestine alongside Israel through peace agreements. It is required, just like 33 years ago, to make a new commitment to assist the parties in a renewed endeavor towards peace.

Here is a plan: Europe extends invitations to Israel and Palestine to Venice for an international Middle East peace conference, which will give all sides an opportunity to jump-start a new peace process. At the same time the Arab League should be invited to join the conference in Venice, getting the parties to agree on regional peace negotiations along the lines embedded in the Arab League peace Initiative. The EU summit hosting the Venice peace conference could then issue a Second Venice Declaration, expressing its commitment to both bilateral and regional peace agreements in the Middle East.


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