Beyond Violence 

The European Union and Palestine: Taking the Lead in the Peace Process in principle

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On 17th December 2014, the European Parliament approved a historical resolution symbolically recognizing the statehood of Palestine. This resolution was non-legislative and non-binding; nonetheless it marked a significant change in the approach of the European Union to the conflict which had, until now, been indecisive. As Gianni Pittella, the President of the left-wing Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament said, “This is an historic moment for Palestine, Israel and the European Union. Finally, after years of harsh debate, we can clearly say the European Parliament supports the recognition of the State of Palestine. (…) Europe, through the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, must now play a decisive role in the peace process.”

Until very recently, the European Union’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unclear to say the least, constantly shifting between the idea that it was more the responsibility of the United States and a growing awareness that any involvement of the European Union would be completely worthless without a shared position on the matter: this need for a common position was demonstrated by the strong opposition to the European Parliament’s resolution recognizing Palestine by some member states, notably Germany . The member states’ policies on the issue have never been coherent and the European Union has never tried to create some common principles to guide them, with the only exception being the acceptance of the two-states solution.

With this in mind, it is easier to understand how this unbinding decision of the European Parliament could be an important starting point for a coordinated action by the European Union, especially in a context where the national parliaments of some crucial member states (such as the United Kingdom and France) have already approved similar resolutions, demonstrating a growing impatience with the stalled peace process amongst Europeans. In this sense, the European Parliament’s decision to recognize in principle the Palestinian bid for statehood is an important milestone that can potentially shape member states’ policies towards the conflict from now on.

Even though the phrasing of the resolution is as soft and general as possible (as pointed out earlier, the recognition is only “in principle”), it is clear that the European Union is both tired of this never-ending conflict and frustrated by Israel’s behavior in relation to the settlements and the Gaza situation; it seems that the European Union has finally realised that the latest US peace initiative has already ended prematurely and that some new fuel is needed to restart the negotiations.

It remains debatable whether a de facto recognition of Palestine will serve that purpose. It will most definitely harden Israel's position, and could possibly worsen Netanyahu’s already short-sighted policy towards the peace process. In November 2014, Netanyahu commented on the recognition of Palestine by the French parliament by asking “Do they have nothing better to do at a time of beheadings across the Middle East, including that of a French citizen?”, making his feelings on increased European involvement quite clear.

On the other hand, acknowledging the failure of yet another round of negotiations and taking a unilateral decision to recognise Palestine could pave the way for a major involvement of the European Union, especially in the current climate where the US seems to have lost interest in the Middle East peace process This opportunity coincides perfectly with the interests of new European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, who made very clear her strong desire to achieve a solution to the conflict since the beginning of her mandate in early November, and who also seems to be determined to seek a bigger role for the European Union. On this issue, she recently declared that, “The sense of frustration, the lack of hope, is so strong on both sides, that we need not only to restart the process but...make sure that the process brings some immediate concrete results”.

Some might argue Israel will not be too happy with an increased European presence in the peace process, especially as Europeans seem, now more than ever, less inclined than the US to pander to the Israelis, as demonstrated by their harsh criticism over the continued settlements policy. This is probably why Israeli Ambassador to the European Union, David Walzer expressed his dissatisfaction with the recognition of Palestine by the European Parliament labeling it as an “anti-Israel” move. However, in an era where US foreign policy in the Middle East is constantly criticized, Israeli violations of human rights are increasingly more publicised, and also following the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, acheiving membership of the International Criminal Court for Palestine, a decisive action from the European Union could actually bring something new to the negotiating table. In other words, if recognition of Palestinian statehood can really lead to a more substantial involvement of the European Union,it might actually restart and refresh the peace process and possibly accelerate the road to a two-state solution and lasting peace.

Written by Irene C and published on 02-February-2015

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