Former British diplomatic heavyweight Chris Patten had an important piece on the Guardian website yesterday. He was arguing for a considerably more robust EU role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
- the EU has too often since taken the view that only Washington really drives things forward. Yet what should the EU do when American policy is going nowhere? Not surprisingly, the secretary-general of the Arab League called the so-called quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia), which supervised the non-implementation of the road map for peace, “the quartet sans trois”.
It is true that the US has the primary external role in the region, and that any peace settlement will require Israel’s willing agreement. But none of this justifies the EU’s nervous self-effacement. This removes much of the political price the US should pay when it does nothing or too little. It gives Israel carte blanche. It damages Europe’s relationship with its alleged partners in the Union for the Mediterranean, and makes Europe complicit in outrageous and illegal acts.
He argues that one specific role the EU should play is in actively brokering a new inter-Palestinian agreement (in conjunction with Turkey and the Arab League.)
He also makes this important argument:
- Without Hamas there will not be a peace settlement. What we should require from Hamas is simple – a ceasefire, acceptance of the outcome of a peace process provided it is endorsed in a Palestinian referendum, and help in securing the release of Corporal Shalit. To insist that they accept all past agreements is bizarre when no such requirement is made of Israel. Look, for example, at settlement building.
This is the first politically significant (though still non-governmental) voice I have heard from Europe arguing that the EU should abandon the three ironclad “conditions” it has until now placed– at the behest of the US– on any Palestinian unity government that might include Hamas.
Patten concludes thus:
- The present situation is awful for the Palestinians, denied a decent life in their own country, bad for Israel and its prospects for a peaceful future and wretched for relations between the US and EU on the one hand and the Islamic world on the other. It is time for Europe to go back to what it said 30 years ago [in the 1980 Venice Declaration, which was very rapidly brushed aside by Washington] and act with real rather than rhetorical courage.
As someone with a European background, I agree heartily with everything Patten says here. However, to be honest, I don’t see the European nations getting their act together to “act with real courage” any time soon. The “European idea” has been a big disappointment in all geopolitical respects except the transformation of the Franco-German relationship. And today, the European nations are grappling with a financial crisis that calls into question the basic underpinnings of the entire “European” project. It is therefore very hard to see why, at a time of such internal stress and challenge, any European leaders might feel moved to cast aside the “nervous self-effacement” that has, as Patten wrote, been the EU’s modus operandi in Arab-Israeli affairs for most of the past 30 years. (I hope I might be proved wrong.)