Middle East: Europe stuck in the middle of the road
21 September 2011
In offering an alternative to the U.S. position on recognition of a Palestinian state, the EU is exposing itself to criticism and pressure from both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Europeans have been busy trying to resolve last-minute problems before the vote at the UN on Palestine [scheduled for Sept. 23]. First, to try to find a common position among the European countries themselves; secondly, to avoid embarrassment vis-à-vis the Americans if they were not to vote with them against a Palestinian seat at the UN; and thirdly, to avoid embarrassment vis-à-vis the Palestinians if they were not to vote for them in backing up Europe's promise to support the independence of a Palestinian state "in due course."
Europe has wanted to steer down the middle of the road. Their great minds have come up with a compromise proposal, a compromise that Catherine Ashton [the EU High Representative in charge of foreign policy] has tried to sell to the US, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and which would come at the expense of the Palestinians. The idea was to push the Palestinians to accept a vote in the General Assembly and not in the Security Council, so as not to embarrass its members. In the same way, they wanted to make the Palestinians swallow Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to accept a status similar to that of the Vatican, with a number of additional competencies such as membership of Unesco, etc. In return, the Palestinians would get a promise from the Americans not to vote against them in the General Assembly and a promise from the twenty-three European countries to vote for them, which would have given the observer status of the Palestinians an additional political weight.
In return, the Palestinians were to commit to two things: first, to return to the negotiating table based on the framework set out by Barack Obama – i.e., that the 1967 borders must be the basis for negotiations, with the possibility of exchanges of land [the majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be part of Israel]; and secondly, to promise not to bring any case against Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
The first point offers nothing new. The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has already declared that, following the vote in the UN, negotiations would be the next step. What was new, however, was the idea of depriving the Palestinians of their right to turn to the ICC. This would amount to stripping the Palestinian leadership of the weapon that would let them rebalance the power relations in the negotiations. If the Palestinians could take Israel before the ICC for the occupation, colonisation, assassinations and collective punishment that is, for example, the blockade of Gaza, that would allow them to back Israel into a corner and break the deadlock in the negotiations.
Thus, with its middle-of-the-road proposal, Europe is positioning itself as an alternative to the Americans to protect the interests of Tel Aviv. Europe has always shown generosity towards the Palestinians and has often made beautiful promises. It hopes now to cover its costs by mortgaging the future of Palestine's future generations. The proposal that I, myself, make to the Palestinians is this: that they hand back the compromise worked out by the Europeans with a "No thank you."