By Sam Bahour
Next to U.S. support for Israel, the main reason why the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues is that the Europeans have reduced themselves to a subservient role in the Middle East Peace Process: one in which they underwrite the cost of Israel’s occupation by artificially propping up the Palestinian Authority, which created from the Oslo Peace Accords but has no sovereign authority whatever.
Coming on the heels of a recently published open letter on the Middle East peace process from ‘the European Eminent Persons Group’, a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution, spills the beans, and they’re all Europeans beans. The author is not your average run-of-the-mill report writer, he is Nick Witney, who previously worked for the European Defence Agency where he was first chief executive. Before that, his career was divided between the UK diplomatic service and UK defence ministry. So Witney is in a position to know.
After reading this new report, I was moved to write this opinion piece and call it “The wandering Europeans”. The title is not innocent (the original version of the legend about “the wandering Jew” concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming). This piece concerns a European Union of 27 states, comprising of a population of over 500 million (7.3% of the world population), which entered the Middle East peace process in the back seat of an American-driven U.S. car; it paid the ride’s expenses but refused to take the wheel, acknowledging that the driver was drunk and swaying near the cliff.
The EU remains the largest financial donor to the Palestinian Authority, but refuses to address this political conflict by using the non-violent tools available to it, diplomatic, economic or political. The most we have come to expect — rather late in the game — from EU bureaucracy are well-crafted statements, condemnations and reports. The EU knows exactly what is happening on the ground. They have documented Israel’s illegal military occupation for all to read. EU officials can rattle off the exact violations of international law and know, in minute detail, in what Palestinian city, village, refugee camp and hamlet the violations are taking place. Yet no real action is taken to stop, or even hinder, the Israeli bulldozer which is destroying all hopes for peace.
At first glance, the European Eminent Persons Group’s open letter sounds bold; it depicts the two-state solution as being on a crash course with history. However, a closer look finds loaded language, such as calling the Israeli colonization of Palestine a mere “dispute,” or laying equal blame on Palestinians and Israelis for the failure of restarting negotiations, or stating that the two-state “solution” is the “only one recognized by the UN resolutions as just and equitable”. The report goes on to encourage reform of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but interferes in internal Palestinian affairs by conditioning this representation as it sees fit, by ignoring the majority of Palestinians who are refugees and who happen to live outside of Palestine. This group comprises a number of former presidents, prime ministers, ministers and senior officials of EU member states, some of whom were in office when the EU issued its damning reports about Israel’s violations of international law, so one would have expected a more accurate articulation of the current state of affairs.
The European Council on Foreign Relations report (Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution) is much more honest. Staring with the title, it makes a clear link between the loss of the two-state solution and Europe. Also it addresses the exact state of affairs the region faces: the loss of a historic paradigm called two states. The report leaves the European emperor not only naked but holding a checkbook, ready to continue to underwrite the status quo that is leading the region to a historic collapse. The report notes:
“Israel’s election has produced a new government with an even more pronounced annexationist bent towards the West Bank, while US President Obama’s visit to the region lived down to the minimal expectations prepared for it.
“Most [EU] member states acknowledge the strategic and economic importance of Middle East peace; many feel a strong political, even emotional, attachment to the aim. But few are much concerned to act decisively. Most prefer to treat the EU’s carefully elaborated positions on the “Middle East Peace Process” as a collective alibi, useful for deflecting criticism from the protagonists while they develop bilateral relations on the basis of national interest.
“It [Israel] is the EU’s largest trading partner in the Mediterranean, and 24th in the world — ahead of such economies as Indonesia or Argentina.
“In recent years, Israel has been among the top ten global arms exporters. Several of our correspondents identified links in these areas as lying at the heart of bilateral economic relations with Israel.
“As employer of last resort, the [Palestinian Authority] public sector now accounts for 23 percent of jobs. The recent resignation of Fayyad confirms that “Fayyadism” has reached a dead end.
“Israel is at pains to obscure the scale of its budgetary support to the settlement enterprise. But recent estimates of the direct and indirect subsidy, excluding security-related costs, are of the order of €200 million to €300 million a year. At one level, of course, these figures are a depressing confirmation of the commitment of the Israeli state to the settlers’ agenda.
“…if elites favour “business as usual” with Israel, public opinion across the EU is consistently less patient with Israeli policies and more sympathetic to the Palestinians’ predicament. And the successive votes at the UN in 2011 and 2012 show that governments are now moving in a similar direction. Israel is in danger of “losing” Europe.
“Further entrenchment of the occupation as hope for a two-state solution fades will make the parallels with apartheid South Africa increasingly difficult to ignore. Sanctions and international isolation will follow; and an eventual bloody catastrophe seems more probable than a “Rainbow Nation” [a “one-state solution”] sequel.
“European efforts to restrain Israel from entrenching its occupation have had little impact. Their efforts to sustain the Palestinian Authority (backed by more than an annual €1 billion of aid) have not fared much better. “State building” has been a dead end, contributing to the creation of a dependency culture in the West Bank and masking the hollowing-out of the real economy.
“So polling, and voting, and official statements all tell the same story — that Europe is becoming increasingly concerned for the continued viability of the two-state solution, and increasingly ready to tag Israel with the main responsibility for the impasse in negotiations and the deterioration of prospects for viable Palestinian statehood.
“This non-Jewish cuckoo in the nest is what makes the mindset of “managing” the conflict with the Palestinians rather than resolving it so self-deluding. And it is what makes the vision of an Israel that comes to embrace Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] and yet remains both Jewish and democratic simply unattainable. The Israel of the future can be any two out of the three of Jewish, democratic, and enlarged to the banks of the Jordan — but it cannot, without large-scale ethnic cleansing, be all three.”
The report goes on in great detail. However, like all previous reports, when it comes to what to do with all this information, it falls short. It notes: “[U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry has evidently seized this point [need for “bolder” economic efforts] and is working on a package of measures to promote economic development in the West Bank. For European donors, the strategy should be to put the PA on notice that the days of the dependency state are numbered — but that Europe will stay around long enough to assist them in shifting their focus from “state-building” to “economy-building”.
After building a reality of dependency, the suggestion that Europe drops the issue of a Palestinian state, a state that all but one EU member state just voted for UN membership this past November! But this and other EU reports reveal the elementary finding that, without statehood, there is no sustainable Palestinian economy under military occupation.
The report ends with more unfeasible advice. “Palestinians must be empowered to earn their own living — matching a progressive reduction in European budgetary support — and the terms of the occupation must be altered to enable the Oslo intention of a progressive build-up in the role and authority of the PA.” Speaking of any tomorrow that leaves the Israeli military occupation in place, regardless of the “terms,” is an insult, not only to readers’ intelligence but to the very same EU that keeps pumping out report after report and statement after statement calling for an end to the over four decades of Israeli occupation.
The “wandering Europeans” are doomed to remain in the back seat of the American-driven, U.S. car paying all the while for the ride’s expenses. The only modification to this revised legend is that when the car falls off the two-state cliff, the Europeans will not be able to say they didn’t know, since they wrote the script for the fall line by line.
– Sam Bahour is a policy advisor of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This was first published at http://mondediplo.com)