The major European powers have been closely linked to Israel from its creation for a combination of reasons. For the British, colonial rule in Palestine and its long established presence across the Arab World have helped shape its outlook and left British governments, sometimes reluctantly, with an obligation to maintain some involvement in the region’s politics and conflicts..
Traditional French involvement in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon and Syria has led to similar ties. For Germany, the aftermath of the Holocaust has seen a warming of relations between the two nations, caused in no small fashion by a collective guilt and desire for national atonement. In addition, the geopolitical factors of the Middle East have an impact on the policies of all European nations towards Israel and the Middle East. Accessibility to the regions oil supplies will always influence the policies of industrialised nations towards the region. Spain, for example is another European that has had to include Israel in its foreign policy thinking.
Always in the background of European policy is the influence of the US, a long time ally of both Europe and Israel and major actor in the region. European states have had to make the sometimes difficult decisions as to whether follow the US lead within the Arab-Israeli conflict or toast independently. During the Cold War, Europe was keen to remain allied closely to the US, yet a need to maintain relations with oil producing Arab nations presented them with an on-going dilemma.
Of course the unique characteristics of the Israeli state also impacts upon foreign policymaking towards the region. In essence the conflict can be seen as a seemingly insurmountable conflict over land claimed by two peoples. As Fraser summarises “to the Arabs, Palestine was an Arab land whose soil they had cultivated for generations; as such, it was as entitled to independence as any other Arab country. To the Jews, Israel was a Jewish land that had been their inspiration throughout eighteen centuries of dispersion, dispossession and persecution; as such, its destiny was to be the fulfilment of their dreams of statehood” (p1Fraser TG, The Arab-Israeli Conflict 2004).
For Europeans, understanding the depths of the conflict has always been difficult; making a judgement on which side to offer its support more so.
Within any analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian questions, there will always be differing perceptions that the various parties show favouritism to one side or the other. A common Israeli view is that whilst the US is a generally loyal ally, some Europeans can be pro-Arab or simply anti-Semitic in policy formulation. Arab perceptions of European nations can be entirely different – many will see Europe as simply following the US line in foreign policy whatever the issue. Unravelling the intricacies of influence and favour in the Middle East is a complex task.
European policy makers have had to wrestle with the differences of these two polarised groups for a number of decades. This dissertation will argue that they have ultimately failed to resolve the Arab-Israeli crisis. Policy makers in Europe have largely failed to develop coherent strategy to bring about peace in the region. National self-interest and changing tack through a sense of realpolitik have sometimes been at the root of this, whilst at other times a simple lack of imagination or a willingness to let the US lead on policy in the region has been the cause.
There are other, less concrete, factors in the relationship between Europe and Israel. Whilst the Holocaust has understandably created mistrust of Europe amongst many Israelis, there is a sense in which Europe is perceived as owing a form of ‘moral debt’ to Israel. Chapter two of the dissertation touches upon German atonement for the Holocaust, but an attitude remains in some quarters that Israel somehow deserves a privileged position in its dealing with Europe and the West. Another argument is that Israel and the Israelis have largely turned their back on Europe over the last 60 years. Greilsammer and Weller summarise this view as such “Perfidious Albion is a nation that may now extend to other European states. Politically Israel’s view extends beyond the Atlantic to America” (p2 Greilsammer and Weller, Europe and Israel: Troubled Neighbours).
European public opinion can of course have an effect on policy makers towards Israel. Again, the thoughts of Greilsammer and Weller are interesting here. They state: “European attitudes are even more complex. Although foreign policy finds its expression in political and economic tangibles, the psychological intangibles are omnipresent” (p3Greilsammer and Weller). The theory here, and one which carries some weight, is that European opinion expressed through a variety of channels is consistently judgemental towards Israel.
Chapter Two will look at the early years of the Israeli state from1948 onwards and the view of the major European powers towards the new nation state. Although the focus of the dissertation will be on the successes or failures of policy since the 1967 war, a background to European involvement in the region is required. Britain and France had long-term colonial interests in the region, whilst for Germany, atonement for the Holocaust was central in post-War relations. Examining events from the First World War onwards, including the Balfour Declaration, the creation of the Israeli State and then European involvement in the Suez Crisis, this chapter sets a background to later European policy making in the region.
Chapter three looks at European policy from the 1967 War onwards, examining the individual policies of some European states as well as the shifts in global politics at the end of the Cold War. The Middle East was an important strategic area in the context of the Cold War and the emergence of the US as the dominant actor in global politics following the demise of the Soviet Union has been crucial to the region. The expanding US role across the globe is an important issue here and how European nations have reacted to growing US dominance is examined in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. European responses to the 1967 War plus subsequent events such as the Yom Kippur War are examined here, as is the European involvement, or indeed lack of, towards later diplomatic events, for example the Camp David talks. Chapter Three examines more recent attempts to broker peace – the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accords and the Quartet Roadmap and suggests that whilst Europe has played some part in sponsoring these events, it has largely taken a secondary role to the US
Chapter four concentrates on the European Union’s foreign policy towards Israel rather than that of individual member states and how it has developed policy more recently towards the Palestinian Authority. Policy documents and strategies such as the EU/Israel Action Plan and the Association Agreement are examined here. Are these policy documents mere words or can they be policies that can actually offer a positive resolution to the conflicts in the region? The EU has certainly made efforts to develop policies in terms of trade, economics and humanitarian assistance, yet as with individual member states, its record in positive contributions towards delivering a long-term peace settlement is less impressive.
Chapter five looks at the way forward for European policy. Whilst the dissertation argues that European policies have largely failed in the region, Europe at times has offered viable alternatives to the statuesque or to the US point of view. It certainly has a duty to engage more constructively in the process in the future and should have the economic and political strength to do so. This chapter will discuss options for the future and how Europe can, primarily by offering an alternative view to that of the US and Israel, make a positive contribution to resolving the conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to present Europe with anon going crisis that it cannot simply ignore. The proximity of Israel to Europe, its geopolitical role and more recently its position in relation to the War on Terror demand continued efforts to find absolution. The human cost on the ground in the region continues to deteriorate. From the breakdown of the Oslo Peace Process in 2001 to February 2005, the return to violence claimed 973 Israeli and 3747Palestinian lives.
In addition, Israeli forces have injured 27484Palestinians.(p1 Prof Avid Claim, Europe and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2005). The events of September 11 and the US led War on Terror has further polarised the West and the Arab World, yet a viable solution to the Palestinian question would do much to improve relations between the two.
A further underlying argument of the dissertation will be that whilst US policy in the region is dictated by what Claim describes as “an adherence to a double standard – one towards Israel and one towards the Arabs” (p3 Claim 2005),
Europe maintains a more common standard towards the two, yet needs to be more assertive in keeping up this level handed approach. Prime Minister Blair may recently have aligned himself closer than would have been advisable to Bush and Sharon, but Europe as a whole has for the most part upheld a neutral perspective towards the region.
British policy towards Israel has been shaped by a sense of realpolitik both before and after the 1967 war, something that in the long term has not helped in the struggle for a solution to the conflict. It is however important to understand the nature of the British relationship with the region in order to analyse policy since 1967 and through tithe present day. British opposition to the Turks and the power of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War first helped to shape policy in the region, with the British making promises of land in the region to the Arabs in 1915 in return for their help against the Turks. By1917 however, the British were claiming that the land they had promised excluded Palestine and fell into dispute with Arab leaders.
At the same time, the Government was beginning to see the Zionist movement as possible ally in the War and contact between leading British Zionist Durkheim Weizmann, Balfour and Lloyd George (p7 Fraser 2004) began tocement a relationship that would see the first of many shifts inBritish policy between the two conflicting sides in the region.
By late 1917 the Government had arrived at the Balfour Declaration. Inany study of the Arab-Israeli conflict or of European policy towardsthe region, it is a vital document with its statement that:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment inPalestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use theirbest endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it beingclearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice thecivil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities inPalestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in anyother country.” (p8 Fraser 2004).
Regardless of future British policy in Israel, the Balfour Declaration will always be seen as crucial in the establishment of a Jewish state, something that in the eyes of the Arab world has intractably linked the British on the side of the Israelis. It can be argued that British attempts to resolve the conflict since will have been affected by an Arab perception that there is little neutrality in British led negotiations.
As is the case with the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, an alternative view will see the British as historically pro-Palestinian. Certainly the fact that the British later attempted to curtail the process they had endorsed with the Balfour Declaration in the face of Arab resistance and objections, and later turned away Jews trying to escape to Palestine from persecution and death in Europe has left its mark on British-Israeli relations. Similarly, British attempts to hide their collusion with Israel during the Suez crisis did little to improve relations between the two. Karsh suggests that Suez was watershed for European influence in the region stating: “in any case, it was the American intervention which decided the outcome of the Suez debacle – obliging Israel, Britain and France to withdraw – and set the seal on the demise of European imperialism in the Middle East. (p12,Karsh E, Peace in the Middle East – The Challenge for Israel 1994).
The Labour Government elected in Britain in 1945 serves as a good example of the changeable attitudes towards Palestine. The Labour Party had long had association with the Zionist movement based on the social democratic ethos that the two movements shared. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin however was a pragmatist and unwilling to sacrifice the country’s needs simply due a sentimental attachment to Zionism. Bevin went along with the advice of longstanding Foreign Office officials that Britain’s interest would be best served by a pro–Arab policy, particularly with the need to retain access to the regions oil supplies. As Fraser concludes “In short, the Labour Party’s emotional and ideological sympathy with Zionism was shunted aside by the Labour Government’s hard-headed view of where Britain’s interests lay” (p22Fraser 2004).
The situation came to a head for the British when in 1948, US President Truman requested that the British issue up to 100,000 immigration certificates for European Jews to enter Palestine. The negative British response and the insinuation that European Jews should not be able to queue jump merely because of events of the war gave an indication of how far it had moved from the pro-Zionist stance of 1944. For the Jews of Palestine it was an indication of betrayal by the British and the catalyst for revolt. Jewish resistance groups in Palestine began to strike against the British, attacking patrol boats, the railway network, oil tanks and airfields.
The post-war British economy could little afford a large military commitment overseas but as it built its force up to 100,000 soldiers and police, attacks on personnel escalated(p28 Fraser 2004). For the British Government, facing enough challenges at home with the difficulties posed by the ailing post-war economy, its mandate for Palestine was becoming a burden it could do without. The end of the mandate and the establishment of the state of Israel came with little genuine attempt by the British to implement partition that would offer peace. British military commanders in the region had little interest in seeing their men killed or injured in a dispute that was ceasing to be of importance to the British national interest. The result as Fraser describes was “a minimalist policy which allowed both Arab and Jewish irregular forces to become ever bolder and moreruthless2 (p40 Fraser 2004).
Britain effectively wiped its hands of Israel in 1948 – it was the signoff a pragmatic policy towards the region that would continue in years to come. When possible, Britain would let other nations take the leading efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Germany’s relations with Israel have been indelibly shaped by events of the Holocaust, yet since the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries in 1965, the relationship has been warm. At the recent 40th anniversary celebrations, Israeli President MosheKatsav stated that “our two countries have a historic mission to fill…our history has proven that out of the deepest hatred, out of the destructions of millions of people, with good intentions something good can exist again. Today Germany and Israel stand for common values such as democracy and human rights. It is our duty in the coming decades to carry these values into the world, to prove that one can learn from history”
The immediate post-war years saw Germany arrange to make reparations payments to Israel. From the signing of the Luxemburg Agreement in 1952until the end of 2002, over 55 billion euros had been made to the state of Israel or to recipients within Israel.
Germany has consistently supported Israel’s right to existence, and support for Israel’s security has been established as a central tenuto Germany’s foreign policy. Indeed, within Israel, Germany is seen by many as its closest ally after the US.
The two nations also have strong links in the fields of science and technology. Scientists and students have taken part in a large number of exchange programmes and Germany has sponsored a wide range of scientific research within Israel. Economic ties have also been forged. Germany is Israel’s most important trade partner after the US (p3 40Years Diplomatic Relations between Germany and Israel, German Embassy Document) and its principal trade partner within Europe. A number of large German firms such as Siemens and Volkswagen have invested directly in Israel and large numbers of tourists make the journey between the two countries.
In the light of such warm relations, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that Germany has not made more of an impact in peace negotiations. It would appear that the German Government is generally happy to maintain its warm relationship with the Israeli state and let the US and on occasion its European neighbours deal with the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course, relations between the two will always be marked by the past. As President Kohler said at a speech at the Knesset in 2005:
“Between Germany and Israel there can never be what is called ‘normality.’ However who would have thought 40 years ago that our countries would develop so well in a spirit of friendship? Today, not only our Governments work well together. Our relations are characterized by friendship between many people in our two countries”(p1 40 Years Diplomatic Relations between Germany and Israel, German Embassy Document).
French foreign relations with Israel have been dictated by a generally pragmatic approach. A former colonial power in the region following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, France has longstanding ties with both Syria and Lebanon and has attempted to maintain cultural and educational links with both after granting independence in spite of its sometimes changeable relationship with Israel.
France damaged its relations with the Arab world when it openly opposed Nasser during the Suez crisis and supported the Israeli attack on the Sinai Peninsula. Indeed, throughout the 1950s, France remained one of Israel’s closest allies, offering regular support at the United Nations and providing the Israeli military with large shipments of arms, including the Mirage jets that would prove to be so effective in the1967 War.
The psychology of French support for Israel can to some extent be compared to that of Germany. Following the War there was a collective feeling of guilt across France for the collaboration of the Vichy Government with the Nazis, and although reparations were not made as with the Germans, support through diplomacy offered a different way of consolation.
The de Gaulle Presidency however sparked a dramatic shift in France’s relations with Israel. The new President was less inclined to follow the US line on the international stage and saw smaller nations within both Africa and the Middle East as potential allies for France as it looked to establish itself as the leader of a group of non-aligned nations. De Gaulle was willing to sacrifice the previously close relationship with Israel to achieve this aim.
France under de Gaulle came out as strongly opposed to the 1967 War, criticising the occupation of Palestinian areas and the Israeli treatment of refugees as well as refusing to recognise the Israeli control of Jerusalem. For the next 25 years, France refused to sell any significant military equipment to the Israelis, only recommencing sales following a policy shift in the mid 1990s. (Britain likewise was for considerable time a reluctant sellers of arms to Israel, imposing an embargo after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was only lifted in the spring of 1994). In the aftermath of the war, French opposition to Israel became more pronounced in diplomatic circles, opposing Israeli actions and operations elsewhere such as its attacks on the PLO in Lebanon. At the United Nations, France began to side with Arab states and use its Security Council veto against Israel.
The war of 1967 had consequences for Israel largely as decisive as had the war in 1948-49. It left Israel firmly in control of all the land of mandatory Palestine, in control of large areas of Syrian and Egyptian territory and established as firmly the most powerful actor in the region. Military forces of its enemies in the region had been decimated and Israel controlled the future of east Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Desert and the Golan Heights. Additionally it enjoyed the overwhelming support of Western public opinion (p82 Fraser 2004).
Events in the years following the 1967 war were largely based around Israel’s relation’s with the rest of the Arab world and the US. The end of the Cold War left the US in a position of dominance in the region and whilst some of the peace talks over the next two decades were held on European soil it has to be acknowledged that the US was the driving force behind the talks. European governments and the EU itself would begin to play a more influential role as the modern day peace process unravelled, but certainly during the 1970s and 1980s, European leaders can claim little success in resolving the on-going conflict.
The Yom Kippur War in 1973 had been the most notable event between 1967and the Madrid talks of 1991. It was a conflict set against a backdrop of Superpower manoeuvrings as the US and the Soviet Union sought to consolidate their positions in the region. European policy at the time was almost was torn by its reliance on American support for NATO and the need to maintain good relations with the oil- producing states in the Gulf. The outcome of this was a lack of any decisive policy linked to either side. Egypt’s President Sadat may well have reached his decision to launch the war with the politics of the Cold War in mind.
Shlomo indeed suggests that “Sadat’s strategy did not aim at military victory…his war was a political move made by military means…all he wanted was to unleash a political process by shaking Israel’s complacency and forcing the superpowers to reactivate a search for a settlement. (p145 Shlomo B, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace 2005).
Europe’s greatest concern at the time would have been the effect that war in the Middle East would have on its oil supplies, along with worries that the conflict could spark an escalation of the Cold War.
By October 1973, the Soviet Union was making noises about intervening on behalf of its Arab allies and the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) had announced a reduction in oil production until Israel agreed to withdraw from the land it had gained in the 1967war. A further total embargo soon followed on the United States and on the Netherlands which crucially supplied much of western Europe through the port at Rotterdam. For European nations the consequences were potentially dire, As Fraser states “as the United States had become ante importer of oil with no capacity to ease the problems of her allies, the problems likely to face the Western economies were known tube severe” (p98 Fraser 2004).
The eventual ceasefire came largely through US/Soviet diplomacy, leaving Israel with an overall military victory but without the aura of military invincibility that it had held previously. What the outcome of the war clearly showed was that the US was now the major power brokering the region. The influence that the British and the French has held only a few decades earlier had all but gone. For Europe, the 1973 war should have focussed minds more clearly on a long-term resolution tithe Arab-Israeli dispute bearing the economic cost that continued conflict could bring. There is however, little evidence in the following decade that European leaders concentrated on this. As Shlomo accurately concludes “it was indeed the combination of the unexpectedly good performance of the Arab armies in the early stages of the war, Israel’s psychological setbacks and the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger, who knew how to use and manipulate the military impasse in order to produce an exclusively American-sponsored political process, that made the 1973 war into the major watershed that it was” (p145Shlomo 2005).
The Camp David Summit in 1978 give an indication as to how far removed European politicians had become from the politics of the Middle East. The talks tackled firstly the on-going Israeli-Egyptian dispute and also looked to find a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue. The outcome of the talks is subject to debate. One view is that whilst President Carter and his team were making genuine attempts to find a peaceful solution that would be acceptable to all parties, the overall effect was to further disengage the Palestinians. Fraser writes: “the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza saw Camp David as the ultimate betrayal by their most powerful ally, condemning them to permanent Israeli military occupation.
Their view was widely shared in the Middle East” (p121 Fraser 2004). Other commentators take a more positive attitude suggesting that the talks produced a revolutionary platform for all the fundamental principles and components that would be at the heart of the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Shlomo takes this view, arguing: “concepts that would be so central to the Oslo process such as a Palestinian full autonomy, Israel’s withdrawal to the West Bank to ‘specific military locations’. were all laid down at Camp David….truly historic expressions of very far reaching consequences were introduced into the language of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process” (p169Shlomo 2005). Certainly Camp David made some important steps forward and perhaps most importantly put the possibility of peace at some pointing the future back on the table. From a European foreign policy viewpoint this would be a positive development; playing a more active role in future talks was something policy makers would have to work towards.
The next major initiative in terms of peace talks came with the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. By then, the demise of the Soviet Union had seen huge changes in the balances of power across Europe and the rest of the world. Israel and the Middle East were no longer at the centre of a bi-polar struggle for power that was rarely conducive to peaceful settlement. Shlomo sums this up well stating, “bipolarity condemned the conflict to oscillate between paralysis and decline”(p174 Shlomo 2005). The huge transformation in the structure of international relations provided opportunities for the West to explore new avenues for peace in the Middle East. Europe could look to develop policies that it felt most suitable for the region independently of its Cold War ally. Whilst the US remained resolutely on the Israeli side of the fence in the majority of negotiations around the Palestinians, Europe could afford, if it wished, to lean towards the Palestinians.
The Madrid Conference by its very location had some sort of connection to Europe, yet again it was a process largely driven by the US. The fact that PLO representatives were not allowed to attend due to Israeli objections give some indication as to the US view of the opposing parties. Chomsky cites the Madrid Conference and the Declaration of Principles that emerged from it as an example of US dominance and European impotence in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian question. He argues that the philosophy of the Bush regime at the time of Madrid(and not coincidentally the Gulf War) was one of ‘what we say goes’. Chomsky concludes of Madrid and subsequent events:
“…The world now accepted the guiding principle of the New World Order: ‘what we says goes’, at least in the Middle East. Europe backed away. It’s only further role was to facilitate further US rejectionist programmes, as Norway did in 1993. The Soviet Union was gone. The Third world was in disarray, in part as a result of the economic catastrophe of the 1980s. The United States was at last free to implement the basic principles it had held in isolation for twenty years: 1) no international conference; 2) no right of self-determination for thePalestinians2 (p190 Chomsky N, Middle East Illusions 2003).
The Oslo Accords made some progress in the search for peace, but again, Europe’s role in the process can only be described as limited. There was an opportunity for Europe to play a more decisive role in the peace process at the beginning of the 1990s – social transformation in Israel and a realisation by the Palestinians that they could not impose their conditions on the Israelis had altered the political background. Added to the dramatic changes in the structure of global politics at the time and there was a distinct possibility in the months leading up to the Oslo Accords that there was a readiness on both sides for compromise in the search for peace.
The Gulf War, to which Europe had committed itself, had also led many ordinary Israelis towards a greater willingness to compromise. The fact that many had been forced to evacuate the cities in fear of Scud missile attacks appeared to be valid argument for peace in the region.
The Oslo accords were ultimately driven by US president Bill Clinton, who whilst conveying a genuine mission to accomplish peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, could not be described as neutral in his views. Shlomo writes that whilst the previous Bush-Baker team had displayed no particular sympathy towards the Jewish lobbies, “Clinton, however, lost no time in positioning himself as a staunch friend of Israel and of the Jewish people “ (p207 Shlomo 2005)
Edward Said is another commentator to dismiss Oslo as a creation of the US-Israeli lobby, again implying that there was a failure by Europe to involve itself in the process and protect the interests of the Palestinians. Said argues that US and Israeli led peace process simply encourages a disparity to grow between the actualities and rhetoric of peace. As Said concludes of the Oslo Accords:
“Because the United States, the world’s only superpower, has been the sponsor and the keeper of the ‘peace process’, as it has come to be known, the arrangements agreed by Yaris Arafat and three Israeli Prime Ministers (Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu) have become synonymous with “peace”, the only game in town and the real problems on the ground either papered over or ignored” (p312, Said, E, The End of the Peace Process, Oslo and After, 2001). This view and that of others sympathetic to the Palestinians is that European indifference has led to the peace process during the 1990s be dictated by an US/Israeli agenda, an indication of European failings.
Europe has at least established itself as one of the ‘Quartet’, along with the US, Russia and the United Nations for overseeing the implementation of the 2003 road map for peace. As with previous peace plans, much of the thinking behind it has come from the US, but on this occasion Europe undertook a more visible role in what was a more imaginative attempt at finding a breakthrough. Finding a consensus amongst the four parties within the Quartet is of course difficult – as Hollis writes, “the trouble, of course, is that each of the key players has a different interpretation of how to implement it and all believe that unless and until the US is engaged it could languish in abeyance indefinitely” (p193 International Affairs 80).
Europe also faces the difficult issue of how the different member states of the EU would like to see the transatlantic alliance work in the post-Cold War era. New states, particularly those from the east remain grateful to the US for its support against the Soviet Union and Britain, particularly since September 11 and over the war with Iraq has stood firm with the US. Other members are less inclined to go along with US policy and this can hinder a united response from Quartet members in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Obviously, Europe, as a member of the Quartet has an obligation to ensure that the process is not side-tracked according to US or Israeli wishes. Within its role in the Quartet, and as a co-author of the roadmap, the EU has a right and a duty to distance itself from twists in US policy such as support in 2005 for Sharon’s plans for a unilateral disengagement.
Aside from the traditional European powers of Britain, Germany and France, the other nation to at least attempt to play an active role in the peace process has been Spain.
Along with Latin America, the Mediterranean region has been one of its traditional areas of foreign and security policy concern and it has attempted to foster both bilateral and EU-based links with the region. During the Spanish Presidencies of the EU in 1989 and 1995, Spain attempted, with limited success, to place the Israeli-Palestinian dispute even higher on the Eugenia (p120 Manners and Whitman, The Foreign Policies of European Union Member States, 2000). Spain also proposed a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean in the early 1990s and of course was the host for the Madrid Conference in 1991 that instigated the peace process.
There were noticeable changes to Spanish policy towards Israel during the 1990s, partly to bring it in line with other EC member states. Under Franco and subsequent governments, Spanish policy had been openly pro-Arab. During its application to the EC the Dutch had insisted that one of the terms for Spanish entry was that it would have an exchange of ambassadors with Israel and thus in 1986 the Socialist Government formally established diplomatic relations with Israel.
Finally, in analysing the attitudes of individual European nation towards Israel since 1967, it is important to return to the theories of Europe’s particular line of public opinion towards Israel.
Certainly sections of the European media and political movements can appear to almost enjoy Israeli moral excesses in a way that is not applied to human rights violation elsewhere in the world. Greilsammer and Weiler suggest that this is a way for Europe to deal with the past – it is almost a lifting of a burden of guilt when Israel joins the rank of oppressors. Another argument is that different standards are applied to Israel than would be to other nations in the Middle East due to the fact that it is seen as belonging to the advanced liberal world of which Western Europe sees itself at the centre.
Whether such a view is seen as a positive s attitude towards Israel or a sign of latent racism towards the Arab world is a separate issue, but the European media attitude towards Israel would support this theory. Certainly, Israel is not seen as entirely foreign to Western Europeans. Francois Duchene writes that Jews are a major part of the fabric of European history and contemporary life – “Israel, at least initially, was virtually transplant of liberal European culture in the Middle East” (P11,Greilsammer and Wailer). The view that Israel is almost an outpost of Europe within the Middle East seems certain to have had some effect on European policy makers.
The EU as a body has developed a wide range of policies towards Israel, with some policies focussing specifically on relations with Israel, others in relation to the Palestinian areas and a distinct policy towards the peace process itself.
The Middle East peace process has been one area in which some member states of the European Union have largely been able to find common ground in recent years, yet as an organisation it has continued to bow to US influence.
It can certainly be argued that as an organisation it has been more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than individual member states and unquestionably the US. Whilst the Essen declaration in December 1994 established that Israel should enjoy special status in its relations with the EU on the basis of ferocity and common interest, other declarations have focussed on the rights of the Palestinians.
The European Community endorsed the Palestinian right to self-determination through the Venice Declaration of 1980 (Hollis p193International Affairs 80) and for the next two decades took the lead in articulating the requirement for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Other EU declarations have indicated similar sentiments. The Berlin Declaration in March 1999 supported the possibility of a viable Palestinian state, stating:
“The European Union is convinced that the creation of a democratic, viable and peaceful sovereign Palestinian state on the basis of existing agreements and through negotiations would be the best guarantee of Israel’s security and Israel’s acceptance as an equal partner in the region” and the Seville declaration made in June 2002strongly reiterates the EU views of resolving the conflict:
“a settlement can be achieved through negotiation and only through negotiation. The objective is an end to the occupation and the early establishment of a democratic, viable, peaceful and sovereign State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders. The end result should be two states living side by side within secure and recognised borders enjoying normal relations with their neighbours. In this context, affair solution should be found to the complex issue of Jerusalem and adjust, viable and agreed solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees” .
Such declarations obviously express the best intentions for the region but in themselves can be a part explanation to the EU’s policy failings in the region – declarations express the desire for an almost utopian scenario that really fail to grasp the bitter nature of the dispute. The EU has fine words on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but more often than not lacks the ability to put its declarations into action.
Where it has failed has been in pushing forward the solution independently – the EU has had to wait for the US to come on board with this idea before it could be pushed forward as a viable solution.
The EU at present maintains that the achievement of a lasting peace in the region is own of its central aims and sees a two-state solution based on the implementation of the Road Map, with a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state living alongside an Israel with similar characteristics. Within this solution, the EU aims for a fair and accepted solution to the issue of Jerusalem, a viable solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees and solutions to Israel’s relations with both Syria and Lebanon.
There are a number of other frameworks in place for EU relations with Israel. The EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy is designed to share with neighbouring countries the political, security and economic benefits of the EU enlargement in 2004. A country report is completed for each of the neighbouring states upon which negotiations are based for commitments and measures to further improve relations with each other.
An EU/Israel Action Plan has also been drawn up to encourage furthering of both economic and political cooperation between the two. The plan makes clear that the EU has a close affinity with Israel stating
“The EU and Israel share the common values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law and basic freedoms. Both parties are committed to the struggle against all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. Historically and culturally, there exist great natural affinity and common heritage. Thus we strive to build bridges and networks.” (p1, EU/Israel Action Plan). There are some important points made here that reflect on the whole relationship between Europe and Israel. It can be argued that many Europeans see Israel as almost a European partner based in an Arab part of the world. With a commitment towards values such as democracy that are not as inherent within the Arab world, there is a feeling that Israel is part of the European family. The fact that many Israeli citizens have migrated from Europe or are the descendants of European Jews is also important. There may be wide range of views on the Israel-Palestine question but at the heart of policy making towards Israel there will always be a feeling of closer affinity from Europeans to the Israelis than to the Palestinians.
The Action Plan lists a number of priorities for action, among them:
• An enhanced political dialogue and cooperation based on shared values, including issues such as facilitating efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict, strengthening the fight against terrorism and proliferation of Weapons of Mss Destruction
• Increased economic integration with the EU through developing trade and investment flows
• Greater cooperation on migration-related issues, the fight against organised crime and a greater level of police and judicial cooperation
• The promotion of cooperation in transport, energy and telecom networks; in the area of science and technology, promotion of the information society by use of new technology
• Strengthened cooperation on environmental policies and the development of sustainable development policies and actions in areas such as water pollution and climate change
Perhaps the most important part of the Action Plan relates specifically towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Plan sets out a requirement for further cooperation in progressing towards comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflicts and lists some important aspects of this. Firstly it stresses the need for Israel to work with the EU on both a bilateral basis and as part of the Quartet to reach a permanent two state resolution. The Plan also supports the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to dismantle all terrorist capabilities and infrastructure to ensure a complete end to all violence in the region.
In relation to Israeli aggression against civilians, the Action Plan is also quite explicit, stating: “while recognising Israel’s right of self-defence, the importance of adherence to international law, and the need to preserve the perspective of a viable, comprehensive settlement, minimising the impact of security and counter-terrorism measures on the civilian population, facilitate the secure and safe movement of civilians and goods, safeguarding to the maximum possible, property, institutions and infrastructure” (p6EU/Israeli Action Plan). This is effectively a statement expressing thee U’s displeasure at Israeli military operations that effect civilian Palestinian populations. Again, this may be a case of EU words rather than actions but it continues to indicate that as an organisation, thee is likely to be more critical of Israel than individual nations.
Another important document regarding EU policy towards Israel is thee-Israel Association Agreement that forms the legal basis governing relations between the two. The Association Agreement was originally signed in November 1995 before actually coming into effect from June2000. It incorporates free trade arrangements for industrial goods, concessions for trade in agricultural goods and offers the prospect of greater liberalisation in trade in services and farm goods. As with practically all of the EU’s agreements with Israel, the Association Agreement emphasises “the importance of the principles of the United Nations Charter, in particular the observance of human rights, democratic principles and economic freedom” (p1 Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, Official Journal of the European Communities 21.06.2000).
In a similar vein, the EU in recent years has developed a number of specific policies for its relations to Palestinians aside from on-going developments within the peace process. Again it should be clarified that such policies are taken into the context of the EU’s support for the roadmap principles and the desire for a democratic, viable and independent Palestinian state, living peacefully alongside Israel. An Interim Association Agreement was adopted soon after the Oslo Accords and has run alongside a considerable programme of financial assistance. Financial aid dates back to 1971 when the European Community began its contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Following the Venice Declaration in 1980 the EU has provided funding for a number onto health, agriculture and education projects and following the Oslo Peace Accords, a donor mechanism was established which has contributed more than 2 billion euros to the Occupied Territories to date. The amounts donated by the EU do show an impressive commitment to humanitarian assistance in the region – between 1994 and 2002 the Contributed over 1.5 billion euros to the region, with bilateral assistance by member states totalling around 2.5 billion euros.
As with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has been included as partner country within the European Neighbourhood Process and has been accorded a similar country report as other nations. Again, as with Israel, the EU has stated policy aims within an action plan that includes the perspective of greater integration and the possibility for the Palestinian Authority to engage in all aspects of EU policies and programmes, an upgrade in political cooperation and the convergence of economic legislation. Priorities for action within the plan have included:
• Facilitating efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict and alleviate the humanitarian solution
• Enhancing political dialogue and cooperation based on shared values, combining in the fight against terrorism and also the fight against racism and xenophobia, particularly anti-Semitism and Islam phobia
• Strengthening institutions and further reinforcing administrative capacity
• Organising elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in accordance with international standards
• Building on progress made in establishing an accountable system of public finances
• Developing trade relations with the Palestinian Authority and progress with economic and regulatory reform plans
Trade between the Israel and the EU is an important factor in the relationship between the two. The EU is now established as Israel’s number one trading partner with bilateral trade in 2004 (excluding diamonds) exceeding 15 billion euros. 33 per cent of Israel’s exports went to the EU in 2004, with 40 per cent of imports arriving from thee. For EU member states, Israel is similarly an important trading partner. The trade with Israel of the member states in 2004 reached21.36 billion euros. Imports from Israel were 8.6 billion euros with exports out reaching 12.75 billion euros. There are clearly sound economic reasons for the EU to maintain a positive relationship with Israel.
Europe continues to face a number of difficulties in making a positive impression on the Arab-Israeli peace process. Its continuing association with the US continues to reflect poorly in Arab eyes, something that has been exacerbated by the war in Iraq, whilst the Israeli leadership tends to see any criticism of its polices as simple anti-Semitism (Hollis, p192 International Affairs 80), an attitude that offers little hope for normal diplomatic relations of constructive engagement. Europe should be looking to take steps to rectify its previous policy failings and attempt to break rather than perpetuate the stalemate that currently exists.
The EU and its member states should take on board imaginative solutions, outside of the US line of thought. As Hollis concludes “By volunteering to take some innovative steps and risk themselves, and to share the burden of reconfiguring the prevailing regional dynamic with both the Arabs and the Israelis, the Europeans could turn what is at present a zero-sum configuration into a win-win situation” (Hollis, p199 International Affairs 80).
The EU has to present itself as a political entity that is supportive of the road map and a two state solution yet is free of the double standard (i.e. one standard for the Israelis and one standard for the Palestinians) that has for so long been adopted by the Americans.
There is a major donor of aid to the Palestinians and a major trading partner of Israel – it should be able to win the trust of and influence both sides. It should also be respected as an actor in global affairs that does not base its foreign policy on the threat of the use of overwhelming force. As Claim correctly points out: “Europe, precisely because it does not rely to the same extent as America on military power to bring about political change, enjoys more credibility as an actor on the international stage. It also enjoys greater legitimacy because of its respect for international law and international institutions, its values of cooperation and conflict resolution, and its record in promoting democracy and human rights” (p3 Claim 2005).
If necessary, the EU should be prepared to act independently from the US or even other members of the Quartet to find a resolution to the conflict. The view that only an American led solution can resolve the conflict in the Middle East is wrong – perhaps more so the longer that the occupation of Iraq goes on.
As Hollis points out: “yet because the United States has its hands full with Iraq and electioneering on the home front, Washington is letting the situation ride. In these circumstances Europe could actually breathe impasse by reframing its relationship with Israel” (Hollis p192International Affairs 80)
There is little trust of the US in the region. Britain unfortunately has largely gone along the same road as the US in destroying its reputation in the Arab world and whilst it could play a part in a Initiative it is unlikely that it would be a popular candidate to take the lead. France and Germany may also be out of the equation because of the perceptions of their close links with the Arabs and the Israelis respectively. Spain, as mentioned earlier as the fourth EU member state with history of involvement in the region’s politics, is a more acceptable candidate to lead a EU initiative. It has previously developed close ties with both Jewish communities and the Arab world, it is respected as a state committed to international law and order and has been a successful host of the Madrid and Barcelona peace conferences.
Britain has to some extent moved away from the EU and closer to the US position most recently, with Prime Minister Blair making the decision to associate himself with the Bush-Sharon pact. This in itself was astringe policy decision by the British – Blair had indeed previously played a part in actually persuading Bush of the need for an international initiative to resolve the Palestinian problem in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Quite rightly, Blair has been criticised for his alignment with Bush and Sharon. Avid Claim delivers withering condemnation, stating: “By lining up behind Bush in his blind support for Sharon, Blair dealt a serious blow to the hopes of negotiated settlement. He also abandoned the Palestinians to the tender mercies of General Sharon. This was the second greatest betrayal of the Palestinian people since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and there have been many others in between” (p2, Claim A, Europe and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, 2005).
There are of course self-serving interests for Europeans to seek out absolution to the conflict. Hollis argues, “in official circles the view prevails that continued failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is detrimental to regional stability and a spur to the recruitment of Islamic terrorists” (Hollis p195 International Affairs80). Certainly, Europe’s geographical proximity to the Middle East along with the established Muslim and Jewish communities within the Boundaries suggest that an on-going and unresolved conflict poses potentially greater and more immediate danger to the social stability of Europe than it does to the US. There is reason to believe also that both ordinary Palestinians and all but the most militant of leaders would accept a more decisive European intervention into the conflict. Certainly the positive response of the Palestinian Authority to aspects of the Quartet’s road map suggests that there is still a desire for peace.
A survey undertaken in late 2004 showed that 92 per cent of respondents supported fundamental political reform in the Palestinian Authority, 79 per cent were in favour of a mutual cessation of violence with Israel and 72 per cent favour reconciliation between the two peoples (p5 Claim 2005). Such evidence should at least very least give European leaders an incentive to continue the search for a peaceful resolution.
The EU has consistently offered a combination of inducements alongside threats to other Middle East nations that cause concern, for example Iran. The same principles can be applied elsewhere, including Israel. As Hollis suggests “on various occasions, including with respect to Iran, Syria, Libya and the Palestinians, the Europeans have played ‘good cop’ to Washington’s ‘bad cop’ – except with Israel where the roles have been more or less reversed. The Europeans could transform the chemistry of European-Israeli relations and thence the configuration of the conflict if they gave serious consideration to finding their own inducements to Israel instead of relying solely on threats.” (p392 International Relations 80)
It would seem that Europe’s future position within the peace process will be a closer alignment with the Palestinians that that of the US which remains entrenched in its pro-Israel stance. There is evidence to support this. As recently as November 2005 a EU report suggested that European governments should consider direct intervention in an attempt to curb the systematic measures being undertaken by Israel to increase its control in the Arab sector of Eastern Jerusalem. The report views East Jerusalem as the future capital of any Palestinian state and is highly critical of Israeli expansion in and around the area which could seriously jeopardise any prospects of a two state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians. (Macintyre D, The Independent November25 2005).
Ultimately, a positive EU role in promoting a viable two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of all parties. Israel would be able to move forward and bring an end to its seemingly infinite commitment to a costly occupation of another people and the Palestinians would be able to reach their goals of independence and statehood. Above all of this, it would help remove much of the Muslim anger in the world against the West. The war in Iraq may currently be a strong focus for such hostility but historically it has been the West’s inability or unwillingness to challenge the status quo between the Israelis and the Palestinians that has fuelled anti-Western sentiment.
Within the debate over European involvement in the Middle East peace process, as with any foreign policy initiative, there are of course questions to be answered simply about an ethical duty to follow humanitarian foreign policy. Intervention on the behalf of the Palestinians can arguably come within this remit. Self-interest will naturally always be at the heart of European foreign policy yet there should be some form of moral value to policies. The Cold War may have seen foreign policy designed to protect individual nations from the threats from competitors, but as Webber argues, in recent years “the agenda of foreign policy has become increasingly congested as the processes of regionalisation, transnationalism and globalisation have accelerated” (p42 Webber and Smith, Foreign Policy in a Transformed World 2002).
Do wealthier western nations have an obligation to take an ethical lead and promote values within foreign policy? Commentators such as Guehenno argue that this is the case, and suggests that the Emma have to take up a more pronounced role in this field of foreign policy as “America no longer has the means to be the benevolent guardian of world order” (p14 Guehenno J, The End of the Nation State1999). Guehenno goes onto to suggest that whilst the EU may have difficulties in establishing a common interest in terms of foreign policy, it has to look away from simple national self-interest. In fairness to the EU, its recent policies towards both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, particularly in terms of financial assistance, can be said to have been ethically based.
European policy, not just from 1967 but from the earliest days of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been muddled, inconsistent and often quite simply wrong. The major European powers have allowed a combination of self-interest and indifference to dictate their approach to the region for much of the time, and without question, Europe has abdicated responsibility for finding a viable settlement to the US long periods since 1967. All of the peace talks since 1967 have been dominated by US visions for the future of the region; leading European politicians and the EU itself have showed little imagination in devising a solution.
With its undisguised affinity with the Israelis, various US sponsored initiatives have failed to bring about a successful resolution to the conflict and without a determined effort by the EU and its members states, the dispute could well continue interminably. Europe has to change the whole ethos of its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offer an alternative view than that of the US. This does not mean disregarding the Israeli viewpoint in favour of that of the Palestinians – it simply means displaying a greater objectivity, commitment to the two state solution and a resolve to ensure that Israel shows a greater regard for Palestinian human rights.
A viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would reap huge benefits for all involved. For Europe, a potentially explosive conflict on its doorstep would at last be resolved and the stability in the region would benefit trade. It would also ease some concerns about access to Middle East oil. From a more ethical point of view, are solution could bring an end to the suffering of both the Israelis and the Palestinians and reduce some of the anger towards the West felt in the Arab world. For all the differences that they have, living in peace must be a preferred option to living in a permanent state of conflict. Evidence from the region indicates that the majority of the population are in favour of a peace deal.
A focussed, fair and workable solution will be extraordinarily difficult to achieve but if it could be found it would be a magnificent contribution to one of the world’s most bitter and protracted conflicts. Selling a deal to militants on both sides is a challenge totes the most committed of peacemakers but it is a challenge that should be taken forward. Europe and the US between them have failed both the Israelis and Palestinians to date. Regardless of US strategies for Israel in the future, achieving peace is a cause that Europe should not give up on.
Book and Journals
Chomsky N, Middle East Illusions, Roman and Littlefield Publishers, Oxford 2003
Greilshammer I & Wailer J, Europe and Israel: Troubled Neighbours, Walter de Gruyter and co, Berlin 1987
Guehenno J, The End of the Nation State, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota 1995
Hollis R, The Israeli-Palestinian road block: can Europeans make a difference?, International Affairs No 80, 2004
Karsh E, Peace in the Middle East – The Challenge for Israel, Routledge Publishing
Manners I and Whitman R, The Foreign Policies of European Union Member States, Manchester University Press, Manchester 2000
Said E, The End of the Peace Process – Oslo and After, Vintage Books, New York 2001
Claim A, Europe and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Oxford Research Group 2005
Shlomo B, Scars of War Wounds of Peace – The Israeli Arab Tragedy, Weidenfield and Nicholson, London 2001
Webber m & Smith M, Foreign Policy in a Transformed World, Pearson Education Limted, Harlow 2002
Macinntyre D, Secret EU report launches scathing attack on Israel, The Independent, 25 November 2005
Macinntyre D, Israel calls on EU to keep Hamas on its terror list, The Independent 17 June 2005
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