CEPR

Dec 22, 2014

Can the EU save the two-state solution?

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The Obama administration is busy fighting for re-election and has already failed to produce a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So now might be the time for Europe to take the lead, argue Dimitris Bouris and Stuart Reigeluth. 

"It has become clear that the window of opportunity for solving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is closing. The reasons behind this are several and have to do with both internal and external dynamics.

On the one hand, the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu does not miss any opportunity to enforce its illegal settlement activities, to destroy EU-funded projects in the Occupied Territories and to push Palestinians out of East Jerusalem. On the other hand, the gap between Fatah and Hamas appears not to be closing despite the signing of the reconciliation agreement.

In between these factors, the Obama administration is busy in an election period and has already proved its incapability to bring any real breakthrough with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Time for Europe to take the lead?

It might be.

It has been a while since the Council of the European Union made any meaningful conclusions on the Middle East peace process. But May's conclusions are different than the previous copy-paste ones. Except for repeating the EU's commitment to a two-state solution, the EU member states decided to move one step forward and name all these policies and parties that threaten to make a two-state solution impossible: acceleration of settlement construction, evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, worsening living conditions of Palestinians in Area C, and financial policies.

Last but not least, those conclusions called for "the reopening of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem in accordance with the Roadmap". Despite the fact that the same request was included in the 2009 December conclusions, the EU did nothing to help with regard to this direction and left the issue at Israel's "good faith". Will anything be different this time?

It should be mentioned that since 1967 Israel has closed more than 120 Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem. Around 88 were closed, while the rest of them were transferred to the West Bank. Combined with other Israeli policies of discrimination in East Jerusalem, the EU call for the reopening of Palestinian institutions is more urgent than ever. Compared to other actors who have been involved in the conflict, the EU has demonstrated that although reluctantly, it is willing to adopt a strong language when needed. And it was about time.

Numerous reports saw the public light in recent months highlighting the realities of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Special attention was also paid by the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union on Area C, which comprises about 60% of the West Bank. The reason behind this is that Israel has continuously destroyed EU-funded projects in this area. 

It is estimated that since 2011 almost 60 such projects have been demolished with 110 others currently in risk. These Israeli policies have a direct impact to the chronic construction-destruction circle which has a direct consequence to the state-building project where the EU has poured vast amounts of money. Isn't it about time that the EU applies some kind of conditionality at least in issues concerning its own tax-payers' money?

Catherine Ashton, speaking at the European Parliament session in Strasbourg, finally openly admitted what is common knowledge: "The truth is that while the MEPP is not making the progress, we all want the prospects for a two-state solution are being undermined by developments on the ground."

She went further to address Israel's latest decision to build over 800 additional settlement housing units in the West Bank. Once more, she deplored and condemned the Israeli Government's plans but is this enough?

For all of us dealing daily with the EU's role in the Occupied Palestinian Territories these comments are nothing more than just a copy and paste from last 20 years' EU official documents or as it is often called 'empty rhetoric'.

What European policymakers have to learn is that the prospects for a two-state solution are not being undermined only by Israel but also by themselves as they are doing nothing meaningful in order to push for a viable two-state solution. It is this chronic rhetoric of deplore and condemnation that has led us to today's facts on the ground. For almost 20 years now (after the Oslo Accords) the EU has done little in order to translate these statements into concrete political actions.

It is thus time for Europe to move from declaratory and megaphone diplomacy into action. Although Catherine Ashton admitted bluntly that a "one-state outcome cannot be the solution", the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing and the EU will soon be faced with facts on the ground that will be deemed irreversible. And when this happens, it will be too late to deplore and to condemn."

Dimitris Bouris and Stuart Reigeluth work for the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) in London and Brussels. This article was first published in EurActiv on June 13, 2012.