May 27, 2017

Boris Zala, Slovakian MEP, Socialists and Democrats

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Boris Zala talks to the CEPR about EU foreign policy towards the Palestinians and the need for Europe to be more consistent.
Do you think the EU Heads of Missions reports on East Jerusalem, Arab Israelis and Area C in late 2011 will have an effect on EU foreign policy? 
BZ foto
It certainly raised some serious questions about Israeli policies, and had an effect on public opinion in EU countries. It also prompted a forceful European Parliament resolution sponsored by our S&D group. All in all, the reports are disconcerting insofar as they reveal that a two-state solution - a long-term policy goal of the EU - is becoming more and more difficult to engineer. But I hope the reports will have a direct effect on EU foreign policy conduct. 

Is the two-state solution still viable with ongoing Jewish settlements and no progress on negotiations?

It remains the only viable solution – a secure Israel in its pre-war 1967 borders and a sovereign state of Palestine sharing Jerusalem as the capital. But it is true that actions of the current Israeli government are not helpful, and I mean especially the building of new settlements, which is illegal under international law. A commentary I recently came across compares the current state of Israel-Palestine issue to a situation whereby two diners are discussing how to divide up a pizza while one of them is already eating it. Sadly I have to concur with the metaphor.   

Bilateral relations are important, Spain and Germany are pursuing positive energy projects in the Palestinian territories, what about Slovakia?

Slovakia, although a member of the Union for the Mediterranean (as other EU countries), is not involved in these projects. 

The Gaza Desalination Project is the first project to be endorsed by the Union for the Mediterranean. What potential do you see for such projects? 

It is a worthwhile project, an example of how multilateral cooperation can deliver tangible results and improve the lives of ordinary people. I hope there will be more of such projects, and I would like to see the UfM – as an institutional framework – become more robust in the future. Indirectly, cooperation on such ostensibly non-political projects helps build trust across nations and societies.    

Should Europe endorse Palestinian reconciliation and remove Hamas from its black list to engage more moderate elements? 

The EU has expressed its support for the process of Palestinian political reconciliation. The situation is unclear however, and its progress towards real reconciliation is still tentative, at best. Of course I would like to see the more moderate elements of Hamas grow in power. Then the EU should find a mode to effectively engage them, but a decision on removing Hamas from the list is more complicated... there are other factors to be considered. But if Hamas wants to be taken out of it, a public recognition of Israel’s right to exist would certainly help a lot.  

What could Europe do to help Palestine become a reality? 

The recognition of the State of Israel, and stopping any violent attack on Israeli territory, would be very helpful. On the practical side of things, the EU has invested - and will continue to invest - in Palestinian institutions, its infrastructure, its economy. Palestine is one of the highest recipients of EU aid per capita. In fact, the success of this state-building project, at least in the West Bank, was a strong argument for many EU states when it came to supporting Palestinian request for UN-recognized statehood. On the political level, the EU is - as you known - committed to a vision of a two-state solution, and our HP/VP Cathy Ashton does her best in the Quartet framework to help the two parties arrive at a peaceful and just solution. But the truth is that EU - itself being a bloc of 27 countries with slightly differing foreign policy priorities - is not as cohesive as it could be on the issue. So my answer would be: the EU ought to be doing what it is already doing, only do it better and in a more consistent fashion.