Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Sixth Report



1.  After many years of crisis, fighting, political stalemate, apathy on the part of the international community, and despair that the apparently intractable problems of the Israeli/Arab conflict can ever be resolved, there were in the Spring of 2007 a number of hopeful signs that progress could be made. The case for a renewed effort to make progress is urgent, even if current circumstances are unpromising. This inquiry focuses on what the European Union's role has been so far, and whether this is the moment for the European Union (EU), whose involvement in the Middle Peace Process has been largely unsung, to put all its weight behind re-launching efforts to bring the parties together and make progress at the negotiating table and on the ground.

2.  During our inquiry events moved constantly. In February 2007, Saudi Arabia took an unprecedented lead in sponsoring an agreement between the Palestinians to form a coalition government, and in renewing the commitment of the Arab League to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. (See Box 6, Chapter 3). This "Mecca Agreement" led in mid-March 2007 to the formation of a new Palestinian National Unity Government (NUG) (see Box 4, Chapter 2). On the diplomatic front, the United States Secretary of State, Dr Condoleezza Rice increased the number of her visits to the Middle East in an attempt to unblock the negotiating deadlock. The EU's High Representative, Javier Solana, was also tasked by the EU's Council with missions to the Middle East, including direct talks with the Syrian and Saudi governments. The events of June 2007 occurred after the substantial completion of this report. These are discussed in Chapter 6.

3.  The changed dynamics among the Arab League group sponsoring the Arab Peace Initiative were stimulated by growing concerns over the fragility of Iraq, the spread of sectarian Sunni-Shi'ia violence beyond Iraq's borders, and the growing regional influence of Iran: in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, as well as in Palestinian affairs (see Chapter 3).

4.  The EU, and the international community, need to decide whether, if a single Palestinian entity is restored, to return to the bilateral, negotiations-based Road Map with its incremental path (see Box 3 Chapter 2), which has so far failed to produce results; or whether, in addition, to start work on the final status issues (see Box 9 Chapter 4), a path which has become known as the "political horizon", a formulation used by Dr Condoleezza Rice. In an atmosphere in which countries in the region have increased their active interest in the conflict, can a wider regional settlement be achieved through the kind of formula represented by the Arab Peace Initiative? Should the EU support a process between Israel/Palestine which does not also address issues such as Syria and the Golan Heights, and Lebanon (Chapter 3) or should it continue to pursue a comprehensive approach to a peace settlement? How can progress be made in the EU's relations with the Palestinian Authority government? (Chapter 4)

5.  The credibility of the Middle East Peace Process needs to be restored by a renewed, concerted and sustained effort by the whole international community. We believe therefore that the EU, which has many interests at stake in this region, should participate actively and forcefully in such an effort.

6.  The shifts in Middle Eastern power relations have had both direct and indirect impacts on the dynamics of peace-making between Israelis and Palestinians, leading some to doubt whether either party could engage in or sustain a renewed peace process. There are serious risks in continuing a policy of neglect of the central issue of Palestine and this underlines the need to make progress towards the achievement of the two state solution. It is not, for example, certain that the current support for the two state solution will continue indefinitely in the absence of any progress.

7.  In this report we have sought to assess the value that could be added by European Union policies and actions over and above what individual national governments can achieve. How effective has EU action been and how can the EU's collective influence be better directed towards establishing an international and regional consensus on the way forward? We listened to witnesses from both sides of the conflict and to key players in the EU, as well as academic and other experts in the field and we present our findings. In Chapter 2 we outline the recent historical perspective. In Chapter 3 we discuss the EU's relations with key players—Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US. The final part discusses the EU's relations with a number of states in the region, notably Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Chapter 4 discusses the EU's objectives and approach to the MEPP and we consider the institutional arrangements, including the operation of the EU, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, together with roles played by and interactions between the EU and its member states. We also examine the EU's role in the Quartet (see Box 8, Chapter 4). In Chapter 5 we examine the EU's economic and state-building support for the Palestinian people and territories, including the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM), the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) missions, as well as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the European Neighbourhood Policy. Chapter 6 was prepared after our report had been substantially completed to discuss the events of June 2007 and their consequences. Our conclusions appear in bold print in the text, and are presented together in Chapter 7.

8.  We make this Report to the House for debate.

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