Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Sixth Report


9.  Until 1980, policy towards the Middle East was largely the province of individual Member States, with the then European Community (EC) restricting itself to issuing statements at key points, such as the 1973 joint Resolution by the 9 EC States following the Yom Kippur war. Attempts were also made to build a relationship between the EC and the Arab world with, for example, the foundation in 1974 of the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation.

10.  In June 1980 the EC decided to issue the Venice Declaration which formulated a clear European policy towards the Arab/Israeli conflict and set out principles for initiating a Middle East peace process (MEPP) (see Box 1 below). At the time, thirteen years before Israel recognized the PLO as its negotiating partner in the Declaration of Principles of 1993, the EC's defence of the principle of self-determination implicitly recognised the Palestinians' right to aspire to a state alongside Israel and was the basis for the EU's support for a negotiated two-state solution. In asserting this, the European Community was well in advance of the prevailing international consensus on the principles to be adopted towards resolving the conflict. This aroused criticism in particular from the US, opposed to recognising the PLO on the grounds of its role as a terrorist organisation.

The Venice Declaration

Joint European policy towards the Arab/Israeli conflict was formulated in the Venice Declaration of June 1980 which recognised the principle of the Palestinians' right to self-determination, of the association of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) with peace negotiations, and of Israel's right to a secure existence. It was adopted at the Venice European Council by the then nine Member States of the European Community, and subsequently formed the basis of European Union policy and also influenced the gradual acceptance by both the international community (above all the United States) and local actors (Israel and the Palestinians) of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The main principles underlying this approach are set out in Article 4 of the Venice Declaration, namely "to promote the implementation and recognition of … the right to existence and to security of all States in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people". Article 7 also states that "[t]he Palestinian people, which is conscious of existing as such, must be placed in a position, by an appropriate process defined within the framework of the comprehensive peace settlement, to exercise fully its right to self-determination."

11.  The EU's consistent support since 1980 for a negotiated two-state solution as the basis for a final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has subsequently gained the adherence of the majority of the international community and, above all, since 2002, of the US. This is one of the major successes of EU diplomacy in the MEPP, particularly in influencing the evolution of US policy. The seriousness of the current situation is a major test for the EU which again needs to put its full weight behind the search for a comprehensive solution. For 20 years extremists have been allowed to dictate the agenda. Any resumed peace process now needs to be proofed against their acts.

12.  The history of international involvement in peace-making has been chequered, despite the EU's increased and sustained engagement in support of the MEPP. The 1993 recognition by Israel of the PLO (then led by Yasser Arafat) and the PLO's recognition of Israel's right to exist brought the EU more directly into contact with the parties from the inception of the Oslo process, which provided the template for peace-making until the end of the 1990s (see Box 2 below). The EU encouraged both Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate and implement interim and staged objectives as a means of building confidence between the parties moving towards the negotiation of final-status issues.

The Oslo Process

The Oslo Process was launched in 1993 under the auspices of Norway (not an EU Member State). This prescribed an approach based on staged implementation by both sides of commitments to the Oslo Accords, otherwise known as the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, following the Declaration of Principles (DOP) in which Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) formally recognised each other as legitimate negotiating partners. These agreements were finalised in Oslo, Norway on August 20 1993 and were officially signed at a public ceremony in Washington D.C. on September 13 1993. Mahmoud Abbas signed for the PLO and Shimon Peres signed for the State of Israel.

In September 1995 a further set of interim agreements, 'Oslo II', were signed under which Israeli forces were scheduled to redeploy from major Palestinian population areas in the West Bank, retaining control over Israeli settlements and designated military areas. On the Palestinian side, the newly-formed Palestinian Authority (PA), set up in 1995 with its main base in the West Bank city of Ramallah, was due to assume full responsibility for civilian affairs and local security in the main Palestinian municipalities of the West Bank. It was also envisaged that the PA would share security responsibilities with the Israeli military command in rural areas, from which the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would eventually withdraw.

The weakness of the Oslo approach was that it required each party to reach staged objectives before moving on to the next stage, and both sides failed to meet their mutual obligations under an agreed timetable. This resulted in the opposite of what was intended: an erosion of confidence and backward-looking, mutually blocking recriminations about what had not been fulfilled, rather than a forward-looking process based on trust. The process was also designed to lead to a mutually agreed outcome at the end, rather than reaching the clear objective of a two-state solution posited from the outset.

13.  In September 1995, an Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (referred to as 'Oslo II') was signed to cover Israeli troop redeployments from major Palestinian population centres in the West Bank, allowing a newly-formed Palestinian Authority to assume control of civilian affairs and local security in return for a commitment to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel. The full implementation of this agreement however, fell victim to the actions of extremists on both sides, and the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. Despite the dedicated efforts of US President Clinton to re-focus the efforts of both Israelis and Palestinians to conclude agreements on final status issues at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, the Oslo process had effectively stalled by 2001. Unofficial attempts to revive negotiations, such as the Geneva Accords of 2003 sponsored by one of the Israeli architects of the Oslo process, Yossi Beilin, and the former Palestinian Minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo, also failed to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. In 2002, active Saudi diplomacy led to the adoption by the Arab League of the Arab Peace Initiative, but the Israelis did not consider it an acceptable basis for peace talks, notably due to the difficult issue of the "right of return" of refugees (see Box 6 Chapter 3).

14.  In 2002, in the wake of the failure of the Oslo Process, the Danish presidency of the EU drafted and gained EU-wide support for a new 'Road Map' approach as a framework for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations towards the goal of a two-state solution (see Box 3 below). Since President Bush's commitment to a two-state outcome in 2002, and the acceptance by the US of the Road Map, this position also represents the international consensus[1]. At the same time the Quartet was formed of the US, EU UN and Russia (see Box 8 Chapter 4) which began to shape international policy towards the MEPP.

The Road Map

The Road Map was launched at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit of April 2003 (hosted by US President Bush and attended by Prime Minster Sharon for Israel and (the then) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinians). The Road Map, or agreed framework for peace, combines a clearer commitment than Oslo to the outcome of a negotiated settlement—namely, a two-state solution—with phased and timetabled actions to be implemented in parallel by both sides in order to progress to a stated, and mutually agreed two-state solution by the projected date of 2005. Since 2003, the official position of the EU and the Quartet has been to facilitate the staged implementation of the Road Map.

15.  From its inception, and like the Oslo process, the Road Map fell victim to the shortcomings of unfulfilled mutual obligations and the erosion of trust. No direct negotiations have taken place over peace between Israelis and Palestinians and neither side has fulfilled its obligations. Since 2003, while reducing the number of suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, the Palestinians have not curbed militia activity nor missile attacks on Israel from within Gaza; the Israelis have not stopped the expansion of settlement building in the West Bank, nor have they dismantled the illegal outposts, despite unilaterally withdrawing settlers from Gaza in 2005.

16.  Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon until January 2006, and Ehud Olmert since then, chose the path of unilateral disengagement. The Israeli government successfully withdrew Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005, only to suspend plans to withdraw from the West Bank in the wake of the Lebanese war of the summer of 2006. Israel has also completed approximately 60 per cent of the construction of a security barrier/wall, which it sees as essential to its security, citing the reduction in the number of attacks by Palestinians. However, the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory encloses both settlements and roads to the settlements within the West Bank in ways that have separated Palestinian communities from each other. While Israel argues that this is a temporary expedient, the Palestinians see it as a form of de facto annexation of Palestinian territory. In an advisory opinion of 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice declared the wall and its associated regime to be contrary to international law.

17.  On the Palestinian side, the commitment to the Road Map by Mahmoud Abbas, elected President in early 2005, has been consistent but beset by internal divisions between the Fatah majority of the PLO and the Islamist militants of Hamas. In January 2006, elections were held in which Hamas gained a majority of the vote and formed the administration. The ensuing violent internal Palestinian struggles between the defeated Fatah organisation (led by President Abbas) and Hamas provoked the Saudis to broker an agreement to form a National Unity Government (NUG) in February 2007 (see Box 4 below). The outgoing Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniya resigned on 15 February 2007 and by mid-March had formed the National Unity Government. The situation continued to deteriorate in Palestine as this report was in preparation (See Box 4).

The National Unity Government (NUG)

The formation of a National Unity Government (NUG) was agreed in negotiations between different Palestinian parties in February 2007 under the auspices of Saudi Arabia in the so-called "Mecca Agreement" which was backed by Arab nations. In the agreement Hamas, which won the 2006 elections, and Fatah, which heads the Presidency, agreed to cooperate in government with each other and with independent members. The 25-member cabinet of the NUG was ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council on 17th March 2007. The Prime Minister remained Ismael Haniya of Hamas, but key portfolios, such as Finance (Salam Fayyad) and Foreign Affairs (Ziad Abu Amr) were reserved for independent candidates. This ended the violent factional strife for a short while, but neither the Hamas nor Fatah political leadership were able to control a resurgence of clashes between the dozens of militias active in Gaza that broke out in May 2007.

In mid-May 2007 the (independent) Interior Minster, Hani al-Kawasmeh resigned over the refusal of the local Fatah security chiefs, Mohammed Dahlan and Rashid Abu Shahak, to give him full control over the security forces of Gaza. Subsequently, factions of the military wing of Hamas, the Izz Ad-Din Qassem Brigades, broke a two year unilateral ceasefire to launch over 250 Qassam rockets against Israeli territory, killing two Israeli citizens by early June 2007. Retaliatory air-strikes on Gaza by the Israeli security forces killed at least 60 Palestinians, most of them militia. President Abbas dissolved the NUG in the wake of the take-over of Gaza by Hamas militias.

18.  In early 2006, the Quartet ended contacts with the Hamas-led administration, though not with the President, following Hamas' failure to accept three key principles drawn up by the Quartet for a resumption of direct contacts and aid (see Box 8 Chapter 4). At the same time the Israeli government withheld the Palestinians' taxes and revenues, leading to increased and severe economic problems for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians and have subsequently only resumed partial payments. (See footnote 5, p.16, and Chapter 4)

19.  There is an increasing recognition in the EU that short-term crisis management cannot, on its own, pave the way to peace in the Middle East. As High Representative Javier Solana said in a speech to the European Parliament[2] "… the moment has come to move on from a policy of crisis management […] to a policy together with crisis management, of conflict resolution. We need to work for a political horizon that will really start to lead to a solution …" He then underlined the significance of this "profound change" in approach: "for the first time, the Quartet is committed to starting to work for a political horizon". To mark this change of approach, the Quartet planned to meet together with the Palestinians and the Israelis before the end of June.

20.  We are not convinced that the Road Map, as originally conceived in 2003, is the only vehicle for progress, and consider that the interim steps it describes should no longer be pursued to the exclusion of the consideration of final status issues such as the territorial limits of the two states, the fate of refugees and the status of Jerusalem. We are reinforced in this view by the recent statement by High Representative Javier Solana that the time has come for the EU and the Quartet to focus more directly on resolving the issues which are at the heart of the conflict.

1   The UN Security Council endorsed the Road Map in its Resolution 1515 of 19 November 2003. Back

2   Address to the European Parliament on the Middle East by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Brussels, 6 June 2007. Back

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