Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Sixth Report


The EU's objectives and approach to the Middle East Peace Process

92.  Since 2003 the official position of the EU has been to support the staged implementation of the Road Map, working within the Quartet, on the possibilities for a political settlement and, as a major funder, mounting assistance and state-building operations in the Palestinian territories. The EU role has been active but low-key, and is largely unseen by the Western public, though it is visible on the ground and recognised as helpful by the Arabs. The Israelis are, however, more ambivalent about the European role, as has been discussed above. (Chapter 3)

93.  The EU has contributed substantial funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) with the aim of sustaining the PA and building a viable Palestinian state with functioning institutions, necessary if the two state solution is to become a reality. In addition to budgetary support, (see Chapter 5) the EU has taken practical steps to assist state-building, with the establishment of the Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPs) and the Rafah border crossing mission (see Chapter 5). EU election monitors also oversaw the 2005 and 2006 elections. According to Dr Richard Youngs of FRIDE, Madrid, a Spanish policy research institute, the EU's strong point has been to try to build an on-the-ground presence with links between the Israelis and Palestinians as "a kind of secondary back-up to the high-level politics of Middle East diplomacy." (Q 116)

94.  A further aim of the EU has been to build and retain good relations with all states of the region, in particular those which have a role in the resolution of the conflict. Through the Euro-Med Partnership and under the European Neighbourhood Policy (see Chapter 5) the EU has strengthened relations with Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority, based on Action Plans. (Signature of a Syrian Action Plan awaits Syrian co-operation with the UN Investigation Commission on the death of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri—see Chapter 3). The implementation of the Action Plan with the Palestinian Authority was suspended following the election of Hamas in January 2006 (see Chapter 3).

The EU and the Member States—a need for greater unity and coherence?

95.  The need for better cooperation and coordination between the Commission, Council and the Member States has been a recurring theme of many of our reports on EU foreign policy[19]. Where cooperation has been lacking or the Member States have not had a common approach, this tends to lead to slow decision making and a lowest common denominator approach and the oft quoted frustration of not knowing from the outside who is speaking for the EU. Dr Ahmad Khalidi saw the lack of a single united voice as at the root of the problem "… the more parties you bring in under the purview of the EU, the harder it is to find a common policy which has an impact on the ground." (Q 73) Dr Richard Youngs described the problems of the six-month rotation of the Presidency which militated against continuity with one Presidency pushing the EU for greater engagement and the next wanting to rein back. (Q 136) The message of lack of coordination made it very difficult, he thought, to understand who was speaking on behalf of the EU. Dr Oded Eran, the Israeli Ambassador to the EU, was concerned that the visits of individual EU Member State foreign ministers did not enhance the image of the EU as a unified force. (Q 301)

96.  EU Member States have not demonstrated a unity of purpose and action in respect of the MEPP, in ways that are familiar to critics of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). (Dr Youngs, Q 136). However, the differences between Member States have had more serious consequences for the realisation of the MEPP. There is still a tendency amongst Middle Eastern actors to exploit the differences between EU member States. In the view of Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate in the UK, the policy of France, for example, had "been personalised" (Q 98) and influenced by the character of the President. Although close to that of the British, the German position has also been constrained for historical reasons, though the reticence to engage over substantive issues is now more keenly felt on the German side than by the Israelis (Mekelberg, Q 76). In turn, Mediterranean Member States also "feel greater pressures and greater connections with the Arab world and countries in North Africa than … with Israel and the countries of the Gulf" according to the then FCO, Political Director, Sir John Sawers. (Q 35) This has led to a Mediterranean-based conception of the EU's common policies towards the Middle East, in the view of Dr Jana Hybášková, MEP. (Q 217) New Member States in East and Central Europe have their own perspective on the EU's approach to the MEPP, especially from their recent experience of the importance of democracy in bringing about and consolidating peace. (Dr Hybášková Q 223)

97.  The real division in EU policy, however, lies not so much in the articulation of commonly agreed positions, as in the "clear disconnect between the political diplomatic level and the on-the-ground initiatives and presence of the EU and various EU governments", according to Dr Richard Youngs. (Q 136) Prof. Robert Springborg of the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London, concurs that the six monthly rotation of presidencies and competitive national diplomacy have undermined "the ability of the EU to act as singular, coherent actor." (Q 136) Commission officials likewise admit there have been "difficulties" in coordinating national positions, but point to the role of the EU representations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in bringing "people together" in the field. According to Hugues Mingarelli, of the Commission, the advent of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has also encouraged the development of new instruments directly under the EU which could allow for future progress. (Q 203)

98.  At the political level too, there has been room for the informal coordination of the positions and leadership of key EU members (Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy), if not the whole 27 Members of the EU. (Sir John Sawers Q 36). Even if the EU-3 model used by the EU to negotiate with Iran might be too narrow for the purposes of the MEPP, the greater prominence accorded to the role of the High Representative, Javier Solana, to act on the EU's behalf in recent months points to a greater awareness of, and acceptance by EU Member States of the need to speak with one voice on key issues. Dr. Solana himself expressed the importance of the EU presenting a common platform with regards to the MEPP: "I will tell you frankly what we should do: firstly we must maintain unity amongst ourselves." (Q 289)

99.  We believe that leading EU Member States have an important role to play in any renewed peace effort and that this needs to be coordinated within and designed to support an overall EU position. The Government should direct the UK's involvement with these objectives in mind.

100.  The EU has a very wide range of instruments at its disposal, in addition to those available to the Member States, and plays an important role in coordinating aid to the Palestinian territories. We believe that the EU Member States should carefully consider the value of engaging in competing or parallel initiatives and démarches, and that they should closely coordinate their efforts in the framework of a coherent EU policy.

The EU as a member of the Quartet


101.  The Quartet was formed in 2002, with the US, EU, UN and Russia as participants, originally to plan an international conference on the Middle East. (See Box 8 below). Its formation represented a shift in the international community's involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which had for decades been dominated by the United States as the main mediator. The Quartet was constituted at a time of widespread feeling among the Palestinians and other Arab nations that the US had not lived up to expectations in its role as an honest broker and peace facilitator and that others, in particular the EU, should play a greater role. The Palestinian General Delegate to the UK told us that "the United States policy as a third party has been a total failure". (Q 87) The Quartet as a mechanism reflects several fundamental principles of EU foreign and security policy, such as a belief in multilateralism. It is in effect now a "team of brokers." (Q 241)

102.  The inclusion of the EU within the Quartet was an acknowledgement of the growing political role of the EU in the MEPP and the legitimacy of the EU's involvement as a major contributor to funding and institution building. At the same time the EU was increasing its involvement with Israel as a trusted interlocutor, not only in trade terms but also as a partner for political dialogue. (Q 240, p 140) Israel now accepts the EU as an active mediator in the Peace Process, albeit not on par with the US. (See Chapter 3)

The Quartet

The Quartet was formed in 2002 with the aim of organising a Middle East conference in the summer of that year, following President Bush's speech on the Arab-Israeli crisis on 4 April. The conference was not in the event called but the Quartet met and evolved a Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace and Palestinian statehood. The Quartet has continued to meet intermittently, with increased frequency in 2007.

The Quartet comprises the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union. It meets both at Principals' and Envoys' level.

The Principals are: the UN Secretary General, the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State. The EU is represented by the Foreign Minister of the Presidency, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and by the European Commissioner for External Relations. At the Envoys' level the EU is represented by the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Marc Otte.

In response to the election of the Palestinian Hamas-led government in 2006, the Quartet broke off contact with the government (though not with the President) and drew up three principles, (which have been widely interpreted as conditions) for a resumption of direct contacts and aid: non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.

103.  The precise dynamics within the Quartet are difficult to ascertain. Yossi Mekelberg commented that the EU and US played the leading roles in the Quartet, whereas the contributions of the United Nations and Russia were less significant (Q 59). Robert Cooper referred to the Quartet as a "machinery for mutual influence" (Q 239), but mostly the US is seen as the dominant partner. Dr Ahmad Khalidi saw the EU as inclined to follow the lead of the US (Q 43).

104.  There is a perception that the EU is content simply to follow the US lead but there was general agreement among our witnesses that the European Union plays an important role in the Quartet (QQ 10, 183). This is apparent in the recent revitalisation of the Quartet, which has now issued a number of statements at Principals' level since January 2007 (p 140) and in the EU's role in leading the international debate and in influencing the US position. David Quarrey of the FCO commented that: "[…] over the last year the EU has within the Quartet encouraged more regular meetings of the Quartet and we have achieved that. The EU has encouraged the idea of meetings between the Quartet and regional parties, that is now effectively Quartet policy. The EU has also championed the Temporary International Mechanism (See Box 12, Chapter 5) as a vehicle for maintaining humanitarian and other support to the Palestinians, that is a continuing part of Quartet policy, so it would be unfair to say that the EU merely signs up to whatever line the US wants to take in the Quartet". (Q 341) Sir John Sawers, then FCO Political Director, thought that the EU could act politically as a rallying point in a mediating role acceptable to all parties: "I think also it is fair to say that the European Union represents the middle ground of the international community …" (Q 10) He thought it was nevertheless still "unrealistic" for the EU "to aspire to have a greater role than the United States in bringing about peace between Israel and the Palestinians" (Q 12).

105.  Politically, the Europeans have taken the lead on more than one occasion. The European Community's Venice Declaration led over time to a broad international consensus on a two-state solution (QQ 235, 240). According to Christian Jouret of the EU Council Secretariat, Europe was the first major international actor to defend three ideas which are today considered to be central to any peace settlement: self-determination for the Palestinians, (Venice Declaration, see box 1 Chapter 2); a Palestinian state; and thirdly, a state which is viable, with all that this implies in terms of independence and sovereignty (Q 240). Another recent example is the position taken by the Council of the EU on the three Quartet principles, where the subtle language used by the EU in the General Affairs External Relations Council (GAERC)'s conclusions of 15 September 2006 was adopted by the Quartet on 20 September 2006 (Q 237).

106.  The EU's membership of the Quartet has enabled it to extend its access and influence to policy-makers in the region, particularly as the EU is now also perceived as having a more unified voice than in the past. Its principal representative in the Quartet, the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, is seen as an important interlocutor in the Middle East (see Chapter 4). Membership of the Quartet has also enhanced the EU's access to US policy-makers and it is seen as a useful bridge between the Arab world and the US. Javier Solana painted a vivid picture of his efforts to build greater mutual understanding and convergence of positions during his recent visit to the Middle East (QQ 268-284). This role seems to be particularly valuable at a time when analysts see the US and some individual EU Member States as having suffered damage to their credibility in the Middle East.

107.  According to Robert Cooper, of the EU Council Secretariat, the major weakness of the Quartet is that is has failed to reach out to the neighbours (of Israel and Palestine). At the time, it was planned that the next meeting of the Quartet would be held in Cairo with some of the important neighbours (Q 237). Subsequently the Quartet issued a statement, on 30 May 2007, that it "had agreed to meet in the region with members of the Arab League to follow up on the Arab Peace Initiative."[20] This commitment of the EU to a broad regional involvement is consistent with its longstanding position that a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be comprehensive and inclusive. The December 2006 Declaration on the MEPP by the European Council illustrates this approach. The Declaration states that[21]:

    "The European Council invited the Quartet to stand ready to lead an effort by the international community to build on the outcome of successful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in order to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict, including peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon and full normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab countries. This will require an inclusive approach involving all relevant actors; all need to engage constructively in the region to support these efforts. In accordance with the Roadmap, the Quartet, in consultation with the parties, should in due course convene an international conference to realise these goals".


108.  There was some divergence of views on the future role of the EU within the Quartet, but there was agreement that the EU should continue to play a more active role. This reflects the objectives of the UK Government with regards to EU policy. FCO Minister of State Dr Kim Howells confirmed that: "It is certainly an important Government objective to achieve a more active and influential role for the EU in the Middle East […]" (Q 320). To achieve this, he underlined the importance of the EU taking a "balanced policy approach" (Q 320), working through both "the political and practical tracks" (Q 320). This suggests that the EU's political role and credibility in the Quartet is closely linked to its practical activities and to the trust that these have built up with the parties on the ground.

109.  Many witnesses maintained that the EU could play the role of an honest broker, which the Palestinian General Delegate, Professor Manuel Hassassian, described as being one of even-handedness: "as you put pressure on the Palestinians, we believe that you will also put pressure on the Israelis. This is what we call honest brokerage" (Q 87). The Syrian Ambassador to the UK stated his desire for the EU to play the role of a counterweight to what he perceived to be the hegemonic role of the United States in the region (Q 175). A more active EU role in the Quartet nevertheless depends on the willingness of Israel and the United States to accept such an enhanced role.

110.  We see the Quartet of the US, the EU, Russia and UN as continuing to be the essential diplomatic tool for coordinating the involvement of the wider international community in any such peace effort. The EU has already played an influential, but largely unacknowledged, role within the Quartet, introducing innovative proposals for the way forward. We believe that the EU's role within the Quartet needs to be more active and assertive than it has been in the past, providing leadership with imaginative ideas, including on final status issues and through engaging in a frank and intensive dialogue with other partners, in particular the US. This should however be done in private and with the aim of building consensus as the best means to preserve the Quartet's influence with both the parties to the conflict, with whom the EU and the Quartet should seek to pursue an even-handed approach. It is essential to ensure that fewer opportunities exist than in the past for the parties to the conflict to exploit divisions between international actors within the Quartet, and most especially those between the EU and US. We urge the Government to seek to ensure that the EU's representatives in the Quartet, notably the High Representative, get the backing they need to play a more active and assertive role.

The Final Status Issues

The "Final Status Issues" comprise three main issues which are particularly difficult to resolve and over which the parties hold strong and uncompromising positions. They include: the boundaries between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine to emerge from a comprehensive settlement; the question of the 'right of return' of Palestinian refugees to their original homes, or only to the state of Palestine once created, together with compensation for those unable to exercise this right; and the status of the city of Jerusalem.

The High Representative for the CFSP and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process

111.  The role of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)[22] has grown steadily since its creation in 1999. In the person of Dr. Javier Solana, he now commands much trust and authority within the European Union and is a respected figure in the international community. Dr. Solana has become well known on the international scene for his personal and intensive involvement in managing international crises such as the Iranian nuclear dispute. According to Dr Kim Howells, both Dr. Solana and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, Marc Otte, are "real assets for the EU", and he commended their level of active engagement, both on the ground and in working closely with the other members of the Quartet (Q 320). This is demonstrated by Dr Solana's visits to the Middle East in February and March 2007, where he was received by the King of Saudi Arabia and other senior leaders.

112.  According to the Treaty on European Union, the High Representative assists the Presidency, which "represents the Union in matters coming within the Common Foreign and Security Policy"[23], and he works closely with the Commission and individual Member States. As the number of Member States has grown, the High Representative has helped to ensure the continuity and consistency of EU foreign policy given the six-month rotation of the Presidency.

113.  The High Representative has been particularly active in relation to the MEPP, and has made a significant contribution to advancing the EU's objectives in the region. Our evidence session with Dr. Solana gave us a very valuable insight into his level of involvement and his deep knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Together with the Presidency and the Commissioner for External Relations, the HR represents the EU at Principals' level within the Quartet. This is a recognition of the HR's role and is a visible illustration of the contacts that the EU maintains with the other members of the Quartet at the highest level, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Q 352).

114.  The High Representative, assisted by his Office, does not only operate in political circles. UNRWA[24] underlined how involved the Office of the HR is at the field level in the Near East: "the first-hand involvement of the Office of the EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and its willingness to engage with humanitarian actors on the ground is a very appreciated and important aspect of the EU's involvement in the region." (p 161)

BOX 10
The EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process

The EU has long had a presence on the ground in relation to the Middle East Peace Process, with an EU Special Envoy first being mandated in 1996. Currently the EU Special Representative (EUSR) represents the EU in the region. Since 21 July 2003 this position has been held by Marc Otte, a former Belgian Ambassador to Israel. The EUSR supports the work of the HR and actively promotes EU policies in relation to the MEPP. The mandate of the Special Representative is based on the EU's policy objectives regarding the Middle East peace process, which include a two-State solution with Israel and a democratic, viable, peaceful and sovereign Palestinian state living side-by-side within secure and recognised borders enjoying normal relations with their neighbours in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 and the principles of the Madrid conference.

115.  In terms of the effectiveness of the EUSR, Dr. Richard Youngs appeared to suggest that the EUSR is able to achieve much by working at a low-profile level, but that he was somewhat limited by the "need to take care to make sure that nothing is done that contravenes the political will of any European government" (Q 139).

116.  We welcome the greater role attributed to the High Representative's office in providing a focus for collective EU efforts, but consider that a more structured approach is required to coordinate and synchronise the diplomatic efforts of the High Representative with the economic and other instruments deployed by the Commission. The pro-active role of Dr Solana has gone a long way towards improving the situation.

117.  We consider that the High Representative, Javier Solana, assisted by the EU Special Representative, Marc Otte, has worked very actively and effectively towards achieving the objectives of the EU in relation to the MEPP. The question now arises as to whether the EU has the capacity in place to participate in intensive negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement. We would encourage the Council to make the necessary preparations so that the EU can quickly mobilise a full negotiating team to assist the peace process.

Particularly in the report "Europe in the World", 48th Report of Session 2005-06 HL paper 268. Back

20   A working level meeting with important neighbours was held on June 6.  Back

21   Declaration on the Middle East Peace Process, Presidency Conclusions, European Council, 14-15 December 2006, Annex I, p 22. Back

22   Treaty on European Union , Art. 18. Back

23   Treaty on European Union , Art. 18(1). Back

24   United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Back

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