Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 76)



  Q60  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Our focus is not the general context but specifically what the Europeans can do to assist the process to a two-state solution, to a democratic, viable Palestinian Authority, and clearly there are two levels, the one level, the grand level, where perhaps Mr Kissinger could now telephone Mr Solana, that the EU was involved in the quartet, Sharm el-Sheikh, and so on. I would prefer to look, if you would, at the level underneath that, the EU has a number of instruments, some you have touched on already, the security cops at Rafa and so on; the other is the financial, and there are big problems on that. Are there any other instruments, soft power instruments, which you believe the European Union could properly deploy to assist the Palestine Authority deliver its competence, in terms of social involvement, in terms of technical assistance, and so on? Where are we not doing well enough?

  Dr Khalidi: I think there is a very wide range of ongoing programmes which involve institution-building and state-building and support from the EU, so there is quite a lot of what you will see called soft power, going on. I was trying to emphasise the more public aspect of it. Yossi is right; it is true that the Israelis tend to think that the Europeans are more sympathetic to the Arabs, but I think the difference between the perception of the Americans and the Europeans, on the Arab side, is that the Americans actually play politics, they are brokers, whether you like them or not.

  Q61  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Let us get onto the micro level?

  Dr Khalidi: Whereas the Europeans are not; so it looks as if the Europeans have ceded the major arenas of action to the Americans on the political and diplomatic sides. In terms of on the ground, where you want sort of micro projects, to be honest, I cannot come up with any new ideas at the moment.

  Q62  Lord Anderson of Swansea: You must know some which have been successful, some which have been less successful and some where you think we could usefully intervene where we are not intervening now?

  Dr Khalidi: We are in a situation where we need almost everything. One thing that the Europeans have misused, I think, is support for NGOs, to be honest. I think there is a great deal of waste, not just the Europeans but generally the international community's approach to Palestinian NGOs, where there has been rather haphazard support for NGOs which do not actually produce anything besides a few pieces of paper. A lot of money and energy has gone into that with very little return. They are basically employment agencies for university graduates who have nothing better to do.

  Q63  Lord Anderson of Swansea: I think there is a certain amount of scepticism about the independence of a number of the Palestinian NGOs; that effectively they are politicised arms of Fatah and Hamas.

  Dr Khalidi: There is no way of escaping that, incidentally; that is the reality on the ground.

  Chairman: We are already past noon. We have covered, in fact, quite a lot of the questions from different parts of the table. What I suggest I am going to do is go round the table and ask each of my colleagues if they would like to put a final question to our witnesses. Baroness Symons.

  Q64  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I would be interested to know, you have touched upon the EU's relationship with Israel, I agree entirely with your analysis of how the Israeli Government views the engagement of the EU, what about EU relationships with the neighbouring states and with international organisations and the role that the EU might try to play in relation to, for example, the Arab League, to the OIC, to the GCC, in trying to have more of a supportive role? We have talked terribly in terms of Syria and Iran regionally, we have talked in terms of the EU, because that is what we are interested in obviously, and the United States, but what about that linkage between the EU and the neighbouring states; could more be done there and, if so, what sort of role would you envisage: both of you really?

  Mr Mekelberg: I think the European Union can play a very significant role, in the sense of trying to create an environment within the Middle East which is more conducive to what we see as the moderates in the area. In a way the game is complicated but in a way it is very simple. We know what we want, roughly, that we want to encourage certain behaviour but we do not always do that, and unfortunately, in 2003, following the war in Iraq, following a kind of near conversion of how we create democracies, this went terribly wrong, to say the least, and that is where the Europeans can help because most of the Europeans were not involved in Iraq and, in this sense, they can work in a different way to promote this kind of moderation. I think the instruments that Lord Anderson was asking about was kind of the specific issue and I think, in a way, there are almost too many initiatives, there are so many initiatives. If you look at what the European Commission say, for instance, 105 million, part of the team, the temporary international mechanism for the Palestinians just now, talking about payments to Palestinian health workers, water for Gaza, education, 42 million to support the vulnerable Palestinians, all of this, so you have to build, and already there were achievements, because, what I said earlier, between 1993 and 2000 there were achievements, all of this was created there. It is to make it sustainable; it is to enlarge this kind of project. All in all, we know what are the problems, we know almost what is the solution, it is to move forward, to have the kind of political determination in moving them, and the process we all question is also bring them both the kinds of governments that can bring them on board and have a sophisticated policy which encourages the moderates who want to move and isolate the ones which do not.

  Dr Khalidi: I agree entirely with Yossi. I do not think the problem is on the micro level. It is not that there is a lack of initiatives or action on the ground; maybe the problem is that there is too much of it and it is not well directed. I think the problem is to have a clear idea of what all of this is in aid of, what you are actually trying to secure here, besides trying to improve the Palestinian living conditions or economic conditions; you need a broader political framework. Here, the EU can play a role with the Arab States and as a bridge between the Arab States and the United States. Sometimes the Arab States need to have a voice, or a relationship with the western powers which can mediate between them and the United States; so there is a role both ways for the EU, in terms of engaging a broader Arab constituency and, at the same time, playing a bridge between the Arabs and the Americans.

  Q65  Lord Tomlinson: On the support which has been given by the EU, we have rather skipped into what else could be done without looking at what is being done. If we look at what is being done, what has recently, until the election of Hamas, the main thrust of it was creating supposedly a viable, democratic, well-run Palestinian administration. Did it succeed and to what degree did it succeed in doing that? Putting aside whether they were getting the political influence that the economic resource could have demanded, was the economic resource that they were putting into the Palestinian Authority being used effectively and efficiently, and have we learned anything, for example, from what I regarded as rather a fiasco of 10 years ago, of the European Union engagement following the withdrawal of UNRA on the Gaza Hospital, for example?

  Dr Khalidi: There is a fundamental anomaly here. The EU, and everybody else, is trying to build a healthy, democratic Palestinian entity while the Palestinians are under occupation, and I do not see how you can escape this anomaly without ending the occupation. The EU put vast amounts of money into Palestinian infrastructure; because there was ongoing conflict, much of it has been destroyed. It seems to me an impossible task. You can throw as much money as you like at this problem but unless there is a political solution to it you are always going to be risking losing your investment, because of the limitations of the Palestinian Authority.

  Q66  Lord Tomlinson: The logic of that seems to be to say, "Well, let us save our money;" let you, as a UK taxpayer, save your money and engage all our influence in trying to get a political solution?

  Dr Khalidi: If you ask me, yes.

  Q67  Lord Tomlinson: Keep that cash in our pockets, irrespective of whether it is about Hamas in Government?

  Dr Khalidi: If it is a choice between one and the other, I would rather see a full-scale engagement in trying to end this problem politically, to find a political solution, rather than trying to address it piecemeal through bits and pieces of economic aid which tend to be squandered.

  Mr Mekelberg: If I were pushed really to make a choice, I would make the same choice. However, I believe that you can do a bit of both, with the emphasis on saying what are the political benefits but, at the same time, everyone would be a stakeholder in this peace process, seeing that there is a better education system, there is a better health system, there is no issue over sanitation and clean water; all of these kinds of issues are starting to build up, so you see the immediate benefit on the soft power, without neglecting the health, and just work together. If the choice is between two, I will go towards the political one.

  Q68  Lord Tomlinson: In those circumstances then when you accept that because there is no proper self-control, no proper administration, the infrastructure is going to be destroyed, do not worry too much about the efficiency and the effectiveness with which the money is being spent, it can be siphoned off to other purposes?

  Dr Khalidi: Are you asking me whether I approve of this, or whether this is a programme of action?

  Q69  Lord Tomlinson: I am not really asking you whether you approve of it but whether you accept that is a consequence of what is happening?

  Dr Khalidi: I think part of it is that it is a tough world out there and that is what happens in the real world. I do not know whether you saw the Guardian's headline today about the United States and the bundles of cash that were sent to Iraq. It is not something to be applauded, but sometimes, in certain parts of the world, this is the way things are done. It should not be the case and eventually, if you have a healthy society, one hopes it stops being the case, but there are points where there are loopholes in the system.

  Q70  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lord Chairman, without EU budgetary support, whichever route it goes in at the moment, your schools and hospitals will not function: if there is hardship now, there will be a desperate situation.

  Dr Khalidi: I am not suggesting for a moment that it should stop, but it was a hypothetical question, if you had to choose between one and the other, I would choose a political solution. I agree entirely with Yossi. It does not have to be like that.

  Mr Mekelberg: In reality, you are absolutely right as to the fact that we cannot just stop all the money and leave people to starve, and not help schools and not help health; it is hypothetical, the emphasis.

  Q71  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Can I move from hypothetical questions and address you as British taxpayers. The EU contributes over 40% of the monies available to the Palestine Authority. It is absolutely clear that much of that has been not just destroyed but misappropriated, misused, by those in power, the World Bank reports and others, and there comes a point at which the British and European taxpayer will say "We want to get value for our money and not allow that money to be going to the private coffers of the Palestine leadership." Is the Hamas likely to be less corrupt than Fatah? As Europeans, how do we ensure that we get value for money and stop such large portions of the money we give being siphoned off into private accounts?

  Dr Khalidi: The truth is that, for the past five years or so, there has been an enormous amount of effort put into mechanisms for transparency and accountability. I think, by and large, today there is a general consensus that there is very little money that comes from outside, through the EU or the United States, that goes to private pockets. Much of the money, for instance, EU money, goes directly into bank accounts for employees, so there is no way that it can be siphoned off by any intermediaries. A lot has been changed, from the early charges of mismanagement and corruption. On Hamas itself, Hamas prides itself on its clean record.

  Q72  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Clean and incorruptible?

  Dr Khalidi: It insists that it would maintain the highest standards of international transparency. The thing is that it has not actually been tested so we do not know.

  Mr Mekelberg: Corruption is inexcusable because it is money that is taken from the people who really need it to have some shopping trips in Paris, or to finance certain ladies in Paris; so in this case it is inexcusable. It is also about our attitude in Israel; again, I talk as a European, not as from the Middle East. If you accept that we have different attitudes to corruption in different countries, as we see with the recent affair with the Saudis, that we have one rule for bribery inside Europe and a different rule if you bribe Arabs, we encourage this kind of behaviour of corruption, so we should have some standards on how we look at corruption, and then we would be in a better position actually to say anything.

  Chairman: I think that is going a little beyond our immediate inquiry.

  Q73  Lord Lea of Crondall: We had a question about the Member States and the EU and I think it is worth just hearing a response on this. Let me put it this way. Is the lack of EU clout to do with what we have been talking about previously, or is it to do with the fact that, either militarily or in other respects, there is insufficient EU commitment, through the Member States, to a collective effort? In particular, would you comment on whether London and Paris, for example, are always saying the same thing?

  Dr Khalidi: That is impossible; physically impossible. The problem with the EU is that you have 27 countries now; is it possible to have a consistent, meaningful foreign policy. It is hardly a discovery. It is not as if I am saying anything that is controversial. I think fundamentally that is the root of the problem, that 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. I am not really sure how you get around this, except by having certain parties take a leading role.

  Q74  Lord Lea of Crondall: In Iran, Britain, France and Germany evolved a reporting structure to the Council of Ministers. It did not begin as an EU initiative but then it became an EU initiative, in terms of Solana everybody else being a bit involved. People talk about variable geometry, and so on but necessity is the mother of invention; would you agree with that?

  Mr Mekelberg: One of the problems for the European Union on the issue of foreign policy is that power is too diffused, and whether you can bring Tony Blair and Chirac, for instance, to agree on policy. If they come and say "Here is our policy; that's what we think about this" then it will be regarded as big political clout, then it will be regarded seriously. For instance, in Israel, the attitude to France is very different from the attitude to Britain. When Chirac goes to East Jerusalem and starts a discussion in East Jerusalem, out of nowhere, he is not seen as a serious player, when Tony Blair is seen completely differently in Israel, and the same goes among the Palestinians. You need just to come with a foreign policy that seems to represent I will not say 27 but the main countries in the European Union; if it is a policy like you have seen in Iran, you have Germany, France and Britain, so it seems like major players in Europe are playing together and in the same direction. It is not the same case when it comes to the Israelis and Palestinians.

  Q75  Lord Lea of Crondall: It could be like that?

  Mr Mekelberg: Yes; it could be. This is for the European Union, for the leadership of the European Union, of course.

  Q76  Chairman: You have not referred to Germany and yet Germany's relations with Israel, for a number of historic reasons, are also quite important, and I wonder whether you would like to comment on the role that Germany and perhaps the German Presidency might be able to play?

  Mr Mekelberg: Obviously it is a sensitive issue in Israel but 60-plus years after the end of the Second World War I think Israelis can accept a more informed Germany more than ever before. Time has moved on and Israeli society has moved and Germany is regarded as friendly to Israel. I think Germany has more of a problem with playing a role with Israel than Israel has a problem with Germany playing a role because Germany now is more sensitive to their position with the Israelis and with the Jews than Israel is sensitive to the Germans. I think actually that the impediment is with the Germans.

  Dr Khalidi: The converse is that Germany loses out on the Arab end.

  Chairman: Mr Mekelberg and Dr Khalidi, we are really extremely grateful to you for having given us an hour and a half of your time. We have had a very useful and, as far as I am concerned, I believe the rest of the Committee as well, very informative session, and we leave this session with a much better understanding of some of the nuances which perhaps we had not given thought to in the past. We are extremely grateful to both of you for having come and having taken part in such a co-operative manner together. Thank you very much indeed.

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