Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)

FRIDAY 23 MARCH 2007

MR ROBERT COOPER AND MR CHRISTIAN JOURET

  Q240  Lord Chidgey: That is completely right.

  Mr Cooper: And there is no solution without Israel and actually over this period EU relations with Israel have improved quite markedly as well. Why is there so little perception of the European Union being involved? We are not so easy to see. The US is very big and very visible and it has one President and one flag. The European Union has a large number of Member States who really do operate in convoy in some way on this, but it makes much less impact clearly. I think there has been a change with the creation of the post of High Representative where there is at least one permanent, visible figure who is extremely well-known in the Middle East, certainly in political circles, and I guess to a certain extent on the street, but he cannot match the clarity of power that the US President and Secretary of State have.

  Mr Jouret: One thing about the EU being in advance in comparison with the Americans, I think we must recall that we have put on the table three main ideas in advance of anybody else. First, self-determination for the Palestinians, that was Venice; then the state; and then something probably more important, a viable state. We have invented that and we have put in the adjective "viable" and it is essential. Having a state means nothing if the state is not a viable or independent or even sovereign state, and this is very important, and everything today turns around these three principles. I was thinking when you said there is no solution without the Americans, that is for sure, this is our idea today and it is a deeply-rooted idea, but there is no solution without the Europeans as well. Europe is very much appreciated in Arab countries. There is always disappointment and every day we have leaders but also people in the street too telling us, "Please do better, try to take more decisions because we believe in you, we are neighbours close to each other", you know, that kind of language.

  Mr Cooper: Perhaps in this context it is worth remarking that the platform of the Palestinian Government refers in two or three places to the European Union. I do not know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.

  Mr Jouret: The kiss of death!

  Mr Cooper: And it may well have been that they were doing this to get at the USA, but at any rate there is some element of recognition of European involvement there.

  Q241  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Going back to not being equal with the United States, the United States is the only superpower and that is self-evident, but surely there is a difference between what the Quartet is and what the Quartet does, and there is a desperate need here, I would have thought, for an honest broker, which slightly rules out the United States because I think we have got to talk more than just about the Palestinians and Israelis; we have got to talk about the Arab world. Recent actions of the United States have actually made it quite difficult for them in the rest of the Arab world. Surely the EU is much better placed to talk to all the parties than the US is, and should we not be playing a bigger role in all of that? Just adding on to that, one of the ambassadors we were talking to said that the EU has now assumed the role of the cheque book. I am certainly getting the rather strong impression that we immediately ladle out enormous funds to Palestinians and people and we do not get an awful lot of influence in return for the money that we are paying out.

  Mr Cooper: On the last question, to be honest, I am a bit sceptical generally about whether money buys you influence anyway and I have been very struck by the difference in impact it made when (I do not know if the term EU COPPS is familiar to the Committee) EU COPPS began. By the way, perhaps because it is a House of Lords Committee I might underline that this was, I thought, a very imaginative initiative by the British Government which launched this as a British initiative and paid for it to begin with but in a European framework, and then it formed a kind of centre of gravity around which various other Europeans were able to join in. I think it is a very successful example and one that we would like to see repeated in other places because it enabled the thing to happen quickly and rather efficiently and it was done in a way that enabled others to join in and produce quite a lot of value-added. What I wanted to say was I was quite struck by the impact it made when initially it was only a dozen people or so who began being active on the ground as opposed simply to giving money. The money just disappears and nobody notices it—sometimes at any rate. As for the question of an honest broker, I think in a way the Quartet represents a team of brokers. The UN has always been present as a broker in some way. The United States are clearly the people who have the confidence of Israel, insofar as anybody has the confidence of Israel. On the European side, we have long-standing relationships both with Israel and with the Palestinians and with other Arab countries. It is for others to judge how deeply we are trusted on both sides, but now we see a further broker appearing in Mecca, which is to be welcomed because I do not think that the problem is going to be solved just by one set or by one mediator. That is why on the whole I think the Quartet is a good idea and if it is linked to the Arabs so much the better.

  Q242  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: On that last point actually, you said a moment or two ago that at the next meeting in Cairo there was going to be a meeting with the Arab Quartet. Is that something that the EU is pressing for or that the whole of the original Quartet is pressing for, ie are the Americans enthusiastic about linking up in this way?

  Mr Jouret: Enthusiastic is not the word!

  Q243  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, I did not think it would be.

  Mr Jouret: This idea of having a meeting between the two Quartets is probably one of our ideas. Javier Solana mentioned several times during his last trip last week in the region (and he will tell you that probably later on) the idea of including not only the Americans but including the Saudis. I believe today that it is probably a bit early to have a meeting of the two Quartets for maybe two reasons. First, the Arab Quartet is more of a label for the moment, it has no real activity, they do not really meet. The Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and Emirates of course have contact behind this Arab Quartet with more Arab countries but those Arab countries do not want to appear publicly. They are ready to finance several things like Kuwait for example, but they do not want to be an official part of the Arab Quartet so they are not well-prepared for the moment, but something is moving in the Arab world and we have to use that new tool. Yes, to answer your question, we would like to have a meeting. First we requested a meeting in Egypt, that was our idea, and, secondly, we would like to have a meeting with the Arab Quartet, and that will probably come later.

  Q244  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: I am sorry, I am not quite sure whether you are saying you want it Quartet to Quartet or you want it EU to Arab Quartet.

  Mr Jouret: No, Quartet to Quartet.

  Q245  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Right. Where is the Arab League in that?

  Mr Jouret: The Arab League is not involved in that.

  Q246  Lord Lea of Crondall: On the Quartet one cannot help thinking about the metaphor of a musical quartet where one has a first violin, a second violin, a viola and a cello and yet together they make up a wonderful string quartet as in Beethoven or whatever. Should we think of this as not everybody agreeing with each other but playing complementary instruments? In the Arab Quartet there are Shia, Sunni and all the rest of it. How would you characterise the nature of these Quartets in that sense?

  Mr Cooper: It is true without going too far into the metaphor that in the Quartet they are often playing slightly different tunes at the same time.

  Mr Jouret: Like in Europe!

  Mr Cooper: First of all, one should not take that metaphor too far. As Christian said, for the Arab Quartet it is not clear that there is a real existence in the way that there is in the Quartet proper but the real point is that there are some very important players on the Arab side, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia and of course Jordan, who is the immediate neighbour and is automatically concerned by whatever happens, but the Saudis in particular have played a very important role recently. I do think that involving the neighbours and the regional parties is the thing that has been missing from the Quartet, so finding some stronger linkage to the Arabs, who must be a part of the solution. There is the Saudi Beirut initiative for example and that also is one element of the solution, so I think that it is very good that they are involved and have become closer.

  Q247  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Can I ask one question on that, who are their point people? Are they using their ministers or are they using people like Mark Arch, who I think is absolutely fantastic at what he does? Are they doing it government-to-government and are they doing it through those sorts of people?

  Mr Jouret: You mean the Arab Quartet?

  Q248  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, the Arabs?

  Mr Jouret: I do not know if they meet as our Quartet meet. Usually it is at the level of foreign ministers but it is not a regular structure.

  Q249  Chairman: How far do you feel the European Union has a balanced approach with regards to the different parties to the conflict? Do you feel that the European Union should perhaps take a stronger stance on key issues? We have touched on this already but there might be something that you would want to add.

  Mr Cooper: I would say, yes, almost by definition we have a balanced approach. That is what everybody always says about their approach. You find out afterwards whether it was really true or not! It is a little bit in the nature of the European Union though because we are 27 Member States, and different Member States have different angles, that we are more likely than anybody else in the world to have a balanced approach. It is quite unlikely to find the European Union rushing widely off in any direction. Maybe that is a fault.

  Q250  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: If I could just pick up from that. In the evidence we have taken we had a rather interesting occasion in which we asked the same question to the Egyptian ambassador in London and then to the Syrian ambassador in London and the Syrian ambassador gave us an absolutely classical reply that, "We want the EU to do more because we want them to be on our side." Down the decades it was the perfectly obvious answer which to me seems to be a recipe for futility.

  Mr Cooper: Yes.

  Q251  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: And the Egyptian ambassador replied to a question of, "Do you understand that if the EU becomes more involved, particularly in the final status issues, they are bound to take a position with which you will sometimes disagree and which will not be very palatable to you, because otherwise we will have no viability with the Israeli side, and in any case that is the way peace deals are cut?" "Yes, we do understand that and we still want the EU to be a party." Could you comment on how if this famous phrase "political horizons" is to assume a somewhat more concrete shape the EU might start to identify elements of the final status negotiations? Is it ready to step on to that territory?

  Mr Cooper: I think the answer to the second question is yes. The question is whether the parties are ready to do that. At the moment this is a question which Javier himself will be much better equipped to answer, but my feeling is the moment that conditions on the ground are ready we have a pretty clear idea about where the settlement will be, as I think many people do actually. But, yes, we would be ready to move on to final status.

  Mr Jouret: Just one thing which is obvious for everyone: everything is on the table and we know what the end game is and what will be the final status for the Palestinian Territories. With the Clinton parameters, with Camp David, with the Taba Agreement, everything is there and there is no need to reinvent the wheel, we have everything.

  Q252  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Could we just briefly talk about Iraq because Baker-Hamilton said that Syria and Iran should be involved and initially President Bush ruled that out and said no they are pariah states. That is now changing and so the only format it seems to me where all these people might meet is on Iraq. Is the EU linking in with that? Are they sitting at the same table, because unless we actually talk to Iran and Syria we are going to get nowhere on this. They have got to be part of any settlement and agreement, have they not, of the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

  Mr Cooper: Syria clearly is a part of that. I am not so sure about Iran. I think we would see it as undesirable. Iran has not played a constructive role at all. In fact, Iran is about the only country in the region that rejects a two-state solution. So clearly they are a player but they are one that we would rather not have involved.

  Q253  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Can I just come back on that. If they go on supplying Hezbollah in the Lebanon then they are going to be able to disrupt anything, so can we rule them out?

  Mr Cooper: No, they have a capacity to make trouble, that is absolutely right.

  Q254  Lord Tomlinson: If I could move on to the next question; with the state of play and relations between the Quartet and the Palestinian Unity Government we are continuing to bypass the Government and channel aid through the Temporary International Mechanism. Is there not a risk that this will further weaken the Palestinian administration and are we in danger of moving towards a failed state in Palestine and, if so, what if anything do you think the EU can do to reverse that trend?

  Mr Cooper: The Palestinian administration is indeed in extremely poor shape and, yes, there is a risk of a failed state before you get to a state. We broadly have welcomed the formation of the Government for National Unity and, as Christian said earlier, we are not yet doing business with it as such but it itself is in a process and I think we are in a process as well which is going to evolve over the next month also. I agree with you that we need to ask the question about all of the things we do about delivery of aid, about whether this strengthens or weakens the prospect of a state, but at the same time we need not just a state but we need a state which is committed to a two-state solution, committed to non-violent means of pursuing that, and so we do not want to abandon the principles immediately. As usual in diplomacy there is a balancing act going on.

  Q255  Lord Tomlinson: But in the way that you seem to be suggesting that you are nuancing the Quartet principles, do you think that is in any way increasing the likelihood that the Temporary International Mechanism will no longer be needed as the main mechanism for aid to the Palestinians?

  Mr Cooper: The most desirable state would be to have a Palestinian Authority that functioned well, that we were doing business with on a normal basis and we could channel our aid through that, and that is where we would like to be. Perhaps the other thing that is worth saying is that the role that we may play in the weakness of the Palestinian administration is a very minor one. What creates the terrible conditions in the West Bank and Gaza are the roadblocks and the failure of the Israelis to hand over the money that they have collected in customs dues. Those are really the big things. We attempt to move those things forward from time to time without very much success, but those are the things that are creating the possibility of a failed state there, and I think that actually all people in the region, including Israel, who have an interest in order and peace in the region, ought to be alarmed at the prospect of chaos in the Territories.

  Q256  Lord Crickhowell: Moving on to the fifth question I really want to take it in two parts and we are onto process again. Have up to this point any of the EU's policies or activities had the effect of increasing the divide, the factionalism and the rivalries in Palestine between Fatah and Hamas? Have we by our approach so far actually made things worse?

  Mr Cooper: Certainly not intentionally, not knowingly. I am tempted to say one answer to the question is we might have done that by encouraging elections and by monitoring them.

  Q257  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Exactly.

  Mr Cooper: But I still think in spite of the messy way that things have proceeded that elections were right, that some kind of political renewal was needed and is needed in Fatah still, and the only way you get that is through elections and through a political process. Elections were remarkably well conducted. I also think that we need to take account of that fact in our dealings with the National Unity Government.

  Q258  Lord Crickhowell: That takes me to my second question on the next stage of the process. We had the elections and we may not have entirely liked the result but there it is, we are living with it, and talking to the Commission yesterday we were presented with three scenarios—full engagement, because the three principles have been accepted; selective engagement, which as I understood it meant talking to Fatah ministers but not Hamas ministers; and then if the actions are all too dangerous and difficult no contact at all with the ministers. At the end of our meeting I said it does seem to be a pretty dangerous process. I admit I come from something rather different which is a government that believed in collective administration but they have formed a government and you are only talking to some ministers, you might persuade Hamas that this is rather a good idea to move on but you might have the opposite effect which is actually to create a friction. How do you see that developing?

  Mr Cooper: Here perhaps I should say that I speak rather on a personal basis because these are questions which are new and are under discussion and we have not yet had a discussion at the level of the Council since the formation of the National Unity Government. There will be a discussion at the Gymnich meeting in about 10 days' time and there will be some sorting out then. I think that the options are actually much greater than three because of course you have different ways of doing business and there are different levels you can approach people on and people have different degrees of recognition that you can give. Personally, I think we should be a little bit careful about saying we are prepared to do business with one half of the Government and not the other because we have, after all, been urging the Palestinians to form a National Unity Government and, again personally, I think that is probably a condition of the peace settlement in the end. First, the Palestinians need to get their act together and then they need to negotiate with Israel. Our only reservation is that we need the Palestinians to get their act together in a way that enables a negotiation with Israel rather than one which closes it off, and that is why we are in this delicate balancing act that we are at the moment.

  Q259  Lord Tomlinson: Can I just pursue with one small supplementary that question because it strikes me from the discussion that we have had so far that while there is a willingness to speak and to channel aid through some ministries, those that are led by Fatah ministers or independents, that those that are led by Fatah ministers are led by ministers from a party that is perceived as being corrupt and that we therefore seem to be willing to deal with the corrupt part of the administration.

  Mr Cooper: As far as finance is concerned, the central figure is Fayyad who is seen as being probably not the single incorrupt man in this organisation but he certainly has a very good reputation. I think perhaps the other point I would make is I actually do not think that aid is really the central issue in this. I think that it is really about political recognition in the non-formal diplomatic sense. I do not have the impression that there is really a big shortage of money in this area. If the Government of National Unity works the Saudis are said to have offered large sums of money. At the Rafah crossing point we regularly find people with suitcases full of money. The aid is a part of the story and but it is not the central part of the story and the real question is about political recognition.


 
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