from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Europe Goes Back to the "Peace Process"

July 22, 2015

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Syria is coming apart and there are millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. ISIS threatens Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq-- which is also coming apart. The new Iran nuclear deal would deliver $150 billion in cash to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the removal of sanctions will bring even more money to the Revolutionary Guards. ISIS and other jihadis are increasingly active in Sinai. Hamas has a firm grip on Gaza.

What is the European Union’s reaction to all these threats? To focus on the single aspect of Middle Eastern affairs that is right now calm, and to intervene in ways likely to reduce the calm and create more turbulence. You’ve probably guessed it: fresh from the great and historic victory in the Iran nuclear deal, they now turn once again to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

The EU’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said "We need to build a framework—regional and international—that can lead to a more positive environment for the process to start." Apparently it has not occurred to her that emboldening and enriching Iran is a not a great way to create a "more positive environment." Nor is attacking Israel yet again for construction in settlements, which the EU did again on Monday, stating that it is "ready to take further action…to protect the viability of the two-state solution.” That’s a veiled threat of sanctions against Israel.

Coincidentally, there has been a loud debate this month in Israel over the constraints on construction in settlements that the Netanyahu government has put in place. Settler organizations have been screaming about this and criticizing the government fiercely. But it seems Ms. Mogherini and her colleagues are entirely ignorant of this, as they are of the impact of their Iran deal on Israel’s willingness to take further security risks.

France has been talking about a new UN Security Council resolution that demands progress toward a peace settlement and imposes a timetable. The Wall Street Journal reported that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the peace process is "on its death bed," and because "The situation is bad" he concluded that "Europe must help the two sides take initiatives to get out of this stalemate." European leaders have been discussing replacing the Quartet, which consists of the UN, Russia, the EU, and the United States, with some new mechanism.

This would be sensible if there were the slightest indication that there has been no progress in the "peace process" due to failures of the Quartet mechanism. Perhaps it works too slowly, or isn’t persuasive enough, or something like that. But that is false, and clearly any new mechanism that includes only the EU but not the United States will have little clout. It also appears that the history of the last decade is unknown to EU leaders. In that decade PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas first said no to Israeli prime minister Olmert’s peace offer after the Annapolis conference, and Abbas then refused to engage in the negotiations with Israel that Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama were trying to arrange.

Moreover, there is no reason whatsoever to think that the two parties are any closer together on basic issues such as refugees and Jerusalem. Some things have changed in the last few years, of course, but all of them will make an agreement even harder to reach. The growth of terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda makes an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank even more dangerous to Israel and Jordan- and to the Palestinians. Abbas’s advanced age makes it ever less likely that he will take a leap and sign any agreement, and as the years pass since the last Palestinian elections (Abbas was elected to a four year term in 2005) he has less and less legitimacy to make such decisions.

So the European decision to turn its efforts to insisting on a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are foolish and will lead nowhere. With one exception, perhaps: it seems likely that they will blame Israel for their failure, so perhaps the effort will lead to more criticism of Israel from EU governments.

It should be obvious, looking at the Middle East today, that Arab governments such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan are not clamoring for this EU effort and recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is marginal to their own security needs and nightmares. Only the EU continues blindly to insist on its centrality. To the Sunni Arab governments, Israel looks like an ally against the jihadis and against Iran. Perhaps this new European effort cannot be headed off, but it will achieve nothing positive. Instead it will be another example of the sort of wishful thinking about international security that EU diplomacy must shake off if it is ever to be truly effective.

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