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Divided EU unable to stand against Trump’s peace plan

Feb 18,2020 - Last updated at Feb 18,2020

The European Union (EU) is in a flux over how to react to President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, released last month in Washington. EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss their stand amid pressure from Israel, which wants the 27-member bloc to tone down its reaction to the plan. The Palestinians, as well as the Arab and Muslim countries, had rejected the US proposal, underlining the fact that it violates international laws by sanctioning unilateral annexation of occupied territories, among others.

The EU had failed to adopt a common position on Trump’s so-called deal of the century two weeks ago. Instead EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, issued a personal statement stating that “the US initiative, as presented on 28 January, departs from internationally agreed parameters”. He added that the issues of the borders of a Palestinian state and the final status of Jerusalem were among those still in dispute. Steps by Israel to annex Palestinian territory, “if implemented, could not pass unchallenged”, Borrell said.

The EU’s long-standing position rejects Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and supports the two-state solution based on UN Security Council resolutions and final status negotiations as agreed in the Oslo Accords. It had condemned Trump’s decision in 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But the EU is divided over the Palestine Question and has been for some time. While some countries, led by Luxembourg, want the group to recognise the Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, others, especially Central European member states which under the Soviet Union were sympathetic to the Palestinians, oppose it as they foster their ties with Israel. Britain, which left the EU last month, is leaning towards Washington’s position without committing to the plan.

A number of EU members have already recognised Palestine as a state including Sweden, Cyprus and Malta. Others, namely Spain, Greece, Austria, France and Italy, allowed the The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to open representative offices in their capitals. The EU has a representative office in Ramallah and the PLO has maintained a liaison office in Brussels since 1976. The EU remains the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority.

In contrast to the divided position of the EU member states, a majority of the bloc’s lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg last Tuesday rejected Trump’s peace plan. One Dutch MP described it as “one-sided, illegal and intentionally provocative”, which effectively aims at “legalising settlement and annexation of the West Bank” and “risks bringing more suffering for the Palestinian people”.

Historically, the European bloc has had a more progressive policy regarding the Palestinians compared to that of the United States. The cornerstone of such a policy was adopted by the then nine-member EEC in the Venice Declaration of 1980. The declaration acknowledged Palestinians’ right to self-government and the PLO’s right to be connected to peace initiatives based on UN resolutions. They also stated that Israel should “put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967”. The bloc reiterated that position again in its 1989 Madrid Declaration.

In his speech to the UN Security Council last Tuesday, President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the US’ sole role as a mediator and called for an international conference for peace that could be set up by the Quartet on the Middle East which includes the EU. A similar call was suggested by France’s Emanuel Macron last year but was rebuffed by Israel. Under the current US administration the idea of holding an international peace conference is a non-starter.

Adding to the EU’s confusing stand on the Palestine Question is the recent decision by Germany to stand by Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC); claiming that it has no authority to discuss whether Israel committed war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Hungary and Austria are also taking similar positions.

Equally perplexing, France and Germany adopted laws last year that equate anti-Zionism with “anti-Semitism”. This is taking place at a time when Israel is passing controversial laws, such as the discriminatory nation-state law, while preparing to annex illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley and looking into the forced transfer of over 350,000 Arab Israelis to the future Palestinian entity. EU member states are also taking opposite measures towards the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, with some like the UK considering passing laws against it.

It has been said that the EU is an economic giant but a political dwarf. The group has been weakened by Brexit, growing support for far right and separatist parties, an increase in “anti-Semitic” attacks across Europe and a slowing down of economic growth. The fact of the matter is that the EU can do little to confront Trump’s asymmetrical plan at this stage and is unable to replace Washington as an honest broker.


Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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