Yet the question is being asked — will the EU continue to push for a two-state solution even against the will of the Israeli and US governments?
EU leaders claim to be doing so, although with much less commitment than in previous years. Other crises have limited their interest. Historically, it was the EU that worked so hard from 1980 to bring about an international consensus on this — eventually even bringing the US on aboard. Is there appetite to save the two-state solution after so much effort, and a not insignificant €6 billion investment in aid?
The gap between the reality on the ground, where settlements devour peace prospects every day, and the somber EU policy statements is almost as wide as the Atlantic.
Across that ocean, who can be sure what the Trump administration supports? Does Donald Trump even know what he wants, except a deal? His ambassador to Israel, and by most accounts the most influential point man on the issue, David Friedman, now speaks of an “alleged occupation.” Many European political leaders still feel relieved that the US remains engaged. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said this month: “What we expect from the US is to stay committed, to stay engaged, to work with the rest of the international community through the Quartet and other means, in particular in relation with our Arab friends, to help the parties find a solution.” The message being, please stay engaged but work with the EU and other friends, not against it.
The fear is that Trump will just ignore the EU. It was the EU that effectively secured a UN Security Council resolution last December reaffirming the international opposition to settlements, when the US obliged by not wielding its veto. The victory was short-lived; weeks later, Trump swatted the resolution away with contempt.
A key element of the resolution, however, was differentiation, the demand that all states in their dealings with Israel differentiate between Israel itself and territories it occupied in 1967. If the EU is serious about supporting an independent Palestinian state, this formulation should be pushed in all its dealings and agreements with Israel, and crucially in all financial business. As human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have rightly said, European companies should not be involved in any business in the illegal settlements. Human Rights Watch produced a report that called for international banks to cease business with Israeli banks operating in settlements. Insurance companies and other institutions should also be included.
The signs do not encourage optimism. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have increasingly taken Israel’s side and adopted anti-Palestinian positions. Britain has hugged the Israeli position under Prime Minister Theresa May, even more so since January, in the hopes of being seen in a good light by Trump. France’s efforts have come to an effective halt. Consensus has all but vanished.
The EU needs to heal its divisions and resume its leadership on Palestinian rights, international law and reining in Israel’s colonization project.
Courage seems thin on the ground too. The carrots are too small, the sticks too weak. Israel has demolished or seized at least 236 EU-funded structures in the West Bank since 2009 alone, and a further 600 are under threat. Brussels does not even seem willing to protect EU taxpayers’ money let alone international law or human rights. Once again, divisions in the ranks hold it back. Fifty-six Palestinian schools face demolition in the West Bank for Israeli colonial expansion. What must Palestinians think when Mogherini can only state that she “deeply regrets” settlement expansions, as if it were just an Israeli mistake and not a systematic program of theft and colonization.
Rumors of an announcement during the UN General Assembly of the resumption of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis are barely believable. Israel wants open-ended talks with no end goal, while the Palestinian leadership politically requires concrete outcomes in a limited time, its constituency fed up with Israel’s talk and grab strategy and of escalating colonization without an end in sight.
The EU has to make a choice. It can be ever more irrelevant, merely a payer in Israel’s colonization project, or it can stand up for a peace process it has meekly but consistently backed for the past quarter of a century. Instead of wedding itself interminably to a two-state solution that Israel constantly undermines, it should advance the protection of human rights and international law with less focus on what a distant endgame might produce.
To do that, the EU needs to unshackle itself from its hesitancy, prove to Israel that it cannot be discounted, and deploy the many levers at its disposal. Once Sunday’s German elections are over, French President Emmanuel Macron and a re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel can oversee this. Israeli leaders should be left in no doubt that continuing their occupation will lead to a pariah status and will have both legal and financial costs.
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech