Frederica Mogherini defending the Quartet Report (credit /EP)

European Parliament : New Initiatives related to the Middle East Peace Process

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Debate in Plenary – Strasbourg 06/07/16

Salomé Ietter, EPMED’s Joint EU Research & Policy Coordinator

On the 6th of July, the European parliamentary session in Strasbourg gave the floor to the recurring debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after the Commission, under the leadership of Frederica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, published an extensive report on the Middle East Peace Process on July 1st.

This report, following the Middle East Quartet meeting in February 2016, focuses on the major threats impeding the peace process from restarting and gives recommendations for advancing the two-state solution. The Middle East Quartet is composed of 4 nations and supranational entities involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli Palestinian conflict – namely the United Nations (UN), the United States, the European Union and Russia.

Frederica Mogherini, here to present and defend the Commission’s report, underlined the general lack of hope and determination in this process. While some are arguing that other issues should be prioritized, as this one has not been solved for decades, she insisted on patience and courage, maintaining that there is no such thing as a status quo; but that rather, the situation will only deteriorate if we are not to act. She defended the idea that now is the right time to act and to take stronger positions – now that the settlements are growing despite international criticisms, and now that the conflicts in the region are threatening any kind of dialogue. For Mogherini, the viability of the two-state solution is progressively decreasing, and the EU, “cannot let that happen”. The Commission’s report is calling Israel to consider its Arab neighbors as “chances rather than threats to secure its country”. Several MEPs, representing all the 8 political groups, expressed their views on this debate.

The European People’s Party (PPE)
Mariya Gabriel welcomed the report, bringing in her view a breath of fresh air to the issue, though asking for more emphasis on the youth. On both sides, youths are subject to incitement and insecurity. The EU could do more to give young Israelis and Palestinians more options, especially in terms of mobility. For Elmar Brok, the Palestinian Authority absolutely needs to take back control of Gaza, and the EU action should follow the Arab Initiative of 2002, which has done “excellent work”. According to Cristian Dan Preda, violence is a central element, and taking the Palestinian cause is too biased, as violence is committed by both sides. The reality calls us to be more modest, and to play the role of « honest broker ».

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)
Continuing on the problem of bias, Mark Demesmaeker expressed the problem that we are often torn between these two important biases, of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. As the ECR believes in a two-states solution, Demesmaeker judges that both parties need to come out of their trenches. Zdzisław Krasnodębski stated that the EU should make more efforts to dialogue with Israel and its society, and not be in a close-minded attitude, such as adopted by “some member states which boycotted Israel and its institutions”. For Arne Fericke, an end has to be put to terrorism, and that is a condition sine qua non of the EU aid.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
On behalf of ALDE, Hilde Vautmans reminds us of the recurrence of this question in the European Parliament. In reaction to recent attacks, 800 additional houses are soon to be built in settlements. ALDE believes that Israel should stop these illegal settlement as a priority. Vautmans also called on the EU to focus on Israeli legislation, as the Knesset has passed a law requiring NGOs to “mark” their foreign funding on all documents, declaring politically their external support, to both limit their funding, and to play on a “name and shame” dynamic in Israeli society. Becerra Basterrechea, stated that Israel needs to act as a democracy in order to keep its legitimacy of the so-called « only democracy in the Middle East», and needs to address the problem of religious fundamentalism and Jewish extremism, benefitting from government’s financing.

Socialists & Democrats (S&D)
For Elena Valenciano, the fact that we are still debating about this conflict is proving the failure of the international community. Arne Lietz congratulated the Commission for not waiting for the US elections to move forward, putting Europe in a leadership position on this issue. Ana Gomes argued that the Israel government definitely chose the « war » side, and that she found M. Abbas, two weeks ago in the Parliament in Brussels, “completely desperate”. The Quartet report is maybe a good initiative, « but it’s not enough ».

The European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)
The main obstacle raised by Angela Vallina is the violations of international law committed by Israel, given its “apartheid practices in the West bank and the harassment over Gaza”. For the GUE/NGL, Israel and Palestine cannot negotiate as equals ; as one is the “occupying force”, and the other the “occupied”.

The Greens / European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA)
Margrete Auken seemed much more critical of the EU, “which subsidies the occupation, tolerates absurd actions and finances Israeli projects”. Margrete Auken asked Mogherini why no mention of International Law nor of the wall was made in the report, asserting that that proves the inefficiency of these reports.

European of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)
Massimo Castaldo called the Israeli democracy to act in accordance with its values, and not driven by its fears and anguish. Regarding the unity much needed in the Palestinian government, he argues that some countries are feeding the conflict by promoting diverse positions, and that in EU foreign policy, we need to be “careful of those who saw hatred in their foreign policies”.

Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF)
Finally, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser expressed disagreement, noting facts that « the Parliament seems to ignore », particularly that this conflict is, according to him, rather an Israeli-Arab conflict than an Israeli-Palestinian dispute. “Israel is the only democratic and national country, and is facing religious and racist states”. Schaffhauser asserted that Israel is not a religious state, as it is proving its tolerance by the fact that “20 % of its population [are] Muslims”. For the ENF, the Palestinian cause is used by other states for other motives, which testifies to the general indifference of Arab countries, driven more by hatred of Israel than by compassion towards Palestine. Schaffhauser despised the EU proposed options that are « pro-Palestinians », and that are leading to the expression of political Islam in « our streets ».

In a nutshell – What they mentioned (and what they didn’t) ?

EPP
– Violence as preventing the dialogue
– Youths to open the dialogue
– Palestinian authority to unite Palestine

ECR
– Being careful of too much Palestinian bias
– Need to dialogue with Israeli society
– Stopping violence as priority

ALDE
– Denounced the settlements
– Need to address religious fundamentalism in Israel

S&D
– Palestinian Authority desperate facing Israeli “war” practices

GUE/NGL
– Denounced politics of ‘apartheid’
– Occupation
– Calls on International Law
– EU subsidizing the occupation

Greens/EFA
– Inefficiency of International Law

EFDD
– Israel should be coherent as a democracy

ENF
– Security as priority
– Threat of political Islam
– Clear support for Israel’s current policies

To review the European Parliament debate : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/debate-details.html?date=20160706&detailBy=date
For more information on the Quartet Report : http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/2016/160701_03_en.htm

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