EU must support viable Palestinian state

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU must make peace between Israel and Palestine one of the top priorities of its Middle East policy. But there can be no peace in the region without a viable Palestinian state, argues Eberhard Rhein.

This commentary was authored by Eberhard Rhein, a former senior European Commission official for external relations and a lecturer on economic policy at the Mediterranean Academy for Diplomatic Studies in Malta.

It was first published on

"18 years ago, on 13 September 1993, [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, the two outstanding political leaders of their communities, solemnly signed the ‘interim agreement’ at the White House in Washington, ushering in a short period of hope for a peaceful settlement of their 60 year-old conflict.

But in fact, the 18 years since the Washington ceremony have been full of deceptions. Today, the parties are no nearer to peace than in 1993.

Israel has further tightened its grip on the West Bank, where some 250,000 settlers account for 10% of the population while arrogating some 40% of land and water resources! The present Israeli government therefore remains adamantly opposed to acknowledging the 1967 borders as the basis for the final settlement.

The Israeli government is torn between the demands of its radical settlers, who fear [for] their future, and those of the international community, [which is] insisting on Israel putting an end to settlements and engaging in serious peace negotiations. The internal pressure being infinitely stronger than the lukewarm appeals from the international community, Israel feels free to ignore the latter.

September 2011 will be of crucial importance for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations, peace in the Middle East and future EU relations with the Arab world.

The Palestinian Authority is determined to advance on the long road towards independence, which it has been promised for years as the recompense for renouncing intifada. Having lost the hope for statehood by ‘continuing business as usual’, it has correctly decided to go for UN membership as a first step towards ultimate statehood.

That process will have to proceed in stages, as the USA, under pressure from Israel and its influential Jewish electorate, has promised to veto UN membership in the UNSEC [UN Security Council].

The Palestinian Authority will therefore have to be content with an ‘enhanced observer status’ [which] it can obtain by a simple vote of the General Assembly. This status will open the Palestinian Authority access to a several UN bodies including the International Court of Justice. The latter is of supreme importance for the Palestinian Authority, as it may allow direct lawsuits against Israeli violations of international law, including settlements.

The forthcoming debates in the UN will confront the EU with another critical test of its external cohesion: will its three UNSEC members (France, [the] UK [and] Germany) vote identically; and how should they vote?

To advance the Palestinian cause and exert much-needed pressure on Israel, the EU should support a Palestinian request for UN membership and leave the onus of a veto to the USA, even if this were to lead to a temporary rift in trans-Atlantic relations

If a positive vote were impossible because of the ‘Israeli-German connections’, the second-best solution should be abstention by all three UNSEC members for UN membership and support by all 27 EU members (plus Croatia, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania [and] Bosnia) for enhanced observer status.

[…] Enhanced observer status in the UN will not produce miracles on the ground for the Palestinians; it will continue to need substantial political support from the EU, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Russia in the bilateral negotiations, which have to follow.

[Over] the next two years, the EU must make peace between Israel and Palestine one of its top priorities in the region. It must do so for four major reasons:

  • There will be no peace in the region without an independent Palestinian state, co-existing in close economic and political cooperation with Israel.
  • The Arab world will become increasingly more important to the EU than Israel, both politically and economically. The ‘Arab street’ will very attentively watch the EU position towards Israel.
  • At the same time, the EU must help Israel from becoming totally isolated in region by pursuing an intransigent line.
  • The USA will become even more discredited in the Arab world after its veto against Palestinian UN membership and statehood. The EU must try to fill that vacuum and to assume a role of mediator between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. To that end, it must get its act together and put together a talented task force able to forge ahead the bilateral negotiation process."

Subscribe to our newsletters