Federica Mogherini, the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should appoint a new EU special envoy to the Middle East to engage and have an impact on the peace process in the region, writes Dr Nimrod Goren.
Dr Nimrod Goren is Chairman of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a lecturer for Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
For years, and even decades, the EU has been seeking a significant role in shaping Israeli-Arab relations, usually without much success. Will Federica Mogherini, as the EU’s new foreign policy chief, be the one to reposition the EU as a more central actor in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts?
To do so, Mogherini can start by taking two rather immediate steps: re-establish the post of an EU special envoy to the Middle East peace process, and promote the European incentive for Israeli-Palestinian peace that was introduced in December 2013.
On January 2014, Catherine Ashton abolished the position of the EU special envoy to the Middle East peace process. This position was created in 1996, as part of the Oslo peace process. Over the years, three individuals served as special envoys: Miguel Moratinos (1996-2002), Marc Otte (2003-2011), and Andreas Reinicke (2012-2013). Their impact on the peace process was not big, but that was not the reason behind Ashton’s decision.
It was a controversial move, which was on Ashton’s agenda already in 2013. At the time, it was blocked due to opposition from key European countries. Eventually, Ashton succeeded in pushing it through, grabbing more power over Middle East policy. But by doing so, she actually limited even further the EU’s capability to be a more significant actor on the ground.
The lack of such an envoy was evident throughout the recent Gaza war. European involvement was limited to visits to the region by some foreign ministers of EU member states, and to statements by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council following their occasional meetings in Brussels. There was no one working effectively to turn statements into reality.
Mogherini should reverse Ashton’s decision and appoint a new special envoy. This will enable more effective EU diplomacy in the region, and will also benefit Mogherini’s task of promoting the new European incentive for Israeli-Palestinian peace – the offer to Israel and the future Palestinian state of a Special Privileged Partnership with the EU, after a peace treaty is signed.
This offer is supposed to enable Israelis and Palestinians to benefit from the highest possible status that a non EU-member state can obtain, and is to entail an unprecedented economic, political and security aid package. The EU incentive for peace has been one of the only innovative ideas raised throughout the recent failed round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The EU views this offer in historic terms, although its actual content has yet to be developed. European diplomats, as well as the outgoing president of the European Commission, have tried to reach out to the Israeli public – via op-eds or media interviews – and explain just how significant it is.
However, the incentive has yet to make the desired impact, and was greeted in Israel with indifference. The Israeli government did not issue any reaction to it; the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs tends to dismiss it; and the Israeli public is mostly unaware that it even exists – with only 14% stating that they have heard of it, according to a September 2014 poll initiated by the Mitvim Institute.
These reactions stems from the Israeli government’s basic rejection of the obvious linkage between progress in the peace process and the upgrade of Israel-EU ties, but also due to the EU incentive not being attractive enough, developed enough, and marketed enough.
The EU should not abandon the incentive because of the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. On the contrary. The EU offer is a long-term one, and advancing it now can help create increased political will and public support for future peace negotiations.
The EU’s new foreign policy chief should engage European and Israeli think tanks in the process of further developing the incentive’s content, in order to make it more attractive and tangible. An EU special envoy will then be vital to promoting the incentive in the region and to coordinate between it and other incentives, as the Arab Peace Initiative and US security guarantees.
The time is ripe for a more significant EU role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the EU seems to be ready to step up. It is applying more pressure on Israel regarding the settlements, assisting the reconstruction of Gaza, and providing Israel and the Palestinians a horizon of much closer ties with the EU. This proactive and fresh approach is one that a foreign policy chief as Mogherini may be well-suited to advance.