‘Palestine Papers’ bear the failure of US as mediator

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

The leaked 'Palestine Papers' on concessions offered to Israel show the failure of the US as principal mediator and give the EU an opportunity to step up its role in peace talks, argues Spyros Danellis MEP, a member of the European Parliament's Palestine delegation, in an opinion piece sent exclusively to EURACTIV.

Spyros Danellis is a Greek MEP in the Socialists & Democrats group. He is on the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council.

''It is presumed in foreign policy circles that when a dormant peace process is re-launched, the two negotiating sides will resume where they left off. In other words, they will respect steps of progress made in earlier rounds of talks.

However, thanks to the leaked Palestine Papers it has now surfaced that this was far from the case with Israel and Palestine, not least because they show Israel rejecting increasingly desperate Palestinian concessions that crossed the red lines that were thought to form the cornerstone of their position.

Initial reactions from the Palestinian side have taken aim against its leadership for seemingly betraying long-held positions concerning the form of any final agreement. Considering, however, the unprecedented intransigence that the Palestinians were confronted with in the governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, the divulged concessions could equally be seen as ultimate attempts at salvaging the much trumpeted but ill-defended two-state solution.

What is interesting about the leaked minutes of the talks is not that Palestinians equivocated publicly; it is that Israeli negotiators – then under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – refused to accept Palestinian concessions that in the year 2000 would have delineated their ideal solution.

This can at least in part be attributed to the radicalisation of the settler movement and the gradual shift of Israeli politics towards the right. But it also bears the failure of the US as principal mediator, in as much as it balked at actually resisting the radicalisation that led to today's stalemate.

The tectonic shift in the parameters of the peace process revealed in the Papers inevitably raises questions about the ability, or the willingness, of the US to guide it to a successful conclusion. In its annual $3bn weapons aid to Israel, among other provisions, the US has had the power to twist Israel's arm in the direction of the two-state solution.

It chose not to use this leverage over its Middle Eastern partner. In contrast, it chose to use it in 2000, and while the Camp David summit was in full swing, when Israel made plans to sell an airborne early-warning radar system to China. Soon after, the Oslo process would be consigned to the annals of history.

In the years following September 11th, tensions rose and the role of the US as mediator only became less effective. George W. Bush's road-map failed to convince the parties involved, while Barack Obama's ambitious rhetoric was sadly succeeded by a practically hands-down acquiescence in the face of increasing illegal settlements. That a deal was not struck despite the Palestinians' apparent offer of limiting the right of return to 10,000 refugees only serves to confirm US failure.

And where does all this leave the largest economy in the world, the 27-country strong Union that takes pride in its soft power and that only recently launched an External Action Service and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs?

The answer probably is that 'it depends'. The role it will play in future talks – if the style of direct talks of the past is even the right way forward – will depend on the European Union's aspirations on the global stage. It will also depend on the level of internal consensus on external matters and on its capacity to foster partnerships.

Crucially, the current impasse threatens to lead to renewed conflict and a new cycle of extremist violence. Among other things, it is an opportunity for Catherine Ashton and her European External Action Service to step up and play an active role in the peace process, with or without the US in the lead.''

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