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Europe and the Annapolis Process

Israelis and Palestinians are back at the negotiating table

Almut Möller is currently a DAAD/AICGS Fellow in Washington and is also a researcher at the Center for Applied Policy Research (C·A·P). This essay appeared in the February 22, 2008, AICGS Advisor.

23.02.2008 · By Almut Möller

Annapolis is underway. Despite reasonable doubts about whether or not the process will prove to be a success, the fact is that Israelis and Palestinians are back at the negotiating table. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have stated their intention to make an effort to resolve "all outstanding issues" connected with the two-state solution on the basis of the Middle East Quartet's road map and before the end of 2008. In the negotiations the United States will monitor and evaluate compliance with the road map by both sides. On the basis of this assessment Washington will decide whether or not to implement a negotiated peace treaty.

The Annapolis process is likely to be the last opportunity for the foreseeable future to negotiate and implement the two-state solution. Another failure will make a new attempt by both Israel and the Palestinians in the short and medium run unlikely. Furthermore, a new U.S. administration in power in January 2009 will certainly need time to get its act together before it may consider re-engaging in the Middle East peace process. As a matter of fact, with the ongoing Israeli settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, it is only a question of time until the two-state solution becomes impossible to implement.

The Annapolis meeting in November 2007 opened a window of opportunity. However, there are numerous risks involved: a lack of time, weak leadership in both Israel and the West Bank, the split of the Palestinian territories, ongoing rocket fire from Hamas and Israeli settlement activities (both being perceived as provocations from the other side), the possibility of a military intervention against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the negotiating partners failing to fulfill their commitments, a lack of determination in the Arab world to enact its Beirut Declaration (Arab Peace Initiative) to enable a sustainable peace, and a deterioration of the living conditions in the Palestinian territories (thus, a failure in creating a viable Palestinian state).

Against the background of alarming developments in the region as a whole, it would be fatal if Israel, the Arab world, and the international community failed to seize the Annapolis opportunity. It will be hard work, but making Annapolis a success is doable. The negotiated outcome is in principle on the table, Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating with the support of the international community, and the Arab League is on board. How can Europe help to make Annapolis a success?

Although the European Union and its member states played a crucial role in reviving the Quartet's road map in early 2007 and in the run-up to the Annapolis meeting in November, the Europeans were left out during the preparations of the Annapolis conference. This has led to frustration in the European capitals. But clearly, it would be a wrong sign if Europe, now that the negotiations are underway and time is running out quickly, decided to engage only with limited energy. On the contrary, the Europeans should engage more, and more constructively, in a clear division of tasks with the U.S. The Europeans should accept and support the role of the U.S. as the major responsible supervisor of the negotiation process. As for Europe, it should be given a clearer mandate and it should focus more intensely on what it can do much better than the U.S.: state building and economic reconstruction in the Palestinian territories. Europe has often been criticized for being too slow and too weak, and for being more of a paymaster than a player. The Annapolis process now provides a framework for immediate action, which the European Union should use to enhance its credibility as a foreign policy player in the region.

At the very heart of the Annapolis process is to create a Palestinian state which is able to survive, which will function to serve the needs of its citizens, and which will live in peace with its neighbor, Israel. The European Union should therefore continue and extend its capacity-building initiatives aimed at the Palestinian administration and judiciary, security reform, and economic and social reconstruction. Here, Europe needs to be given an unambiguous mandate by Israel, the Palestinians, the U.S., and the Quartet. The European mandate should also include the responsibility for coordinating all the initiatives that are concerned with state building and economic reconstruction in the Palestinian territories, and the authority to monitor its progress and shortcomings. This would lead to greater transparency and consistency, and help to underpin the implementation process. The Europeans should engage more actively in an ongoing dialogue with the negotiating teams based on the Quartet mechanism in order to strengthen the link between the final status negotiations and the state building process. Europe should also meet on a regular basis with the U.S. Middle East envoy for security issues to show Israel that the Europeans are taking its security needs seriously.

Many of the past European attempts to establish viable state structures in the Palestinian territories were a failure. Europe has for a long time been the paymaster, albeit an ineffective paymaster. An increasingly critical European electorate means that the EU can no longer afford to play this role. It is impossible for the Europeans to eliminate all the potential spoilers who might wish to wreck the state building process. However, they can certainly emphasize the fact that there is an essential precondition for their involvement in Palestinian state building: the commitment of the parties to the conflict and the U.S. to the negotiation process. The Europeans should point out that their financial support and their institution-building measures are conditional on whether or not Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. manage to achieve tangible results in the negotiations in the near future. The Europeans should also ask the U.S. to fully coordinate its negotiating positions within the framework of the Middle East Quartet. The Quartet format would guarantee a high level of international legitimacy and inclusion. The Quartet could also serve as a contact group which could begin to tackle the regional dimension of the conflict along the Lebanese and Syrian negotiating tracks. Keeping Syria on board is of crucial importance to the search for regional peace. In fact, peace between Israel and Syria is a realistic objective. Another thing the Europeans could work on in the Quartet framework is to encourage the Arab League to enact the Arab Peace Initiative (for example regarding the status of Jerusalem and the refugees).

Institution-building and economic reconstruction will be even more difficult in view of the fact that the Palestinian territories are divided. The Europeans should make it clear that their ultimate aim is to implement the two-state solution in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, at the moment a "West Bank first" approach seems to be the only realistic one. But the Europeans should come up with a plan on how to prevent an even greater decoupling of the two territories, and to ensure that Gaza will catch up as soon as possible. Such a plan is bound to touch on the highly sensitive question of how Hamas might be included in the process. If it continues to play the role of a spoiler, it will be impossible to create a sustainable Palestinian state which can live in peace with Israel. Thus the European Union will have to turn its attention to the need for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and find a way either to stop boycotting Hamas or to encourage another party - for example, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the Arab League - to talk to Hamas and pave the way for intra-Palestinian talks.

This is an ambitious agenda for the European Union that requires both a strong European commitment and the acceptance and support of the U.S. and the negotiating parties. However, compared to Europe's far-reaching though vague regional ambitions (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, European Neighborhood Policy), it is a limited and focused agenda. And the Europeans have proved in the past that they have the means and the expertise to support state building. If the Europeans are ready to mature as a foreign policy player in its direct neighborhood, the moment is there to prove it.

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