ATbar The European Union and the Middle East Peace Process

The European Union and the Middle East Peace Process

06/04/2005 | by Scheiner, Dana  

The political involvement of the EU in the Middle East was instigated by the oil crisis of 1973 and resulted in nearly a decade of EPC involvement in the region, where the EC/EPC tried to play a role as a 'third party' beside the USA and the USSR.

The EU's 'presence' in the Middle East Peace Process - Policy and Involvement

The initial involvement of the EC was welcomed by the Arab states, but they soon realised that the EC did not have the capability to outweigh the USA or the USSR. 1 Zibramdt argues that the EC's policies towards the Middle East peace process were shaped and defined between 1973 and 1980, culminating with the Venice Declaration. Although the declaration should be regarded as no more than a political signal, it helped the EC to secure a good working relationship with the Arab world during the 1980s. The Venice Declaration also became a point of reference for the EU when it chose to respond to developments in the peace process usually orchestrated by the USA and/or Israel. 2 The declaration included the following principles: the EU asserts that growing tensions affecting this region constitute a serious danger and render a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict as being necessary; traditional ties and common interests which link Europe to the Middle East oblige the EC to play a special role; The EC believes in the promotion of the right to existence and to security of all States in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people; the EC is prepared to participate within the framework of a comprehensive settlement in a system of concrete and binding international guarantees; the EC recognises the need for Israel to put an end to the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967 and finally, the EC promotes an end to violence as a basic element for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in the Middle East. 3 Yet, the new Cold War was waging and the EC kept a low profile as the tight bipolar structure did not allow many possibilities for an active foreign policy.4

The EU was not included in the peace process itself until after the 1993 Oslo accords when it became involved in the multilateral dimension of process, heading up the Regional Economic Development Working Group (REDWG).5 This led to a growing EU involvement throughout the 1990s as it has become the major international contributor to the Palestinian Authority (PA)-aid which is channeled by the European Commission's offices in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Additionally, a joint action under the CFSP provided EU finance and practical assistance to the Palestinians in organising and observing the first elections to the Palestinian Council in January 1996. In 1994 the European Parliament set up an ad hoc delegation for relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); this delegation has visited the territories, held discussions with Palestinian leaders, and taken part in the observation of the 1996 elections. The delegation became a standing body of the Parliament in January 1997 and is now called the Delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council. Furthermore, in February 1997, the European Community signed an interim association agreement with the PLO; the first of its kind with an organisation that does not represent a full-fledged state. Yasser Arafat and other senior PLO figures have been frequent visitors to the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg for many years, often provoking Israeli government protests.6

Furthermore, between April 1997 and October 1998 the EU enhanced its relations and assistance to the PA, especially in security related areas. Cooperation between the EU and representatives of Palestinian security forces was agreed, and the EU has financed the education and training of police forces and administrative units as well as providing some equipment. In order to improve relations between Israel and the EU and to eliminate some of the barriers to Palestinian development, the EU established an EU-Israeli Joint Dialogue, which has established working groups on export level that meet regularly. Also, it was the EU, under the UK presidency and with special envoy to the region, Mr. Moratinos, who eventually managed to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations over a second redeployment from the West Bank. The EU was not alone, however, as the negotiations in London on May 1998 took place in the presence of US Secretary of State Albright. It had also not been invited to join the 'Wye negotiations' that followed, although special envoy Moratinos was in the USA and was being constantly updated.7 Finally, regarding the following breakdown of 'Camp David II' and the new intifada of 2000, the EU has so far failed to make a significant difference when several attempts to bring the two parties closer and broker ceasefire agreements have led to naught. Thus, it is possible to establish that from 1993 the EU remained financially committed to the Palestinians, but politically it has still been operating within the frameworks designed by the USA and Israel.8

The EU 's Roles in the Middle East Peace Process

K. Smith argues that the Union's economic strength can generate expectations for its exercising of political influence. Indeed, the PA has persistently called on the EU to play a political role in the peace process that would be commensurate with the EU's status as the largest donor of aid to the Palestinians.910 Also, as Hutchence asserts, if the EU was acting as a civilian power then it would be using its economic influence to pressurise both actors to find a resolution to their conflict and introduce democratic and human rights reforms. Throughout the 1980s it was unclear what role the EC could play in the Middle East peace process and negotiations between Israel and the Arab world were conducted entirely with the USA as a mediator. Israel did not have high expectations of the EC's role in the peace process as it considered it to be too pro-Arab. On the Palestinian side there was initial optimism after the Venice declaration, but when it became clear that the EC was not going to be involved in further independent action their expectation fell.10

Since the end of the Cold War the EU has developed a close relationship with the Palestinian through aid, an association agreement, and the Barcelona process (as part of an EU-Mediterranean policy). Likewise Israel has signed up to the Barcelona process and has an association agreement with the EU. However, any economic pressure to push Israel into coming to terms with the Palestinians was slight and has now been abandoned. The economic leverage of the EU was not used to encourage Israel to return to the negotiation table. Furthermore, when offering aid to the PA on policing, the EU has made it conditional on human rights training for the officers concerned. Yet, this was not very significant compared to the possibility of the EU using its considerable economic leverage to stop the human rights abuse that was already going on. Israel as well has not suffered any economic pressure from the EU to halt its abuse of Palestinian's human rights. Thus, as Sravridis and Hutchence claim, it appears that "the reality of EU policy on the ground does not match the rhetoric of its statements".11

Nevertheless, it could be argued that the EU has a normative stance in its role within the peace process. Soetendorp suggests that the EU is building a visible international identity in the Middle East,12 and Stavridis and Hutchence propose that the EU has a higher profile than before in the peace process and that the forum of the Barcelona process, which both Israel and the PA are members of, has kept meetings even when the peace process has broken down. The fact that the economic leverage that the EU has developed in the region has not been used to stop human rights abuse and support the fulfilment of UN resolutions may be because the main aim of the EU's policy is to secure stability in the region to allow the peace process to work, rather than cause further instability by challenging the governments on human rights abuse.13 The EU is seen as an actor in its own right by all states in the Middle East, and they all have diplomatic relations with it.14

Still, the EU differs from a superpower especially as the resources allocated to the EU's foreign policy are generally limited. This means that the EU has to prioritise between its activities, for instance, towards Eastern Enlargement, the Balkan, Africa and the Middle East. Thus, in the peace process, the EU is 'a payer' and not the broker of political agreements, but it was the 'payer' which kept the peace process afloat making sure that the PA did not go bankrupt. Hence, it is also possible to assert that the Union's financial support of the Palestinians has made it a 'player' within the Middle East peace process.15 However, although from 1993 onwards the EU's involvement has increased, the main negotiations have still been conducted with the USA and the gap between the EU's capabilities and the expectations it inspires has not yet narrowed.16


1 Soren Zibramdt, The European Union and the Middle East, London: Polity, 2002, p.118

2 Ibid. p. 156.


4 Zibramdt, The European Union and the Middle East, pp.118-119

5 Stelios Stavridis and Justin Hutchence, 'Mediterranean Challenges to the EU's foreign policy', European Foreign Affairs, 5, 1 (2000), 56.

6 Christopher Piening, Global Europe: The European Union in World Affairs, London: Lynne Rienne, 1997, p. 85

7 Zibramdt, The European Union and the Middle East, pp.137-138

8 Ibid. pp. 156-157

9 Smith, European Union Foreign Policy, p. 7.

10 Stavridis and Hutchence, 'Mediterranean Challenges', pp. 56-68

11 Ibid. pp. 57-60

12 Manners and Whitman, 'The difference engine', p. 382

13 Stavridis and Hutchence, 'Mediterranean Challenges', p. 60

14 Zibramdt, The European Union and the Middle East, p.159

15 Ibid. pp. 151-159

16 Stavridis and Hutchence, 'Mediterranean Challenges', p. 58