Who would have believed only 65 years ago that the main international support in
last week’s French presidential election President Nicolas Sarkozy – Charles de
Gaulle’s successor – would be the chancellor of Germany?
For centuries war and
antagonism characterized Franco-German relationships, coming to a climax with
the Nazi occupation of Paris. And yet there is probably not a single Frenchman
or German who believes that war between these former foes is realistic in the
foreseeable or distant future.
The countries have not changed; what was
transformed was the socioeconomic and political framework in which they act –
known as the European Union, whose founding fathers were indeed mostly French
and Germans. They drew the right conclusions from the outcome of World War I,
the Treaty of Versailles, and decided that post-World War II Germany, despite
the crimes and atrocities of the Nazi regime, would not be punished and
humiliated. A new peaceful Europe, west of the Soviet Union, should be inclusive
and interdependent. This was the beginning of what can be defined as the
most stable and constructive regional peace arrangement.
It began with
the steel and coal pact in 1956 that integrated these important industries among
Western European countries in accordance with the visions of Jean Monnet, Robert
Schuman, Walter Hallstein, etc.
This turned in 1960 into the European
Economic Council with six members – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the
Netherlands and Luxembourg – in a free trade zone, with a free movement of
people, as well as good economic cooperation in a multitude of areas.
Then with the end of the
Cold War, the demise of the Soviet bloc and the reunification of Germany, with
the Maastricht treaty in 1993 the European Union was born, which today includes
27 member states, leading to a joint economic zone, a joint currency, and in
Brussels a joint executive and legislative that has a major bearing on economic
policies, cooperation and foreign policy of a new Europe.
despite deep economic crises, and despite anti-Europe voices in some of the
countries (primarily in the United Kingdom) Europe is an entity still to be
admired. It has a sense and practice of common responsibilities, and comes to
the rescue of its weaker members, such as Greece and Portugal, defines joint
foreign policies, is a leading world power with 500 million inhabitants and 20
percent of the world’s GDP, and most importantly it is for the younger
generation a shared land of cooperation and exchange, including among its
educational institutions. A young German may start his/her studies in
Berlin, continue in London in English and conclude in Paris in
War in Europe for this youngster, as for the others, is out of
the question, maybe for the first time in European history.
Much can be
learned from European regionalism, in terms of regional peace-making, in the
Europe is aware that strategically its stability and
well-being are and will be very much influenced by the war-and-peace issues in
the Middle East. The conflict in our region is perceived as a great potential
danger to Europe, due to its proximity on one side and vast Muslim population in
most European countries on the other.
The European Union, through its
tireless committed leaders of its diplomacy, the EU high representative
Catherine Ashton, is active in talking to the parties with the view to encourage
them to start direct negotiations (as reflected in the Quartet initiative last
October). On the basis of the EU principles for a settlement, that are expressed
in a multitude of EU council resolutions: “Our goal remains a just and lasting
resolution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, with the State of Israel and an
independent democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable state of Palestine,
living side by side in peace and security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem
as the future capital of the two states.” The EU also endorsed the Obama Middle
East vision and the American position opposing settlement expansion in the West
Bank and east Jerusalem.
Since 1993 the EU has been economically very
supportive of the Palestinian Authority and has in the last year earmarked 300
million euros for the Palestinians.
The EU also is backing
democratization and economic development in the Arab Spring countries, through
its “Spring Program” providing support for “democratic transformation,
institution building and economic growth in the wake of the Arab Spring.” In
2011 the EU allocated 350 million euros for this purpose.
The EU Middle
East policy is a balancing act between the views of its members and between us
and the Arabs, and is manifested in important economic help and diplomatic
initiatives headed by Ashton.
Yet in my view, especially given the great
importance of Europe to the region and Israel, the EU is not engaged in what
would be its most important contribution to the region, and that is simply to
adapt gradually the EU’s own model of peaceful coexistence and development and
regional institution building to the Middle East, aiming, in parallel with the
political process, at a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean regional
Why not develop with time a pact for tourism and water (not
for steel and coal), why not attempt to establish a Middle East financial
mechanism (as in Europe) or a council of ministers or a Middle Eastern
parliament, municipal cooperation, youth exchange, etc.?
Some of it is attempted
by the Euro-Med framework, by which Europe initiated a regional process in the
Mediterranean area, but with limited success and not as a central tenet of its
policy. Most senior European interlocutors with whom I have raised these
concepts have brushed me off with “You in the Middle East are not mature
enough.” But neither was Europe when it began its regional journey in the
Fifties. I am afraid that Europeans deep down believe that their “Europe” is too
good for the rest of the world, definitely for the Middle East, and therefore
don’t play their strongest card when it comes to our region. There is a need for
a transformation in the role the EU plays in our region.
A policy change
is desired on all sides – for Europe to export its model, for the Arabs not to
be overimpressed with rhetorical pro- Palestinian positions, and for us to
understand that, after the US, Europe is our most important partner, and
together with it, and our Arab neighbors, we can start building, in parallel to
the bilateral peace process, a regional institutional development
When we say that we need to become “European,” we often mean it
from a cultural and economic perspective. The real aspiration to become
“European” has to be in the development of a regional approach for the Middle
East.The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.