EU statement shows split among diplomatic middlemen

Analysis: Unlike Quartet, EU ministers emerged with a statement on the Middle East “peace process,” but it was brief and rather anemic.

quartet dinner washington (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
quartet dinner washington
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
Last Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a Washington dinner for Quartet representatives which, after some two and a half hours, ended without the participants issuing any statement on how to move the diplomatic process forward.
But all was not lost, quipped Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov, who attended along with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and Quartet envoy Tony Blair: “The wine was good.”
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One of the reasons the Quartet was unable to issue a statement was because Lavrov reportedly objected to a formula whereby the Quartet would have endorsed renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on a return to the 1967 lines, with agreed upon swaps, and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Lavrov – reflecting Russia’s desire to play to the Arab League – wasn’t enamored of the Jewish state part of the equation.
And it wasn’t only Lavrov.
According to Israeli officials, the EU’s Ashton came to the meeting hoping to get the Quartet to call for a renewal of talks based on US President Barack Obama’s parameters of the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, but without other language Obama used during his two Middle East speeches in May: language much more amenable to Israel that affirmed the country as a Jewish state and called for ironclad security arrangements before any future Israeli withdrawal.
What that Quartet dinner, and the lack of a statement following desert, showed was that there were considerable gaps not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between the Quartet members themselves regarding how to jumpstart the diplomatic process.
Fast-forward a week to Brussels, and the 27 EU foreign ministers meeting Monday for their monthly pow-wow.
Unlike the Quartet, they emerged with a statement on the Middle East “peace process,” but it was brief and rather anemic.
In their conclusions on the Middle East peace process issued after the 3,106th Foreign Affairs Council meeting, the ministers stated that “The EU continues to believe that urgent progress is needed toward a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The EU reiterates its concern at the continuing stalemate in the Peace Process and calls on the parties to show the highest sense of responsibility and to resume direct and substantive talks.
“The EU stresses the central role of the Quartet and fully supports the High Representative [Ashton] in her continued efforts for the Quartet to create a credible perspective for the relaunching of the peace process.
“The EU has set out and will continue to promote actively its position with regard to parameters as contained in Council Conclusions of December 2009, December 2010 and May 2011.”
And that’s it.
One would have thought that with September and the PA bid at the UN fast approaching, the EU would have clearly stated the parameters it thought necessary for going back to talks; or make some kind of clear comment on the Palestinian gambit; or issue a statement a bit more dramatic than what was contained in these three mild paragraphs.
But just as the failure of the Quartet to issue a statement testified to its internal divisions, so too the rather pallid EU statement bore witness to divisions inside Europe regarding the process.
When 27 European foreign ministers sit together and pound out resolutions, resolutions that are to be reached by consensus, what emerges is generally the lowest common denominator, because only that is what they can all rally around. And the lowest common denominator the Europeans can agree upon right now regarding the diplomatic process is a resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.
Everyone – from Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, Israel’s strongest supporters in the body; to Ireland, Sweden and Portugal, the country’s biggest detractors – can agree to that. But beyond that distinctly mom-and-apple-pie formulation, there is little else to which they can affix their stamp of approval.
There is no consensus on whether the parameters for the talks should be Obama’s call for the 1967 lines and mutually agreed swaps, or whether that formula would also include Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, and security issues.
While Ashton, according to Israeli sources, would be happy just with the Obama 1967 lines comments, others – the Germans, Czechs, Danes, Dutch, Italians, Romanians and Poles – want to see language that is also amenable to Israel, language addressing the Jewish state and security issues.
Ashton’s position is, according to Israeli sources, supported by Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg, with France – according to Israeli officials – leaning in that direction, but not completely there yet.
Similar divisions exist on the Palestinian state issue at the UN, with a vote in the General Assembly on the matter likely to result in some EU countries voting for Israel, more voting for the Palestinians, and the majority abstaining.
That these divisions exist and are growing explains why Brussels issued a statement Monday that was – well – not exactly a definitive policy statement on the “Middle East peace process.”