'EU must reassess Mideast policy, hold Israel to account for settlements'

European Eminent Persons Group, which is comprised of top-level former diplomats, send critical letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prepares to address the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva (photo credit: REUTERS)
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini prepares to address the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A prominent group of former European diplomats and heads of state say that US policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has failed and that a new EU led approach is needed.
According to a Wednesday report in the British newspaper The Guardian, the European Eminent Persons Group sent a letter to Brussels’ top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, demanding a “reassessment” that supports among other things a UN Security Council resolution that is expected to call for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2017.
The letter is also critical of current EU policy, specifically its use of financial assistance. It urges that tougher steps be taken to hold Israel accountable for West Bank settlement building, such as product labeling.
"We maintain our view that the current financial and political assistance given by Europe and America to the Palestinian Authority achieves little more than the preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza,” the letter reads.
“The Palestinian Authority's tenuous grip on the West Bank population's allegiance has required strong security and other dependence on Israel, funded primarily by Europe and the US. Gaza has shamefully been left to one side."
The letter urges the European Union to pursue a tougher line on Israel in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election and the anticipated formation of his new rightist coalition.
Among the signatories of the letter are Hubert Védrine and Roland Dumas, who served as foreign ministers of France; the former Dutch premier Andreas van Agt; John Bruton, a former prime minister of Ireland; Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France; Javier Solana, former secretary-general of NATO; and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN.
The former officials say that Europe must end its policy of yielding to American leadership on the peace process, which as produced “virtually nothing” in addressing Palestinian grievances.
“The EU and its member states have been held back from a more proactive stance on Israel- Palestine by three major considerations: their lack of consensus on the issue, their focus on newer and apparently more urgent Middle East crises, and their reluctance to get out in front of the United States in an area where Washington has always insisted on prime ownership,” the letter reads.
“These three drawbacks now need to be addressed directly. The absence of any credible negotiation process, combined with the desperate condition of the occupied territories, the eroding international legitimacy of the Israeli approach and the instability of the wider region, requires a fresh examination of EU policy.”
“The fact that American efforts over more than two decades have achieved virtually nothing by way of justice for the Palestinians or long-term security for Israel means that European interests have also suffered,” the letter reads. “This needs to be recognized in a new formulation of EU policy that puts those interests first and that reflects the expectation of European public opinion increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo. The Arab Peace Initiative, proposed in 2002 but largely ignored since then, could form one pillar of a new EU approach.”
According to The Guardian, European officials are deeply divided over what steps to take in order to coax Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, which is all the more pressing given the Israeli government’s continued policy of settlement expansion in the West Bank.
“Europe has yet to find an effective way of holding Israel to account for the way it maintains the occupation,” the letter reads. “It is time now to demonstrate to both parties how seriously European public opinion takes contraventions of international law, the perpetration of atrocities and the denial of established rights.”
Brussels is being urged to support an upcoming French draft resolution in the UN Security Council calling for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2017.
“If this means recognition of a Palestine government-in-waiting for the territories within the pre-1967 borders, or the setting of a deadline for the negotiation of a two-state solution, the EU should be united in support,” the letter reads.
The former dignitaries are also advocating for "tougher measures to contain [Israeli] settlement expansion and steps to operationalize the EU’s policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 borders across the full range of EU-Israeli relations."
The issue has taken on a greater sense of urgency, they say, due to Netanyahu’s comments during the election campaign and the expected swearing-in of a coalition whose members have in the past expressed hostility to the idea of Palestinian statehood.
“The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister and the construction of a new Israeli coalition government now requires urgent action by the EU to construct a coherent and effective policy on the question of Palestine,” the letter reads.
“Mr. Netanyahu expressed various views on Palestine in and around the recent election campaign, most of them cold to the concept of an independent Palestinian state. We are convinced in our own minds that he has little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution within the term of this incoming Israeli government. We also have low confidence that the US government will be in a position to take a lead on fresh negotiations with the vigour and the impartiality that a two-state outcome demands.”