EU unable to unblock peace process in Middle East: experts

Azerbaijan, Baku, November 14 / Trend , U.Sadikhova /

Despite that the EU and the U.S. differently view the problem of Jewish settlements, experts do not believe that Brussels will unlock the peace process and will play the role of leading mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

After a statement by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Israel less seems to be a partner in the peace process, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Nicolas Sarkozy called upon the Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table.

However, Sarkozy added that the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the termination of which is the main requirement of the League of Arab States and the Palestinian Authority to resume the peace process, should be immediately frozen in order to achieve comprehensive peace, Al Jazeera Net website reported.

Words by Sarkozy, who also strives for diplomatic mediation between Syria and Israel, differ from the position of the U.S. Administration, which believes that the issue of Jewish settlements should not be an obstacle to the resumption of the peace process, but rather must be addressed within the dialogue of the Palestinians and Israel.

Some European analysts believe that the position of the EU and the U.S. on the issue of settlements is the same - they recognize them illegal, but there is a discrepancy between them on how to solve this problem.

"The EU has often taken a stricter attitude than the US towards Israel in the past and, on that basis, Israel has rejected the EU's role as a potential mediator. However, in the post-9/11 period, there has been more convergence between the EU and the US with regards to their attitudes towards Hamas, which they both view as a terrorist group and an illegitimate partner in peace talks," Nicola Pratt, Associate Professor of the International Politics of the Middle East at the University of Warwick, said.  

"Therefore, it is not unusual for the US and EU to differ over the details of peace negotiations however, given that both support a 2-state solution and both view Hamas as a terrorist organization, I do not think that the difference between the US and EU over settlements will have an impact on the EU's approach to the peace process," Pratt wrote to Trend in an e-mail.  

Arab media reported that missing the chance to take advantage of U.S. pressure on Israel, Arab countries gained a new opportunity to achieve this with the help of EU demands to stop settlement activities.

The EU can play a significant role in the Middle East with the third players which are for example Syria or Lebanon, said Clara Marina O'Donnell, analyst at the Centre for European Reform (CER) in London.

"To have this peace process solved we need a regional solution with all the different players on board. And some member-states of the EU have historically very close relations with Lebanon and with Syria - important players that we need to be on board," O'Donnell, research fellow on EU foreign policy and defence, military capabilities & missions, European neighbourhood policy and the Middle East, told Trend in an e-mail.

Paris was the first in the EU that has established relations with Syria, and also was involved in the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates and is an ally of the Government of Saad al-Hariri in Lebanon.

Unlike the U.S. Administration, which is under the pressure of the Jewish lobby, the EU, which has historically close political ties with the Middle East, better understands the policy in the region and the views of Arab countries, and therefore, requires to stop settlement construction, said Awad Chamas, head of the European Research Center for the Mediterranean Basin.

Joint military exercises conducted between Israel and the U.S. in October indicate that Barack Obama's administration is more inclined towards Israel than the Palestinians, Awad told Trend by telephone.

But the European experts believe that the EU and the U.S. seem to converge in opinion regarding the settlements than exacerbating the differences between them in the Middle East. Therefore, despite the dissatisfaction of most Arab countries, the United States still retain mediator in the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. Experts point out different reasons.

According to Pratt, the EU's current position on settlements will not translate into any meaningful pressure on Israel unless the EU suspends its preferential trade agreement with Israel.

"The EU has always tried to support the peace process through trade (with Israel) and aid (to the Palestinian Authority)," British analyst said.

Trade turnover between the European Union and Israel over the past two years has exceeded $25 billion, while Israel is the largest trade partner of EU in the Mediterranean Sea. Within the Neighborhood Policy, in the period from 2007 to 2010, the European Union provided 14 million euros assistance to Israel.

Brussels analyst Chamas said the EU would be able to use economic pressure on Israel to soften the position on settlement activities, if it would not be under pressure of the U.S. in the Middle East reconciliation.

"In addition, Israel will agree upon mediation of only U.S., so without actions of Washington, neither the EU nor Turkey, nor the Arab countries are able to change the situation in the negotiations," said Chamas.

Chief analyst on Israeli policy at the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs Orit Gal believes that even if the U.S. would retain the role of chief mediator, in the future it is possible to see an increase in the EU's role in the peace process that will largely depend on changes in the structure of the EU.

Here the charge will be institutional and we have to see what the new EU presidency will be and what kind of structure and institutionally framework it will carry out, Gal told Trend in a telephone conversation. 

On Nov. 19, the extraordinary summit of EU member states will determine who will take the post of first president and foreign minister of the EU under the Lisbon treaty, which may come into force in December.

According to British expert O'Donnell, the EU suffers from several shortcomings which limited its ability in playing the important diplomatic role in the Middle East region

"Structural ones are the fact that 27 countries are speaking together, and it is taking a very long time to say anything, to agree a point of view. The EU is weakening its own message by saying at the same time all the different things," O'Donnell said.

Second and the main thing is the fact that the Israeli government and a lot of Israeli public opinion still believe that Europeans do not have Israeli security interest, said British analyst.

Europe well understands this, she added.

Differences between the EU and Israel in the peace process deepened after in summer the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana called to set a definite time frame for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and recognize the Palestinian Authority as a full-right member of the UN.

However, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, well-known with rigid position in the peace settlement, rejected Solana's proposal, saying dialogue should be conducted without preconditions.

E.Ostapenko contributed to the article.

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