On June 3, a few days before the 49th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, diplomats gathered in Paris for a conference framed as a preliminary step towards reviving official Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – though without the presence of either’s respective officials.
The gathering did not amount to much; the final statement was characterized by generalities and included phrases copied and pasted from recent statements issued by the Middle East Quartet, or the Diplomatic Quartet.
Established in Madrid in 2002 of a foursome of nations and entities (the United Nations, the U.S., the European Union and Russia), the Quartet is involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The fact that the Paris conference happened at all, however, is an indication of growing European concern that, in the words of E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini’s June 6 address to the U.N. Security Council, “the possibility” of a two-state solution “is fading away.”
The “trends,” the senior diplomat continued, “could not be more clear,” citing “violence and incitement,” Israel’s “policy of settlements,” and “the lack of unity between the Palestinian factions.” Each one of these, “alone and combined,” could make a two-state solution impossible.
Marita Ulvskog, former Swedish Minister for Home Affairs and now vice chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Palestine, shares the sense of urgency.
“In a couple of years the two-state solution could be down the drain,” she tells Newsweek Middle East.
But are Brussels’ policies matching the rhetoric? In particular, there continues to be a lack of serious consequences for Israeli human rights abuses, including settlements and the demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank—some of which are donated by the EU.
For Ulvskog, who describes Netanyahu as a “real hardliner”, Brussels “must be very clear that the demolition of EU projects in the Palestinian areas by Israeli forces must cost something for Israel, financially. Compensation should be demanded.”
The veteran Swedish politician also points to Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 research program, and “suspicions that they are using it for military development,” and if true, “it is unacceptable.”
For others, such actions do not go far enough.
For Aneta Jerska, coordinator of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), the EU “effectively colludes with and provides direct support to Israel’s violations of international law in a number of varying ways”, citing “the ongoing trade with illegal Israeli settlements, and the provision of research funding to Israeli military companies.”
Jerska, whose organization represents a network of 50 groups, NGOs and solidarity movements across the continent, believes Brussels “should apply restrictive measures on Israel, including by suspending the Association Agreement, as a way to pressure Israel to comply with international law.”
Failing that, “at the very least, the EU should not to provide support to Israel’s illegal Israeli settlements by banning trade and economic relations with them,” she adds.
Yet while there are calls for a firmer approach to Israel from both inside the European Parliament and from campaigners, policy makers are unwilling, for the time being, to take such steps.
A senior EU official familiar with the peace process, speaking to Newsweek Middle East on condition of anonymity, stresses that the priority was to “re-establish some trust and confidence in the parties.”
The official adds: “We need to use all the tools and initiatives available to move towards the same goal: improving the situation on the ground, recreating a better environment for talks, and then moving to meaningful talks on the final status issues.”
Thus talks of ‘carrots and sticks’ is not the right debate; instead, the question is: “How do we convince both sides that they need to solve this?”
Both Mogherini, in her statement to the United Nations Security Council, and the senior EU official, stressed the significance of the upcoming report by the Quartet, the first time the body has issued one.
The official describes the report as the “most important thing we are working on with regards to the peace process, together with international partners.”
Yet regardless of what conclusions the Quartet draws about the obstacles to reviving negotiations, it is unclear what tools or mechanisms it, or the EU, will choose to apply in order to overcome those obstacles.
In January 2014, the EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said that there “will be a price to pay” if negotiations “falter.”
He added: “If Israel were to go down the road of continued settlement expansion and were there not to be any result in the current talks, I am afraid that what will transpire is a situation where Israel finds itself increasingly isolated.”
Talks did indeed break down, and Israeli land expropriations and settlement growth have continued.
EU-Israel relations may not have been straightforward over the past two years, but nor have they seriously deteriorated in material terms; the furore over the EU’s guidance on labelling settlement produce has died down, and no further such measures—let alone more serious ones—seem imminent.
Instead, Brussels seems trapped within the same paradigm that has doomed previous efforts at peace-making, one that does not adequately take into account the asymmetry of occupier and occupied, and which avoids holding Israel to account for systematic international law violations so as not to ‘lose influence,’ or upset negotiations.
In other words, a ‘peace process’ for its own sake.