EuropeIsraelLebanon

EU must seek resolution of Arab-Israeli conflict

's massive onslaught against  reveals a monumental failure on the part of the international community to prevent an avoidable tragedy. Now it is up to the European Union to avoid a replay of 1982 and revive the idea of a comprehensive solution to the .

That Israel can conduct a massive military offensive while still embroiled in its unpopular reinvasion of , with such an apparent sense of impunity against its defenceless and vulnerable neighbour, Lebanon, reveals a monumental failure on the part of the international community. The Arabs, the Europeans, the United Nations and the United States have all failed to react effectively. But it is only the European Union which stands a realistic chance of making a favourable difference in the Middle East – but only if it gets its house in order.

There are numerous reasons for discounting the other actors. The Arabs are divided and weak. They hold very few bargaining chips to use against the Israelis: they have minimal formal and informal economic ties with the Jewish state and they do not possess a meaningful military deterrent, at least not individually. And involvement could well spark an unwanted regional conflict.

When it comes to complex conflicts, the UN has become even more of a weak and ineffective talking shop. Its presence is still important for the world, but it can do very little to take the wind out of this crisis.

The United States enjoys a great deal of economic, political and military leverage over Israel, but it is unlikely to exercise it effectively against its most loyal ally – and almost surrogate state – in the Middle East, as its vetoing of the latest UN resolution critical of Israel (something it has been doing for the last four decades) confirms. In addition, the United States would hardly appear credible if it suggested to Israel that bombing was not the answer, since America has decided that invading Afghanistan and Iraq is the best solution in its ‘war on terror'.

This leaves the European Union. It is the major trading partner of just about every country in the Middle East and both the Arabs and Israelis wish to forge ever-closer economic and political ties with Europe. In addition, the Middle East is so close to home that Europe has a powerful vested interest in helping to make it a more peaceful and stable region – a declared goal of the so-called, and now largely paralysed, Barcelona Process, which was launched in 1995 to set up a Euro-Med Free Trade Area, as well as the newer European Neighbourhood Policy.

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Yet the best EU leaders could muster was to send the Union's so-called foreign policy chief Javier Solana empty-handed to talk to the Israelis and Hizbullah. They also issued a loosely worded communiqué stating that the “EU recognises Israel's legitimate right to self defence, but it urges Israel to exercise utmost restraint and not to resort to disproportionate action.”

Despite its massive economic and political clout, the Union continues to punch below its weight, mainly due to internal divisions, a lack of political will, national selfishness and an unyielding decision-making process.

The biggest obstacles to the EU taking a more proactive and decisive stance on the Middle East are the  and Germany. Britain, with its own forces embroiled in an ugly and illegal conflict in Iraq, finds it hard to take the moral high ground against Israeli belligerence. In addition, London is Washington's greatest ally in Europe and Tony Blair is loath to upset his buddy George W Bush.

Germany is held back by its ugly legacy in World War II and the desire of its new conservative leader, Angela Merkel, to mend bridges with Washington following her predecessor Gerhard Schröder's vocal opposition to the invasion of Iraq, prompting the Bush administration to brand Germany as part of the ‘Axis of weasels'.

That said, millions of Europeans – including the British, the majority of whom were against the invasion of Iraq – and their leaders have a desire to see their continent became a political heavy hitter on the world stage as a way of building greater stability. To avoid political deadlock among its 25 member states, the Union should introduce a qualified majority system when it comes to certain crucial and common areas of foreign policy, such as conflict resolution.

Then EU leaders can sit around the table and vote on which carrots or sticks they want to bring out to put the maximum pressure on the antagonists – and no single member state would be able to derail the process on its own.

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Once the majority of member states have agreed on a course of action, they can then send out Solana with a selection of bargaining chips to persuade the parties to a crisis to stop fighting.

But since this system is not in place, Lebanon looks likely to see much of the impressive progress it has made in rebuilding itself after its civil war wiped away as Israel bombs much of its infrastructure for no apparent reason other than to punish the entire Lebanese population for Hizbullah's transgressions. This is a true tragedy given the growing sense of confidence and rediscovered swagger of a Lebanon on the road to becoming the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East' again. It had even turned the assassination of the architect of Lebanon's revival, Rafiq al-Hariri, into a ‘Ceder revolution' and was buoyed by Syrian withdrawal.

But if this crisis drags on, perhaps EU leaders will need to steel themselves and take some decisive action before Lebanon is lunged back into civil war, prompting Syria to follow Israel back into the country, perhaps triggering a totally unwanted and unnecessary broader conflict. The clock is also ticking on the humanitarian horror story unfolding in Gaza.

Although sanctions do not work and hurt the most vulnerable in a society, there are plenty of other actions the Union can take to persuade Israel to live by international norms and convince Hizbullah to stop firing its primitive rockets.

Israel has about the most privileged relationship with the Union of any non-EU member bar the United States. If the Union threatened to strip away gradually and incrementally the perks Israel enjoys in Europe, then this would certainly focus minds in Tel Aviv and , especially since many in Israel have aspirations of their country one day becoming an EU member state. It could also call on the United States to stop providing Israel with military aid – although this is bound to be rejected by Washington, it would still reflect an appropriate moral stance.

The European Union needs to realise that the Middle East with all its problems and challenges will not go away. Pragmatism should dictate that they need to take a deep, engaged and sustained involvement in its problems. Justice demands that Europe acknowledges and takes responsibility for the seeds it planted – both intentionally and accidentally – during colonial times that contributed quite significantly to the current sorry state of affairs.

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The EU should revive the idea of a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, draw up a detailed and long-term strategy of how to achieve it, and delegate Solana to negotiate robustly on its behalf. Armed with the necessary carrots and sticks, he could coax and push the various parties to the conflict, including the international community, to fulfil their commitments to making peace.

Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in and the UK, and has lived in , on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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