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If Gaza Gets a Second Chance, Europe Must Act

Guardian UnlimitedAs Israel and competing factions between and within Hamas and Fatah fight it out in the streets of Gaza and the skies above there is plenty of blame to go around.

Gaza is on the precipice.  Palestinian security force officer loyal to the Fatah Movement

There are implications, not only for the security of Palestinians and Israelis, but also for further radicalizing the region beyond.  As Mogadishu enters its second decade of chaos and ungovernability there is a cautionary tale for neighbors seeking to fuel civil wars.

With Gaza collapsing, the key culprits are considered to be the Palestinians, Israel, the US, and even the Arab states.  The Palestinians have been unable to hold together a functioning unity government and have too easily resorted to violence in addressing their internal and external problems.

The gun battles are now often between factions within the factions of Hamas and Fatah, overlaid by simple criminality and clan-based feuds.  The Palestinian public has understandably lost faith in the political process. 

Israel left Gaza but maintains - and even strengthens - its occupation of the West Bank, and the attempt to de-link the two is always bound to fail.  The unilateral disengagement from Gaza was described by its Israeli architect as an act of punishment, rather than peace and stability-building.  Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement continue to be the proximate cause of the dire economic situation as reported again recently in a World Bank study.  The U.S. led the drive for democratization in the region only to become prime enforcer of an international embargo against a democratically elected Palestinian government after the 2006 Parliamentary elections.

For six years, America has provided no political hope and no political horizon to resolve the conflict, with policy, instead, meandering between ineffective conflict management and irresponsible conflict promotion.  Most of the surrounding Arab states, acting in fear of their own Islamist oppositions, have unhelpfully intervened in Palestinian internal politics.  But the withering complicity of Europe in this sad state of affairs often goes unmentioned.

Gaza is on Europe’s doorstep, what goes on there has a ripple effect among Europe’s minority Muslim communities.  This is a European interest, and, most of all, Europe should know better than America’s neocon Neanderthals. 

After the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Europe timidly signed up to the preconditions for engaging the new PA government.  The EU became part of the diplomatic and financial boycott of the Palestinians’ elected leadership.

Europe seemed so thrilled to be invited to the Middle East peace process big boys’ table of the international Quartet that being there became an end in itself.

Even with all the difficulties of managing common foreign and security policy in an EU of 27, the absence of a European position is a damning indictment.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams is reported to have recently boasted to a meeting of Jewish Republicans that current American engagement on Israel-Palestine was “process for the sake of process” intended to silence nascent European and Arab criticism.

And indeed the European response has been muted.  European aid to the Palestinians has continued while its effectiveness has continued to dwindle.  To circumvent the economic embargo, Europe led in the establishment of a Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) to channel international aid.

The humanitarian imperative behind TIM is laudable, and it provided a smart technical-bureaucratic solution; but, as so much in the Middle East, the temporary has become permanent, and the abnormal and unsustainable has been prolonged.  Rather than reconfiguring its approach when a unity government was established between Fatah and Hamas, the EU simply continued with TIM.

As the World Bank has pointed out, and Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment has detailed in his study “Requiem for Palestinian Reform: Clear Lessons from a Troubled Record,” this approach is undermining over a decade of efforts at Palestinian institution-building.  In fact, the EU failed to live up to its own at least implicit commitment to the Palestinians that, were a Fatah-Hamas unity government to be agreed, the embargo would be ended and normal aid channels resumed. 

It is indeed informative and deeply distressing that the two European governments who have pursued engagement are the non-EU member states of Switzerland and Norway.  If and when the situation in Gaza pulls back from the brink, then the international community should pause to consider its failed policies, and Europe should take a lead, at least in some areas.  The Quartet should take advantage of, rather than eschew, the use of variable geometry in its engagement with the Palestinian Authority.  If it is serious and committed, then Europe can do things that the Israelis and Americans, and even some Arab states, are unwilling or unable to do.

Israel’s lack of appetite for a dialogue with Hamas at this stage may be shortsighted, but it is certainly understandable, and anyway the feeling is probably mutual.  At the last meeting of European Foreign Ministers, there was an apparent willingness to consider resumption of direct assistance to the PA.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner is apparently eager to push in this direction, but the reorientation should not stop there.  Ideally the new leaderships in France and Britain will be open to new thinking.

Reaching an accommodation with reformist political Islamists is a crucial part of any realistic pushback strategy against al-Qaeda.  The Palestinian Hamas reality may not be the ideal laboratory conditions for initiating such an approach, but it is the one we have.  Making a Palestinian unity government work is the best option for Palestinians, but also for Israel and an international community interested in stabilizing security and creating the building blocks for a renewed peace process.  It is also the choice of President Abbas and the Marwan Barghouti-affiliated Young Leadership faction of Fatah.

Europe should be pushing a three-point agenda – part it can do alone, and part requires convincing others.  First, EU diplomatic engagement with all parties, including Hamas, to promote a stable PA unity government.  Second, resume direct financial assistance to the PA and encourage Israel to release Palestinian tax money it is holding.  And finally, work with the Quartet and the parties to extend any future Gaza ceasefire to the West Bank.

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Comments (7)

JellyfishDessert:

What I don't understand Daniel is why it always has to be the US and the EU who provide 'direct aid'. It is not as if all the muslim countries of the World are penniless. Surely the oil rich gulf nations who are building the most beautiful hotels in the world for billions of dollars for Western tourists and who are reaping huge profits with oil again reaching $70 a barrel could provide direct aid to the Palestinians and bypass the EU and US. That they choose not to speaks volumes about any true desire to help the Palestinians.

MacroCephalus:

get a life... the key to the problem is ISRAEL... which violates the territory of the Palestinians with targeted killings - assasinations as state policy? - etc., etc. ad nauseam and WILL NEVER agree to peace.

This theocracy posing as a phoney *Democracy* has done its best with its *allie*... a US blackmailed by AIPAC, The Israel Lobby & Co., to strangle the DEMOCRATICALLY elected Hamas Palestinian government.

A *state*, yeah one posing as a *democracy*, can, should and MUST, be held to a higher standard by the world than a rag-tag group of struggling freedom fighters that Israel has oppressed for now 40 years!

...now reap the results! On the backs of the poor Palestinian women and children who count as nothing human to the IDF!

QED

Fossil:

How very odd!! A lengthy piece on the recent travails of Gaza that makes no mention of Qassam missiles! Now, I know they're pretty lousy missiles and have probably killed more Palestinians than Israelis--but still! The evacuation of Gaza, down to the last hysterical settler seemed to have, as its major effect, an instantaneous escalation in Qassa attacks. Several thousand of the damn things have been launched since that evacuation, every one of them intended to kill Israelis.

Surely this is worth taking into account.

chui:

It is just not Gaza, but the whole territory of of what used to be known as Palestine, the after the British Mandate got partitioned. A century ago, there was no anamosity between the Arabs and the Jews. The West in particular the British and the US divided them into a mess that has lasted over half a century. All depends on the young Jews and Arabs to forget there difference and be decent neighbors again all continue the death and destruction cycle. The US and the British should stay the hell out and problems will resolve themselves, because they have to and the Jews and the Arabs have no choice. It is the US and UK that make the unpaltable choices for both the conflicting parties. Eventually, the choice will be not for the US or UK but for their own survial. It is that or more hell for a few more decades.

TiredOldDog:

TamD

All the problem starts because the Arabs and the Jews dont start a face to face dialogue.

As long as Israel is forced to support american policy and the Palestinians are being used by the Arabs and by Muslims and by the West for different political gaines, peace will not happe. Maybe Olmert and Haniyeh should start dating secretly.

WinstonTheChair:

TamD: "I hang my head as a European for letting this happen, but then again in last century a lot of our forefathers cheered on the disposession and murder of the Jews."

And a lot of our forefathers sacrificed and died fighting the people who did this. Until recently, Europe was not a single entity in political terms, but was rather divided. The bloodiest battles in human history were fought on European ground in the last century and we had been at war with each other for centuries (millennia?) before.

I'm not sure if it is Europe's role to sort this out. Ultimately the political will has to come from Israel and Palestine. We can't make their societies genuinely try to reach an agreement if they don't want to. The first action has to come from both of them. Until then, I fear we are helpless and I also fear that Europe will only be seen as interfering colonialists / imperialists which will inhibit any role we can play.

TamD:

Yes a good article...

But lets forget about the technical jargon. How can we ever expect peace when all we do is strangle the people for democratically electing a goverment.

Forget about collectiive responsibility here, we should have collective guilt for starving the Palastinians in general and Gaza in particular.

I hang my head as a European for letting this happen, but then again in last century a lot of our forefathers cheered on the disposession and murder of the Jews.

Time we get ourselves sorted out and put the world to right.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 18, 2007 3:05 PM.

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