Mark Landler of the New York Times’s Washington, D.C., bureau wrote an article (published today) titled, “As U.S. Steps Back, Europe Takes Bigger Role in Mideast Peace Push.” In it, he argues that “with talks at a standstill, the Obama administration now finds itself on the sidelines, and Europe is emerging as the key diplomatic actor.” Landler notes that neither Netanyahu nor Abbas have visited our nation’s capital since the spring, and explains that Europe’s “rising role” is the result of ” the peculiar dynamics of the Palestinian campaign at the United Nations. With more than 100 countries, most in the developing world, expected to support Palestinian recognition — and the United States almost certain to oppose it — Britain, France and Germany are viewed as influential swing votes.” The U.S., however, is “fatigued,” and as Martin Indyk is quoting as saying, “‘The action in the United Nations is a bigger problem for them than for us…It has the potential of splitting the E.U., with some siding with us and Israel and some siding with the Palestinians.’”
The problem with Landler’s analysis is that he has a few analysts saying that the E.U. matters, and that it’s this summer’s “prize,” but he presents no convincing evidence to back it up and even insists that a rift within the E.U. would be extremely problematic given its economic crisis. I understand that the E.U. has no problem splitting when it comes to political issues; take, for example, the cleavage caused by the question of whether or not to send troops to Iraq. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, there is much more at stake. When and if there is an end or a solution to the conflict, it will change the Middle East because it will end the status quo. At present, there are also other distractions: France is deeply involved in Libya, Germany is trying to save the eurozone and Britain is dealing with its worst scandal in years.
Landler says that everyone is waiting for Europe to lay its cards on the table, but this an intangible fantasy. The members of the E.U., or rather its influential players, are not going to all of a sudden reveal where they stand on the Israel-Palestine issue. Even if they do, their answers will be unsatisfying, merely a throwback to the Oslo process, which it seems no one can go beyond. Catherine Ashton, the Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, does not seem to be particularly well-versed in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The only bloc that has actually been firm about its approach to the United Nations vote on a Palestinian state in September is a group of states in South America that are vehemently pro-Palestinian.
The European Union will never be the solution to to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate unless it creates a cohesive policy that strikes the right balance, which of course in and of itself has proved elusive. It seems that Israel is perfectly happy with the status quo, but the EU will not be a catalyst. The catalyst has to be either a mutually hurting stalemate or a mutually enticing opportunity.