Europe moves to salvage two-state solution
Paris - Emboldened by its success on the Iran nuclear deal, the Europe Union wants to revive peace talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but its initiative might lack teeth and the time frame is narrow with US presidential elections due next year.
The EU foreign ministers announced in July that they were considering setting up an international support group to assist peace talks, which are currently non-existent. This support group would include — aside from the Middle East Quartet – the United Nations, Russia, the EU and the United States — regional partners such as the Arab League and the Gulf countries.
The task of the support group would be to provide an international framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on a two-state solution .
Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign affairs chief, is working out how to implement the new initiative and to report the options to the 28-country European bloc by September.
The Palestinians were quick to react and made quite clear what they expected.
“We are not looking for an improved Middle East Quartet with the addition of a few members here and there,” said Mohammad Shtayyeh, a leading member of the central committee of Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority. Shtayyeh, who is close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians wanted “an international peace conference based on international legitimacy. We are looking for something with substance, not something cosmetic.”
The Palestinians are still pinning their hopes on a French proposal to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council setting a time frame — eighteen months to a couple of years — for the end of the Israeli 48-year occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip . The French proposal is also to call for the establishment, alongside the state of Israel, of an independent Palestinian state on lands that represent about 22% of British Mandate for Palestine.
Shtayyeh said that “to the Palestinians, the European move should be part of the French initiative”. He added that “the sequence of events should be as follows: the French go to the UN Security Council with their draft resolution and following that, on the basis of this new UN resolution, an international peace conference is convened”.
Two decades of fruitless bilateral peace talks and the relentless Israeli policy of building Jewish settlements on the land where Palestinians want to establish a state are behind Palestinians’ insistence on having the international community set a time frame for the end of Israeli occupation .
“We want to break the Israeli policy of imposing … facts on the ground,” said Shtayyeh, adding that the French proposal of a UN draft resolution was still alive despite a recent failed attempt in the region by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to get the approval of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The picture should be clearer by September when the UN General Assembly meets. Abbas will address the UN body in New York as will other world leaders, including US President Barack Obama. “We know that the time frame to make things move is narrow,” said Shtayyeh . “We hardly have five months left before the United States gets busy with its presidential campaign.”
Both Israelis and Palestinians say they are in the dark as to what will be the US position regarding efforts to revive peace talks. “We still don’t know whether the US will use their veto power against a French draft resolution setting a time frame for the end of Israeli occupation,” said Shtayyeh.
Israeli political commentators for their part do not rule out that the Obama administration might look in the coming few months for a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, once the deal with Iran gets congressional approval.
The peace process is on its death bed, Fabius warned recently when addressing his European counterparts.
For his part Nickolay Mladenov, the UN peace process coordinator for the Middle East, told the UN Security Council last week that support for the two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis was “fading away”. The two-state solution, he said, was threatened by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and settlement construction there, along with occupation-related violence and lack of Palestinian unity; a reference to the rift between Hamas. which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank.
In an attempt to instil a sense of urgency, the UN Middle East envoy told the Security Council that “now (was) the time to act decisively to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life support, slowly dying a death by a thousand cuts”.
In a Middle East currently torn apart by multiple wars and conflicts, the Palestinians do worry about their issue being swept away under the table .
“We want to keep our cause on the international agenda,” said Shtayyeh.