The conflict between Israel and Palestine, both for its dimensions and its relevance in the Middle East, has involved the International Community and the EU for trying to find a durable solution. In order to understand the reasons behind the years-long “standoff” between the two countries, we need to look at the history they share.
Back in the 20th century Jewish people were fleeing mass persecutions in Europe and were trying to build their own state in the territories corresponding nowadays to the State of Israel and Israeli-occupied areas. As a reaction to this movement, perceived as an invasion, the Arabs living in the Palestinian territories started fighting the newcomers.[i]
Following negotiations failure, a first war broke out in 1948. It resulted in Gaza, a thin stretch of land located on the western side of current Israel, being controlled by Egypt, whilst the West Bank, East of Israel, fell in the hands of Jordan.[ii]
After the armistice in 1949, a new war was waged in 1967. In this occasion the mighty Israeli military reconquered the previously-lost territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli authorities insidiated its population through settlements and outposts in the occupied territories.
The occupation of Gaza lasted until 2005. Once the Israelis left, the Islamist group Hamas won the local elections in 2006. Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, was founded in 1987 during the military occupation of Gaza. It carried out multiple attacks against the Israelis through suicide bombs and, more recently, mortars attacks and rockets. Hamas does not accept the existence of the state of Israel, however, its territorial claims for a future Palestinian state are limited to the areas of theWest Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The peace process was brought to the attention of the International Community’s negotiating table that first established a peaceful solution in 1993 through the Oslo agreements. A relative peace lasted until 2001 when a new escalation of violence started. The formula included in the Oslo Accords is probably the most feasible at this stage of the peace process. It is based on the exchange of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel to Palestine for a definitive stop of the attacks from Hamas to Israel.
In particular, the EU is in favour of a two-state solution that will end the occupation started in 1967 and will restore the original borders based on that year. The EU strongly supports the sovereignty (see image above) of Palestine within its legitimate borders and calls for an ending to the Israeli occupation in order to reduce or even end the attacks towards Israel and to prevent the resurgence of terrorism[iii].
The EU over the years has used its normative power to approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, in 2011 the EU countries were hesitant in recognizing Palestine in the UN context. Later, in 2012-13 the EU condemned occupation and settlements policies implemented by Israel. Therefore, the settlement areas are excluded from any agreement or bilateral relation of the EU with Israel.[iv] However, in the meantime, settlements in the West Bank are increasing despite the disapproval of the EU. In 2013 and 2014, there was a huge expansion of settlements even in East Jerusalem. Currently, the settlers amount to at least 555,000.
The EU’s position has recently been defied as the new President Donald Trump rolled back on years-long diplomatic efforts to push for a two-state solution and recognized in a speech at the White House the 6th December 2017, Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel. He also announced the movement of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that will take at least three years[v]. Trump’s decision was rejected by a UN General Assembly vote declaring it “null and void”[vi]. The position of Donald Trump is in support of the right-wing Zionist Likud party in Israel and reflects the view of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. From its side, the EU through its President Donald Tusk reiterated the historical position of the EU, the solution should involve two states whose borders should be the same as they were before the six-day war in 1967[vii].
Clearly a unilateral decision cannot be the solution to the current situation. This was also stated by the Czech foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek that argued that “we are talking about a Israeli state, but at the same time a Palestinian state” although the country, together with Hungary, was in favour of a closer link with Israel[viii]. Evidently, following what was stated in the Oslo Agreements in 1993, Jerusalem should have a special status and be the capital for both the states. So far, the position of the EU varied a lot among member countries, with Sweden recognizing the Palestinian state in 2014 and Germany strongly supporting Israel[ix].
The EU approach was strongly criticized, in particular, by University of Birmingham engineering Professor Kamel Hawwash on the last 6th February 2018.[x] He sustained that, although the EU supported the creation and universal recognition of the state of Palestine for the territories of West Bank and Gaza, it did not take much action. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, declared that a solution had to be found “together with the US, but not by the US alone”, but the talk was not followed by concrete “actions”, such as a total ban of weapons sales to Israel from the European countries, as stated by Prof Hawwash.
Despite the failures and the merits of the EU actions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the path for a peace process should be now clearly defined at the international level in order to put an end to hostilities and civilians’ death. The most acceptable solution is the same solution that has been proposed for years: two states following the borders’ definition in 1967, reflecting the crucial Oslo Agreements in 1993.
Gianluca Bortoletto is a second year PhD student at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the economic effects of immigration for the destination countries and his interests cover a broad range of topics including trade, taxation and international politics.
[i] For a wider explanation refer to the online newspaper vox.com, available at the URL: https://www.vox.com/cards/israel-palestine/intro.
[iii] European External Action Service (EEAS), information available at: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/337/middle-east-peace-process_en
[iv] Article from the LSE blog http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/09/12/eu-normative-power-israel-palestine-conflict/.
[v] Video of the speech and dedicated article available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/06/donald-trump-us-jerusalem-israel-capital.
[vi] Article from The Independent website at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/un-jerusalem-trump-vote-result-decision-general-assembly-null-void-a8123106.html.
[vii] Information from: https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/239353.
[viii] Article from the New York Times, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/middleeast/eu-netanyahu-israel-jerusalem.html.
[ix] Article from Reuters, available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-israel-eu/eu-vows-push-to-make-jerusalem-capital-for-palestinians-too-idUSKBN1E11GY.
[x] From the blog Middle East Eye, available at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/eu-all-talk-and-no-action-israel-palestine-conflict-389786078.