Middle East: Europe looks for a chance

Article published on March 30, 2002
community published
Article published on March 30, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Does an independent European Middle-East policy exist?

Nineteen months of new Palestinian intifada in contrast with American reaction on terrorist attacks of September 11 changed the political IR strategy of the European Union and the United States as well.

The diplomatic offensive of George W. Bush and Javier Solana, which has focused on wide support for American military operations, goes (at least till now) hand in hand. But the intersection of US and European foreign policy is situated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where nowadays the EU tests if its independent foreign policy could be effective enough.

The Middle-East conflict could be considered as an anomalous battle in the Cold war. Lines of tension led through the territory of the State of Israel, however the main strategic enemy was actually abroad. In territories occupied since 1967 Israel was the only political authority, however not according to international law. Not until Oslo/Washington treaties (1993) could Palestines leaders do an independent home, nor foreign policy. Representation for the people of Palestine wasn´t subject of international relations, but only an object.

At present there doesnt exist a uniform European foreign policy doctrine, and the main geopolitical authorities in the Middle East were the United States and Soviet Union according to Cold-war logic.

Owing to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its empire, US has became a hegemonic power in the Middle East. Even before the Gulf war the US won the support of Arab states for the building of a coalition against Saddam Hussain. For President Bush (senior) and mostly for his follower Bill Clinton it was the chance for using this trust as a good base for helping Israel to start a peace process not only with its neighbours (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon), but also with its inner-enemy.

Israeli-Palestinian dialog, which started at conference in Madrid (1991) created, in two years, a new subject of international politics relatively independent Palestinian Authority (PO) under the control of Yasser Arafat. A hopeful beginning of the peace process had been fully supported by both the US and EU.

It is not necessary to repeat here all that what has happened within Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the last ten years. The European Union has generously supported the PA (mainly social and infrastructure projects in territories), but political negotiations were sponsored only by the United States. Has this political-economical disproportion lasted until now?

Europe has been looking for a chance to win an independent geopolitical position and the Middle-East has been for a long time taboo to its ambitions because of colonial-era-resentments. The US´s global anti-terrorist war hasnt had unambiguous support from many high European politicians mostly from left governments. But they havent had enough strong arguments opposing the US military operation in Afghanistan, which is considered to be successful.

The peace process in Israel, which made great progress in the era of US President Clinton, hasnt been out of interest to George W. Bush. The European Union had already built its united foreign policy before September 11, however the current needs for better security standards re-opened this question. The EU has taken advantage of US lack of concern towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both the United States and the European Union have made mistakes: the US probably doesnt care enough about one of the original Muslim frustrations concerning the West that is the tragedy of Palestinian people which is misused and manipulated by fundamentalists. EU countries havent been able to hold the peace process tightly in their hands. The common Anti-Sharon policy of the EU is unlikely to be successful either.