Opening remarks by David Hammerstein at Middle East workshop on CFSP review conference organised by SWP Foundation, Berlin 10-09-09
Ending the "blank cheque" in EU policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
Costs and incentives in EU policy to end the "occupation business", growing Palestinian dependency and the case for political efficacy in financial aide to the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Setting deadlines and phasing out EU aid as an expression of political pressure and budgetary coherence.
The European Union's top foreign policy representative Javier Solana has recently called for the United Nations Security Council to recognise a Palestinian State and the two-state solution by a certain deadline even if Israel and others do not. Many voices believe this initiative should be considered for support by the international community. Is this feasible? In any case, Solana´s proposal reflects a growing frustration over the meagre efficacy of present EU policy toward the conflict and the growing loss of hope in a viable two-state solution.
New policy strategies are needed to forward a stable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Should the EU and EU member states reconsider its present form of aide to the PA if there is no signficant political progress on the ground and at the negotiating table? How can this aid create incentives and costs for moving toward a final peace agreement? Is the EU perpetuating the status quo and the dependency on the "occupation business" on both sides? Should Israel pay back for all or part of EU aide to the Palestinians? Should EU financial aide, aside from humanitarian, continue indefinitely despite the lack of political progress? In the case of no significant progress toward a final settlement should we not consider a phasing out of "state building" and structural aide to the Palestinian Authority?
The EU will provide 440 million euros to the PA in 2009. In 2008 the US gave 150 million to the PA and another 264 million in direct economic support and security) direct assistance to the PA. This does not include humanitarian aid. For example, the EU contributed 66 million euros de UNRWA in 2008 and the US over 150 million.
Obviously this aid is not very effective in the present context. A political horizon is needed. Without a credible and unlimited freeze on settlement expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank and without a stable and legally viable agreement for Palestinian Unity, among other measures on the ground, we must face the reality that the EU can not play the role of disguising an unsustainable situation.
The basic elements of a possible peace agreement are known to all. At present Israel and Hamas reject these basic elements (concerning the international security guarantees, borders, land swap, Jerusalem, refugees and water) while the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and the EU and probably President Obama accept them. At present the PA on the West Bank is fulfulling the majority of the conditions of the Road Map while Israel, especially concerning sercurity, while Israel does not comply with most of the conditions, most notoriously concerning settlements. Should there not be costs and incentives in response to these positions and realities on the ground?
1.Liability, insurance and accountability
If your house catches on fire the local or regional fire-brigade will come and put out the fire. In most European countries either the insurance company or the home owner will have to pay for the cost of extinguishing the fire. What happens if your house has another devastating fire six months later and yet two more bad fires the next year ? The consequences would be costly because the insurance company would raise its rates significantly and maybe even refuse to continue the coverage. Second of all, there would probably be an investigation on the part of the police and the fire department concerning the causes of such frequent fires and the lack of effective fire prevention or reduction measures on the part of the home owners. In Europe there is no such thing as no cost, no risk and no fault insurance in cases of repetitive liability over a number of years. This only happens in the Middle East.
Israel is a fairly wealthy developed industrialised country with a strong currency and growing economy. Nevertheless, Israel´s financial accountability for the Palestinian territories it occupies is very small and despite being a wealthy country it receives massive International aid, in particular for the Palestinian territories under its control since 1967. Contrary to its international legal obligations Israel does not supply most of the basic services to the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. This is because the majority of these services and humanitarian aide are provided by the European Union and its member states. This EU aide has no strings attached, no conditions, no economic cost and no liability for Israel. There is also no end is sight for this aide due to the stalemate in the conflict. Theoretically, EU aide to Palestinians is for "economic stimulation", "institution building", "policing", "humanitarian relief" and "conflict prevention", all within the general political objective of forwarding a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Most in the EU would consider this aid a good down payment for peace if a final agreement was finally reached. But what if the present aide is only softening a bit the occupation and there is no political perspective on the horizon? In reality, there is no direct link between European aid to the PA, the EU´s economic relationship with Israel and the concrete issues on the ground that block both peace and a significant improvement in the lives of Palestinians: settlements, the siege of Gaza and lack of movement of people and goods in general.
Are we paying Israel´s "free lunch" indefinitely with no political dividend in sight. Are we even strengthenng the perpetuation of the status quo? Why should Israel risk exchanging today´s "best of all possible worlds" (a properous society on this side of the wall with the other side cared for by others) for the risky business of withdrawals, internal conflicts and volatile joint ventures with a faction of the Palestinians?
The EU greatest allotment of aide per capita in the world is for the Palestinian Authority. Teachers, nurses, civil servants, police and others all receive their monthly salaries from the EU. As well, tens of thousands of Palestinians depend on EU humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, we should evaluate if this policy is a positive one that contributes to the building of institutions for peace or if it simply is a massive subsidy of the Israeli occupation that eliminates Israel´s legal responsibility of providing services to the occupied population. In other words, are we helping to make the occupation economically bearable and not costly for Israel, basically letting the occupier off the hook.
Another question is if decades of massive "occupation business" made possible mainly by the EU is actually creating vested interests and dependency on both sides, both economical and political, for the indefinite continuation of the occupation. Where is the incentive for reaching a two-state solution? What would happen if the EU set a deadline to cut off all but humanitarian aid unless Israel took a number of measures to make life more bearable for Palestinians with regard to the siege of Gaza, movement and settlements. Israel would dread the threat of withdrawal of aid and the possible collapse of Palestinian institutions that could lead to chaotic situation. It is evident that the present status quo cannot continue. Since the EU pays it must play as well.
An option for EU countries as well would be to consider the hundreds of millions of euros spent in the territories as a debt being accumulated by Israel if no peace agreement is reached. The accumulated debt should be published periodically, possibly to be recovered through a tax levied on Israeli goods or discounted from participation in EU programmes. If we do not have accountability, at least we should have financial accounting and transparency as far as legal obligations. Until a Palestinian State is declared Israel must respond to the debt. With no economic incentive for peace, with no penalisation for obstruction, European policy is little more the that of an large NGO.
The present discussion on a false and contradictory "settlement freeze" is symptomatic of the piecemeal approach of so-called "confidence building measures" that have permeating the conflict over the last ten years.. It borders on absurdity the fact that it could be considered a concession on the part of Israel to slow down just a bit the settlement process for a few months in the West Bank excluding Jerusalem while quickly building hundreds of new homes and legalising hundreds of others, maintaining the same pace of illegal colonisation as in past years. There is a basic chasm between the International Community and Israel on the nature of the West Bank and Jerusalem . While the world considers them occupied territories, Israel acts at best as if they were "disputed" lands and in the case of "Greater Jerusalem" or the " Jerusalem envelope" as if they were just another part of the State of Israel.
If Obama excludes Jerusalem from a settlement agreement with Israel he is making a tragic mistake. It could even be considered a step away from the Clinton Parameters on Jerusalem. First of all it should be noted that when we speak of Jerusalem we are speaking of a municipal boundary that has grown four-fold under Israeli rule and that now even encompasses Palestinian towns and a number of settlements over 10 kilometers away from the Old City. No agreement to even the most moderate Arab leadership can be acceptable without Jerusalem. It makes no sense to negotiate a "settlement freeze" without Jerusalem.
Obama intends to be ambiguous on the scope of the "settlement freeze" in order to give the impression of "back to the talks", but in reality we are back to the stationary bicycle - lots of sweat but no distance covered. This present false "piece process" can only at best produce a few photo opportunities of Arab-Israeli handshakes but no real "peace process" that already has a bottom-line minimum of conditions as described in Taba or in the Geneva Initiative. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue can produce more frustration and descrediting of leaders than any concrete progress.
The time has come for setting dates, demanding liability and ending financial dependency of Palestinians.