By Ali Badwan
European complaints about their exclusion from the current Middle East peace process have come rather late. For many years the United States effectively marginalized major international organizations from the course of events in the region, in return for a minimal role as donors to provide funds for the peace process.
Recently, the US inflicted a cruel blow on the EU countries, when it refused to invite any of them or their representatives to the opening ceremony of the first round of direct negotiations in Washington in September 2010. The offence was repeated in the second round of talks, which were convened in Sharm el-Sheikh in spite of Egypt's intervention to secure a chair for the European Union, if only for a formal attendance and a photo opportunity next to those shaking hands in Sharm el-Sheikh, before their entry into the hall of direct negotiations. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak had promised the French, while passing through Paris en route to Washington on 1st September, to invite the Europeans to Sharm El-Sheikh to attend the opening ceremony of the second round of direct negotiations; but he was unable to fulfil this promise because of the US-Israeli policy to keep them out.
European grievance on the logic of exclusion reflects a new and positive spirit, even though they have come too late. They were and still remain a minor accessory to U.S. policy, not in the Middle East and Palestine conflict only, but on most global issues which have, in the last decade, become a source of concern to the international community as a whole, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the global economic crisis among others.
In this context, successive visits by Catherine Ashton, the EU's Minister of Foreign Affairs to the region, are gaining increasing importance as the Europeans search for a serious, real and active role, other than the supply of funding, which has been a hallmark of the European role over the past two decades.
What is required of the European envoy, is not to support the direct negotiations per se, as disclosed by her spokesman, but to create opportunities for a new European role, which can restore a measure of balance to the political process, in light of the setbacks it has suffered for many years as a result of the grossly imbalanced and discredited American position.
The absence of a representative of the EU in the Middle East peace process, and the Palestinian/Israeli track in particular, is a consequence of European action. They accepted this position two decades ago, when they took on a limited political role, with their mission confined to funding the ongoing process within the group of donor countries; a role which is to a large extent similar to that of Japan, China and Russia, despite the fact that Beijing and Moscow have been absent as donors.
The recent European awakening, as expressed by several European officials and most recently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when he received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas less than two weeks ago, saying without hesitation, "we do not want to be mere spectators, who have no role". This demand for a prominent role and place for Europe would remain without effect on the ground, as long as European policies continue to run in tandem with the US vision for the region.
Similarly, France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos criticized the US's lack of appreciation of the European role in the Middle East, even though the EU is an official member of the Quartet for the Middle East. They said, "the US still does not adequately recognize what Europe is".
The birth of a new European role can be qualitative, effective and even decisive in determining events in the region. This, however, requires that the Europeans abandon their position of being an auxiliary of American policies, and construct a new political vision that is consistent with international legitimacy in word and deed. They must take into account the injustice and inordinate suffering, which the Palestinian Arab people have endured since the start of their tragedy under the British Mandate in Palestine.
In this context, France's success in preparing for a summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, scheduled for late November, and its contribution to the peace process, now threatened with collapse because of Zionist Israel's continued settlement and Judaization of Palestinian land, would depend on Paris taking the initiative. They must make a courageous stand against Israel's intransigence and press the Zionist state to end its policies which undermine the chances of a settlement. They must, especially, demand an end to the unilateral Judaization of land and a complete lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. This is achievable, especially as France and the EU are capable of exerting serious pressure on Israel not only because of their supposed international weight, but also by virtue of the fact that France and the EU are the largest economic partners of Zionist Israel, importing the majority of its exports.
In this context, for the purposes of clarity, it is important to note that the EU countries are divided on the Middle East. This has weakened its ability to influence the course of events, and frustrated its efforts to formulate a common European policy towards the peace process. Britain's role, for example, as well as the Dutch, has weakened the European position. They have both blindly followed US policies during the past two decades, which became very clear during the invasion of Iraq, as an example, though not limited to it.
Accordingly, the failure of the EU countries in the Middle East, and their current state of marginalization and isolation, is due to deep divisions between the member states of the Union. They remain deeply divided and polarized when it comes to making concrete decisions on the Middle East and the world as a whole. They appear content to issue statements of good intent, all limited to the lowest common denominator, which damage the chances of having an influential role and making a significant impact on the various parties.
Finally, in order to weaken the Palestinian and the Arabs, the United States and Israel have sought to distance any partner or monitor from the peace process. Here, a balanced European role as expected by the Arabs should push the Europeans to examine their interests, which have been devoured by Washington, as it devoured the interests of other states and international political organizations. Europe and the Arabs are neighbours in the Mediterranean, bound together by ties of history, geography, and common interests. The Europeans should be aware of the facts of history and its lessons, as it was they who created Israel. They are now paying the price for old policies practiced in past decades, which led them eventually to a degraded role that neither matches Europe's strength or its cultural and economic presence on the world stage.
The author is a Palestinian writer based in Damascus. He is a member of the Arab Writers Union. This article was first published in Arabic in Al-Watan, newspaper, (Oman), 11/11/2010.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.