Expectations of clarity with regard to the establishment of a purportedly “independent and viable Palestinian state” seem to have absconded permanently as the diplomatic catchphrase has become the only convenient reference to the two-state paradigm. Malath Alagha’s book, “Palestine in EU and Russian Foreign Policy,” rests on the opposite end of the spectrum, with its clear insistence that Palestinian statehood has been elusive since 1917.
Within the context of Russia and the European Union (EU) – two key players in the Middle East peace process – Palestine became imbued with external impositions and divergences which continued to shape its fragmentation. Meanwhile, the colonised land served as a playground for the EU and Russia with regard to power and identity.
Within the text the history of Zionist colonisation and the partition proposal – which Alagha states “became the cornerstone of internationalising the conflict and consolidating the Zionist enterprise” – are given enough context for the reader to realise how Palestine was marginalised through language and identity.
Between 1948 and 1967 the principle of the Palestinian right of return, which is guaranteed under international law, was slowly moulded to become a vague reference to “refugees,” which allowed international institutions to frame the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians as a humanitarian phenomenon. Politically, Israel became a regional ally post in 1967, thus allowing Israeli interests to prevail over Palestinian legitimacy.
Alagha unequivocally states that global actors have failed Palestinian statehood. He identifies three main questions which shape the diplomatic process and, in turn, the erosion of Palestine: the international identities of the EU and Russia with regard to the Middle East peace process; their perceptions of the Middle East; the perception of both actors in relation to the “intractable conflict”.
Within the collapse and subsequent formation of new political identities after the cold war, the Middle East – Palestine in particular – provided an arena in which both Russia and the EU attempted to exert their influence, while mindful of the impact which their involvement would have within their respective territories. Alagha identifies historical memory as an influence on “the self-perception of Russia’s standing on the world state in the present”.
European Union identity, on the other hand, is fuelled by “an expanding economic union”. While both Russia and the EU are following different trajectories in terms of international influence, both seek influence and power on the global stage.
Alagha explains the dynamics of capability and power, both of which have determined the nature and level of influence exerted in the Middle East and Palestine. Awareness of strengths and weaknesses also factor into the roles adopted by the EU and Russia regarding their political involvement in the region.
Under President Vladimir Putin Russia has prioritised protection of its sovereignty as the first step to strengthening the country’s international standing. The EU has focused on soft power and development, the former providing a veneer for humanitarian intervention as an acceptable form of deployment in the region.
These self-perceptions outlined by Alagha indicate awareness of opportunity for diplomacy where gain and international standing precede the political will to establish a Palestinian state. On a regional level the author states: “the choice is not whether to have strategic relations with the Middle East but simply what form these relations might take.”
The EU is aware of a deficiency when it comes to energy, which makes it dependent upon Russia and the Middle East. For its part Russia has increased arms exports to the region which enables it to bolster its economic, technological and military ties with the Middle East.
The EU and Russia’s strategic concerns also show how dependency, economic gain and prominence play a major part in how these powers prefer to maintain the conflict rather than attempt to bring about a solution. Palestine, although considered a priority in rhetoric, is merely a pawn through which political visibility can flourish. Alagha insists that: “involvement in the initiatives to find a solution to the Middle East conflict has evolved in line with their internal developments and the desire to assert regional influence.”
Israel, on the other hand, is a priority for Russia and the EU to the point that Israeli demands take precedence and dictate the prevailing notions of an “intractable conflict”. Russia has attempted to project a neutral stance by maintaining relations with Israel while also opening avenues with Hamas in Moscow. In 1997 it dissuaded the late Yasser Arafat from proclaiming an independent Palestinian state despite assertions of support for such a move.
The EU, with its identity as a peacemaker, has designated that a solution is a strategic priority for Europe. Yet as the book states: “preservation of this mechanism proceeds without reaching a peace settlement.”
The two-state policy, agreed upon by the EU and Russia, has not dissuaded both entities from exhibiting a preference for Israel. “Elevation of EU and Russian relations with Israel over those with the PA [Palestinian Authority] is in a context of institutional recognition of the Holocaust and greater cooperation in scientific and technological areas.”
The portrayal and dissemination of historical memory can sway influence. With that in mind it is also important to note that any alleged sympathy for Palestine, exhibited particularly by the EU, is only contentious for Israel. Policies clearly indicate a preference for Israel which is also reflected in the EU and Russian roles within the Quartet, where the marginalisation of Hamas, for example, is still considered a priority.
If facts are considered, particularly from the EU’s role, one sees the perpetual postponement of Palestinian independence achieved by promises of financial aid to the PA. The EU has also restricted Palestinian avenues for recognition by forcing the leadership to acquiesce to negotiations as the only option. The author succinctly describes the process thus: “The EU follows the game of constructive ambiguity in dealing with the matter of establishing a Palestinian state.”
In conclusion Alagha insists that Russia and the EU are partial to the obstacles in establishing a Palestinian state, which shows that both actors “prefer the process of peace rather than the arrival at peace”. The author competently untangles the various facets of diplomacy, exposing key actors and their intentions while showing what is routinely unacknowledged in favour of pretence and false hopes. Palestine does not have an ally in either entity – it is being exploited for influence in the region, which is where EU and Russian interests lie.