In the absence of a credible US leadership in the Middle East, the European Union States needs to step in to save the only hope for peace in the region: the two-state solution. US President Donald Trump’s shocking and unilateral recognition of the Holy City of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, has practically ejected Washington from its long-held position as a peace maker in the Middle East. By his action, president Trump has simply compromised his country’s role as a mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis. In the process he has also damaged his country’s standing in the entire Arab and Muslim world.
Now is the right time for Europe to act and seize the moment created by the US absence from the Middle East peace process (as we knew it) since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 in Washington between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the government of Israel. These accords have intentionally left the issue of Jerusalem status to be agreed upon only in a final deal between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump’s sudden and dangerous declaration on Jerusalem carries serious and unprecedented challenges to the stakeholders — and also to the EU.
However the EU can play, with determination, the most needed role under the present circumstances in saving the two-state solution, that is supported by the international community. Its leading countries, including France, Germany, Britain and Italy have a lot at stake. If Europe decides not to intervene at this historically critical stage, they will be at a loss — as the region’s destabilisation shall continue.
Recently Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was strongly rebuffed at a meeting with the EU foreign ministers in Brussels (when he called on them to follow Donald Trump’s example on Jerusalem). Opposition came from the entire European spectrum, including, surprisingly, the Czech Republic, one of Israel’s closest allies. Netanyahu made the first official trip to the EU by a sitting Israeli premier in 22 years. The EU foreign ministers were unanimous in their agreement, criticising the US president’s move as “bad for peace efforts”.
The entire international community, apart from the US, has been clearly united in one voice, saying that the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is like death knell for hopes to revive any meaningful talks between the Palestinians and Israel. Trump’s announcement aims at not only ending Palestinian hopes and demands for East Jerusalem as a capital of their future independent state, but opening doors to increased acts of violence.
Of course, the ruling coalition of the most right-wing government in the history of Israel is overwhelmingly thrilled by Trump’s declaration. In fact, successive Israeli governments since the occupation of East Jerusalem (in 1967) six-day war, have illegally claimed the entire city of Jerusalem as their “eternal and undivided” capital. Therefore, the US Presiden’ts announcement has come as a reward to the most vicious occupation in recent history. Needless to add some 400,000 Jewish colonials have celebrated the US move as a “recognition of reality”.
However, long before Trump’s disastrous declaration, Israel expansionist policy in the occupied territories has steadily eroded, politically, economically and geographically, the basis for a two-state solution. Rapid colony building on Palestinian land has basically frustrated most European and international attempts to reach a peace agreement. Therefore, Trump’s moves seriously threaten whatever is left of the hope to move forward towards a meaningful agreement. In fact, the latest American action distances the Trump administration from the two-state option and fearfully pushes the parties to a totally new reality: one-state solution.
Going down this route, would effectively put an end to the peace process. A one-state reality would eventually mean the creation of an apartheid-style state like the old South African state of unequal rights, in which the Palestinians will remain under a never-ending occupation.
The EU is deeply concerned by Trump’s foreign policy and its serious implications on the system of values, which governed relations across the Atlantic since the end of the Second World War. Trump’s daily tweets have become alarmingly worrisome. Various media establishments, business communities, governments officials and civil societies within the EU are constantly alerted to the uninterrupted flow of tweets (sometimes reckless) coming from the White House. Europe seems genuinely bewildered and deeply worried about the latest developments in Washington. For almost seven decades EU countries have worked closely with the US, but it seems now they are finally drifting apart in almost every key area of foreign policy, including the Palestinian issue, the nuclear weapons and climate change. With Trump completely siding with Netanyahu’s policy, is Europe up to the challenge of filling the vacuum and leading the peace process in the world’s most high-profile conflict?
Mustapha Karkouti is a columnist and former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. Twitter: @mustaphatache.