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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 29 November, 2014

Column: The EU must do more to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict

The EU has considerable leverage in the region, yet is taking a back-seat to the US – which dithers as relations in the region break-down. It’s time for a change, writes Emer Costello MEP.

Emer Costello MEP

Emer Costello, MEP for Dublin and Chairperson of the European Parliament’s Delegation to Palestine, will lead a five-member cross-party delegation of the EP, to the occupied Palestinian territories (oPT: West Bank and East Jerusalem) from 26 April to 2 May 2013. Ahead of this trip, she reflects on the recent visit of Barack Obama to Israel…

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama’s recent three-day visit to Israel and Palestine gave little hope that the United States will succeed in bringing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table any time soon.

Meanwhile, expansion threatens to slice the West Bank in two, further splintering Palestinian communities and undermining the future of an independent state of Palestine. Obama said he did not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive to “the cause of peace”, but failed to offer a way forward to halt its expansion.

Israeli bulldozers continue to demolish Palestinian homes, displacing families and forcing them to seek shelter; illegal settlements continue to mushroom, swallowing up hopes for a viable two-state solution. In November, Israel authorised the construction of 3,000 more housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In an area known as East 1, settlement expansion threatens to slice the West Bank in two.

Europe has considerable leverage

As the United States has again showed that it lacks the leadership necessary to resuscitate the Middle East peace process, Europe has no choice but to help salvage what is the only solution for peace: an independent state of Palestine co-existing peacefully alongside a secure Israel.

The EU has considerable leverage: it is Israel’s biggest trading partner, and it is the Palestinian Authority’s largest funder. It should use this leverage to press Israel to reverse its harmful settlement policies, to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, schools and clinics and to allow Palestinians greater access to natural resources and markets, including in the EU, so that the Palestinian economy, and hope, can grow.

If Israeli restrictions eased to allow Palestinians to develop just 3.5 per cent more of the Jordan Valley, one estimate indicates that the Palestinian economy could gain $1 billion (€780 million) a year, well above the entire EU aid budget for the Palestinian Authority and enough to reduce significantly its current fiscal crisis.

Failed American-led negotiations

Europe has in the past stepped into the breach in the face of US dithering. The Venice Declaration, agreed in 1980, was a response by the nine members of the then European Economic Community to what they saw as failed American-led negotiations in the context of an increasingly tense atmosphere in the region. With its revolutionary call that Palestinians have the right to self-determination and for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to be included in negotiations, the EU showed it was able to change the agenda.

It is time to do so again.

Almost one year ago, EU foreign ministers sent out a strong political message that the EU was prepared to act in order to ensure that the two-state solution could become a reality. Settlement construction in the West Bank, demolitions and displacements in Area C and East Jerusalem, and inflammatory statements by Hamas leaders that deny Israel’s right to exist – these were just a few of the things that the ministers said threatened the future of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Peaceful co-existence is essential

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, last month followed up those conclusions by writing to EU foreign ministers asking them to ensure that produce from settlements on occupied territory is labelled as such. The Netherlands and Belgium have heeded her call, joining the UK and Denmark in giving consumers the opportunity to choose not to purchase products from illegal settlements.

The situation on the ground continues to become increasingly unfavourable to the peaceful co-existence of an Israeli and Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders. Those who are interested in seeing an end to this conflict can no longer afford to wait for the US to act. It is time for Europe to act.

Emer Costello is a centre-left Irish member of the European Parliament and the chairman of the Parliament’s delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

This article was originally posted on EuropeanVoice.com

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