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Chris Patten, of EU External Affairs,
talks to the BBC's Frank Gardner
 real 28k

Friday, 23 March, 2001, 12:44 GMT
Analysis: Europe and the Middle East
Israeli soldier aims at Palestinian demonstrators, West Bank
The EU wants to deliver peace where the US has failed
By Dr Steven Everts of the Centre for European Reform

The European Union is increasingly trying to assert itself on the global stage.

The latest evidence of the EU's efforts to project its values and defend its interests came when Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for External Relations, and Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative, visited the Middle East.

Chris Patten
Patten: Tough warning to the Israelis was an unusual step
Unusually for EU foreign policy, some tough talking took place during this visit. For instance, Chris Patten told the Israeli leadership that the economic blockade of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was harmful to the peace process and could not be justified on security grounds.

Most Europeans have long believed that a greater European role could usefully complement the pro-Israeli stance of the Americans, and help to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mariam Banar with teenaged nephew Ahmed Banar, killed by Israeli troops
The EU is a traditional backer of the Palestinians, but members are divided
The EU is by far the largest international donor to the Palestinian Authority. The Arab states are good at offering verbal support to the Palestinians, but their actual levels of financial aid are markedly less impressive.

The American-led peace negotiations, meanwhile, have clearly reached an impasse.

Indeed, the new Bush administration has signalled its preference for a new, more "hands-off" approach, saying that America cannot produce a peace agreement if the parties in the region are not prepared to cut a deal. So it seems logical that the EU tries to become a real player in the Middle East.


Given the intractable nature of the region's conflicts, the chances of success are slim

But the EU may be raising expectations that it will be unable to fulfil - and it has yet to prove that the Middle East is a sensible focus for its diplomatic energies.

First, the EU is right to point out that Israeli policy on settlements, its excessive use of military force against demonstrators and its economic blockade will make it harder for any peace agreement to come about.

And equally, the EU can use its good contacts and standing with the Palestinians to try to convince them to take steps to allay Israeli security fears.

Even so, given the dire state of Middle East politics - with escalating levels of political rhetoric and violence on all sides - it is uncertain that the EU can deliver where the US has failed.

Bomb aftermath in Netanya
Mutual distrust is said to be at an all-time high as violence continues
Still, the EU can and should try to facilitate an agreement. The EU's strengths are in the field of confidence-building measures and other "soft security" instruments.

These types of foreign policy instruments can be usefully deployed to create the circumstances that might reduce levels of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis. That in turn increases the chances of concluding an overall peace accord.

More generally, the EU is about overcoming historical enmities and about subjecting inter-state relations to the rule of law. In other words, the EU's system of governance has much to offer to the region.


Because EU foreign policy is still a relatively new venture, a possible failure is not what Europe needs right now

But realistically, this sort of EU help can only come into play after a basic peace agreement has been reached.

The Middle East is perhaps not the most obvious place for the EU to try to enhance its diplomatic profile. Given the intractable nature of the region's conflicts, the chances of success are slim.

And because EU foreign policy is still a relatively new venture, a possible failure is not what Europe needs right now.

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See also:

12 Mar 01 | Middle East
Palestinian disease fears
12 Mar 01 | Middle East
Arab aid slow to reach Palestinians
13 Mar 01 | Middle East
Israel accused of polluting Gaza
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