A high-profile group of former European political leaders and diplomats has called for the urgent reassessment of EU policy on the question of a Palestinian state and has insisted Israel must be held to account for its actions in the occupied territories.
In a hard-hitting letter to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, the group – which includes former prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors also expresses serious doubts about the ability of the US to lead substantive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
It charges that EU political and financial aid has achieved nothing but the “preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza”.
The group, known as the European Eminent Persons Group, argues that the re-election of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the head of a narrow rightwing coalition has made the issue even more pressing.
The signatories include Hubert Védrine and Roland Dumas, former foreign ministers of France, Andreas van Agt, former prime minister of the Netherlands, John Bruton, a former prime minister of Ireland, Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France, Javier Solana, former Nato secretary general and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN.
The letter comes at a time of increasingly heated debate in senior European policy circles amid heightened frustration over the moribund peace process and continued illegal Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a damning assessment of EU policy, which the authors say has “hidden” behind US leadership in an “unedifying” manner, the letter says: “Europe has yet to find an effective way of holding Israel to account for the way it maintains the occupation. It is time now to demonstrate to both parties how seriously European public opinion takes contraventions of international law, the perpetration of atrocities and the denial of established rights.”
Predicting that the Palestinian issue is likely to come before the UN security council again in the coming months in the shape of a new draft resolution currently being examined by France, they say: “If this means recognition of a Palestine government-in-waiting for the territories within the pre-1967 borders, or the setting of a deadline for the negotiation of a two-state solution, the EU should be united in support.”
They also call for the EU to reassess relations with Palestinians and Israelis, making relations conditional on the “parties attitude to progress towards a two-state solution”.
The letter came as the US president, Barack Obama, told the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat he had not given up hope for a two-state solution but tensions in the region and “serious questions about overall commitment” have made progress difficult.
“It’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward,” he said in an interview. “We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate - through policies and actions - a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.”
The former leaders’ letter follows the report to Mogherini sent by 16 EU foreign ministers on 13 April 2015 that calls for the EU-wide introduction of guidelines for correct labelling of settlement products. Supporting this initiative, the authors of the letter go further, calling for “tougher measures to contain [Israeli] settlement expansion and steps to operationalise the EU’s policy of non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty beyond the 1967 borders across the full range of EU-Israeli relations”.
Linking the call explicitly to the re-election of Netanyahu, the letter reads: “The re-election of Binyamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister and the construction of a new Israeli coalition government now requires urgent action by the EU to construct a coherent and effective policy on the question of Palestine.
“Mr Netanyahu expressed various views on Palestine in and around the recent election campaign, most of them cold to the concept of an independent Palestinian state. We are convinced in our own minds that he has little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution within the term of this incoming Israeli government. We also have low confidence that the US government will be in a position to take a lead on fresh negotiations with the vigour and the impartiality that a two-state outcome demands.
“Yet the situation on the ground grows steadily more dangerous. It has received less priority attention recently than certain other parts of a very disturbed region, but conditions in the occupied territories remain high on the list of the world’s worst crises in terms not just of political flammability, but also of the denial of international justice, human rights and humanitarian standards.
“Israel’s long-term security, which we value highly, is severely compromised by the current trend of events, as its international reputation. The continued illegal expansion of settlements in area and population will only reinforce this trend.
“We maintain our view that the current financial and political assistance given by Europe and America to the Palestinian Authority achieves little more than the preservation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority’s tenuous grip on the West Bank population’s allegiance has required strong security and other dependence on Israel, funded primarily by Europe and the US. Gaza has shamefully been left to one side.
“Standards of living and human rights in both territories have sunk shockingly low. It is no longer possible for the EU to allow these conditions to continue without grave risk to its international reputation and to its long-term interest in the stability of its neighbourhood.
“Hiding behind American leadership on the politics of the dispute is unedifying and unproductive. The apparently more urgent crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are little excuse either, when the scope to stand up for principled action on Israel-Palestine, along lines long established by past UN decisions, is better defined than in those other cases. We seem to forget that the context in Palestine is one of 47 years of military occupation, characterised by grave violations of international law.”