This is an interesting development for obvious reasons:
The European Union is expected to appoint an Italian-born diplomat as the group’s new chief envoy to the Middle East peace process, The Times of Israel has learned.
Fernando Gentilini, who previously served as the EU’s special representative in Kosovo, has never been directly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but sources say the Europeans appointed him because he’s an expert on mediation and conflict resolution.
Gentilini’s appointment is to be announced by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.
As new EU special representative to Middle East peace process, Gentilini would succeed the German-born Andreas Reinicke, who served in that capacity between February 2012 and June 2013.
Sources in Jerusalem said Gentilini has no background in Middle East affairs and that, as of now, it is unclear what mandate he will receive. Therefore, the sources added, it is impossible to know what to expect from his appointment.
Reinicke’s mandate included contributing “to achieving the EU’s policy objectives in the region, including a comprehensive peace, a two‑state solution and a settlement of the Israeli‑Syrian and Israeli‑Lebanese conflicts.” It is unclear whether Gentilini will receive the same mandate.
The EU’s special representative to Middle East peace process will act as the EU envoy to the Middle East Quartet.
As opposed to previous diplomats who filled that role, Gentilini is not a diplomat from a member state switching to the EU but has been working within the union’s External Action Service for over a decade.
Born in Rome in 1962, Gentilini become the EU foreign policy chief’s special envoy to Kosovo in 2004. Later he served as NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. Currently, he is the director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey at the EU’s External Action Service.
Any reader of EU foreign policy statements will be familiar with four maxims: the EU doesn’t recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea; there’s no military solution to the Ukraine conflict; Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad must go; and the EU supports a two-state solution on Israel and Palestine.
All of them are false.
EU policy is equally out of date on the region’s other old conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The official EU line calls for a two-state solution, based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the future capital of both countries, barring “minor modification” - land swaps agreed by both sides.
The reality is that since 1967, 550,000 Jewish settlers have set up home over the green line. Two hundred thousand are in East Jerusalem and the rest are in the West Bank, some in small towns with their own hospitals and shopping malls, others in armed, razor-wire outposts.
They cover just 2 percent of Palestinian land. But more than 50 percent is covered in no-construction zones for Palestinians, Israeli military ranges, settler-only roads, and nature or archeological parks.
More importantly, Israel’s colonial infrastructure has divided Palestinian population centres into a mozaic of isolated squares which can’t link up.
Analysts, such as Daniel Seidemann, from the NGO Territorial Jerusalem, or Alon Ben-Meir, a scholar at New York University who advises the US and Israel in peace talks, say the two-state solution would need much more than “minor modification” to 1967 borders.
At least 185,000 of the East Jerusalem settlers and none of the 250,000 settlers who live in three major blocs along the green line will be moved.
That still leaves 115,000 settlers who would have to move, a number which is growing by 10,000 a year.
Israel says it can move them, just as it moved 6,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005. But the Gaza operation required use of force by the Israeli army. Use of force to move 115,000 could amount to civil war.
The EU idea of Jerusalem as a joint capital also rings hollow.
The threat of violence is such that few Jews go into Arab districts in East Jerusalem and vice versa. “We might have, at best, a divided capital, not a shared capital, with part of the Old City shared under international supervision”, Seidemann said.
Some EU diplomats hope that Israeli elections, on 17 March, will deliver a left-wing coalition and that Obama, before stepping down in 2016, will relaunch peace talks.
The number of settlers in the West Bank is so big that without external pressure no government will undertake the effort to dismantle colonial Israel.
Neither the EU nor the US have, in three and half decades, exerted pressure.
Last year, the EU blocked grants for settler entities. It was a first, but it quickly blew over. The EU’s next threat is … to publish a non-binding code for EU retailers on labels for settler products.
Even this, EU sources say, requires tacit approval from the US, Israel’s superpower sponsor and the dominant partner in the trans-Atlantic family.
But the US has shown no will to use its leverage. Earlier this month, amid the worst Israel-US rift in living memory, over the Iran nuclear talks, the White House still asked Congress for another $3 billion of Israeli aid.
But diplomatic recognition, as with Crimea, or the Golan Heights, doesn’t change facts on the ground. The fact is that Israel is racing toward, or has already passed, a point where permanent occupation or a one-state solution are the only options, and the EU is doing nothing to stop it.
Mogherini might, from time to time, repeat that the EU supports a two-state solution on 1967 borders. “But we don’t hear anything from Merkel, Hollande, or Cameron”, Seidemann said, referring to the German, French, and British leaders, respectively. “We should be hearing loud criticism of the occupation from friends of Israel, or we’ll be powerless to stop it from sliding into abject isolation”.
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