European Union's Policy Towards The Conflict In The Middle East
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always been of major concern to Europe because of the importance of this festering issue that has defied all attempts at a satisfactory solution for the last half-century and because of Europe's proximity of the Middle East. Prior to 1973, the EU member countries had differing policies with the Gaullist France displaying a pro-Arab bias and countries like Germany and Netherlands having very close relations with Israel. Since that time, and especially since the Oslo accord of 1993, the European Union has tried to follow a unified and consistent policy with regard to the Middle East conflict. In this paper we shall review the background and general development of the policy; the problems that the policy has faced, and the current status of the policy. The paper also includes a general assessment of the EU's Middle East policy (its achievements and failures) as well as a comparison of the policy with that of the United States' policy.
Background and Development of the Policy
Historically speaking, Europe's connection with the Middle East and the conflict in the region is deep-rooted. It was Britain (one of the leading members of the European Union now) that had promised a separate homeland to the Jews in Palestine in the 1917's Balfour declaration. The Zionist movement also originated in Europe and most Jewish settlers who immigrated to Palestine before and after the Second World War were Europeans. Following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the Arab led oil embargo, Europe faced a common economic problem. This led to the need for a common European policy on the Middle East. The Venice Declaration in 1980 was the first genuinely official European statement of a strong political position on the Middle East in which it recognized the Palestinian's right to self-determination and an end to Israeli occupation of Arab territories captured mainly during the six-day war in 1967. ("The European Union,"n.d.) Since that time the European Community, and subsequently the European Union, has tended to maintain this basic position on the Middle East conflict and until the Gulf War of 1991 followed a Middle East Policy that was independent of the U.S. policy.
The Problems that the EU Policy has Run into The EU was marginalized to an extent at the Madrid Peace conference (October, 1991) called by the U.S. And Russia at which it had only observer status. From then onwards, the political clout of Europe diminished and the EU tended to concentrate mainly on economic issues with regard to the Middle East.
It proceeded to conclude cooperation agreements in the region with several countries including Israel and Palestinians and aimed to establish a Euro-Mediterranean partnership with a free trade zone. The European Union has also provided massive budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) especially since the Israeli government closure of the Palestinian territories and its discontinuance of customs and VAT payment (collected by Israel on the Palestinian Authority's behalf) since 2000. According to the European Union Web site, it has provided € 10 million per month in direct budgetary assistance to the PA since from June 2001. The support is directed towards the budget of the PA helping to secure expenditures such as public service salaries, social, educational, health and core functions of the PA. ("The EU and the Middle East-FAQs," 2002) This financial aid to the Palestinians has come in for a lot of criticism from Israel and certain quarters in the United States who alleges that the aid is being misused by the Palestinian Authorities. The Israeli Government has even prepared a dossier of evidence in which, among other things, claims are made that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have secretly used budgetary support provided by the EU (among others) to finance supporters of terrorism or directly acts of terrorism. The European Union has rejected such charges and asserts, "on the basis of the material it has examined, has not found any evidence of EU funds being used for purposes other than those agreed between the EU and the PA." ("EU funding to the Palestinian Authority," Jan 2003).
The second problem with the European Union's Middle East policy is a fall-out of "old" Europe's differences with the United States over…