Since the beginning of CFSP the Middle East has been one of the main areas of concern and action for the EU. My appointment as EUSR and the subsequent appointment of Javier Solana as HR have improved CFSP visibility and efficiency and the EU role in the Middle East.
An essential element in my mission is the active support from and permanent coordination with EU Institutions and Member States and in particular with the Country holding the Presidency which hold also the responsibility of representing the EU and defining the priorities. I have worked since my appointment with 12 different presidencies. My conclusion is that CFSP is not only necessary but also workable. EU action is a perfect complement to the diplomatic action of member States. Political will and vision have made it possible.
However, my work with the Member State holding the Presidency has not prevented me from consulting and informing in detail other Member States. In the case of Germany this has been a very rewarding and satisfying experience. Throughout my mission I have developed very strong links with the Minister, his Middle East team as well as the Diplomatic Advisor to the Chancellor.
Me and my team have managed to bring the EU, as such, to the region, we have ensure continuity, permanent presence and on the ground and a privileged channel of communication between the EU and the parties and between the parties themselves.
As it has been proven in the last tragic months, the EU has reached a level of diplomatic penetration and unthinkable a few years ago. We have been present and active in each and every important event concerning the Middle East. This is an “acquis” to be preserved and reinforced. It could be a model for other theaters and conflicts.
We should be aware of our limitations but we should be also aware of our huge influence and capability. Our role in solving the stand-off in the Church of the Nativity in Bethelem is the last example of our action. It has been a challenge and a success for all of us.
We have showed to our partners and to the parties that we are able to tackle and resolve extremely complex and sensitive situations. Building a real CFSP takes more than working groups and discussion papers. If we want to reach our shared objective of reinforcing the EU role in the world we should be able to face the challenges and opportunities with decision and shared responsibility. There would be no real progress without assuming risks and taking decisive and imaginative action. There will be no CFSP without political will.
THE LAST MONTHS: SETBACKS AND A DETERIORATING SITUATION
In the last year and a half many taboos have been broken in the Middle East. Oslo is dead, few are those who dare now to speak about Peace Process, Arafat is irrelevant, the PA is terrorist organization…. We have witnessed in a short period of time both the most far-reaching negotiation round in Taba (where peace was at reach) and the most dangerous war-like situation with a great deal of destruction in the West Bank. We have also witnessed a series of deadly and unjustifiable series of terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians. Many attempts to establish a cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities have failed. The tragic events of the 11 of September have brought a sense of urgency and new worrying elements to the equation.
A key element in the current situation is the lack of trust between the parties. After long years of negotiation and contacts there is a profound mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians. The confidence and in some cases even complicity has been now replaced by a total lack of trust. This is not only the case for negotiators and political leaders but also the people and societies in both sides.
The violence and destruction took us all back to the prejudices and animosity of the past. It is like we went back several decades in time: regional war, “they want to throw us all to the sea”, ” they are no partners but the enemy”.
As a mediator I have been also confronted with the lack of diplomatic framework for negotiation. Out of necessity, we moved from diplomatic action to crisis management. We have been obliged to follow the “policy of the last atrocity” with less and less time and energy for mediation and confidence building.
However, Member States and EU institutions, we have continued to travel to the region opening channels for contact, proposing ideas and offering our political and financial support.
Despite all violence we have maintained our role in the region. We have increased tremendously the level of coordination and concertation with other key players. Probably one of the few, if nor the only one, positive elements in this period has been the creation of the Quartet. Now a well-established, accepted and welcomed new player in the region, the Quartet (US, Russian Federation, United Nations and the EU) could be the key to a more active and efficient involvement of the International Community in the search for peace in the Middle East. The Quartet is now the ”de facto” sponsor of peace.
No one doubts that the US has a prominent role to play. No one doubts that the EU should also play its role. We are in contact with Washington on a permanent basis. The Quartet works on the framework of a common vision for the region: two states Israel and Palestine living within secure and recognized borders.
THE CURRENT SITUATION: VOLATILITY AND PROSPECTS FOR PEACE.
We should be realistic. The situation in the region remains extremely volatile. The main problems remain unsolved. The suicide bombers continue to threaten Israeli civilians. The Palestinian territories and the civilian infrastructure have been gravely damaged and in many cases totally destroyed. There are no more area A (the portion of the territories under exclusive Palestinian control). There are continuous incursions. The closure and siege continue to produce unprecedented economic and social damage to the Palestinians. The humanitarian situation in the Palestinian cities and villages has again deteriorated further. The economic situation in Israel is deteriorating to levels unknown in the past.
There are far too many reasons to be pessimistic. However, I believe that there are still prospects for realistic optimism.
The Quartet is active and it is perceived by many as the best diplomatic tool. The US and the EU, along with the other partners could use this platform to create a new diplomatic framework for negotiations. The possibility of convening an international event or conference, as agreed in Washington at the last Ministerial Quartet meeting, would give the necessary political impetus to that end. Furthermore, the reinforced EU/US convergence of views about how to pursue peace efforts would act as a driving force within the Quartet and beyond.
The Quartet is also active in the area of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Authority infrastructure. There are coordination meetings between the Quartet and the donor community and International Financial Institutions to take this process forward with as expeditiously as possible.
Another positive element is the new Saudi activism for peace. The so-called Saudi initiative, supported by the Arab League in the Beirut Summit, offers with its simplicity and far reaching consequences a new opportunity to be seized.
In fact it might possible to combine both elements and make them work towards a re-launching of peace efforts in the Middle East.
Following the last full-scale military operation by the IDF, a deep and comprehensive debate has started among the Palestinians. The key word is reform. Reform of political structures at all levels, security apparatus and economic policies and instruments. The holding of local, legislative and presidential elections would be an essential element in the reform process.
In all these prospects the EU has a paramount role to play. As I said before, the question is not whether we are able to play that role. We have the political means and tools to do it, we also have the financial resources needed. The real question is whether we want to play such a role. I have no doubts about it. We should do it because we have to do it. It is our political and moral responsibility.