While some global regions work on the as entangled as innovative federalist idea of going beyond the Westphalian setting of borders and national States, some other actors are still struggling to see their own national recognition respected as their sovereignty to be deployed throughout all the legal means on their territories. This is the history of the multi-speed history of the mankind; this is another possible interpretation of T.L.Friedman’s narrative of the Lexus and the olive tree. But there is a halfway point were these two realities draw near, and from this necessary meeting both entities may gain new life and mutual benefits, and the ideal locus for the meeting is the debate regarding the Palestinian Statehood recognition within the EU.
If not now, when? If not the EU, who? These two questions summarize the mind-set of policy makers and prominent scholars in the West regarding the diplomatic recognition of Palestine as State.
For the purpose of having a clearer picture of the situation in Europe, it may be useful to dust off the old-fashioned stance of West here, since the EU itself winded up being divided on the umpteenth political issue: whether to diplomatically recognize the Palestinian Statehood or not, in full compliance with all the thorny points it would drag with. A sort of Iron Curtain still separated the official positions of EU Member States regarding the recognition issue as only looking eastwards it was possible to find States recognizing Palestine, as following the Soviet legacy. Then, the Swedish vote broke the ice in October enlarging the number of EU Member States which recognize diplomatically the status of Palestine. The Swedish initiative, actively backed by the freshly appointed centre-left government, acted as a trigger, or at least set an alarm clock, to refresh the debate within the whole European territory. Seen the persistence of the negative continental monetary and economic performances as well as the pressing issues in the ministerial socio-economical programmes, the whole long-standing Palestinian affair persists being in the EU Member States’ agenda, but for sure not at the top of it. Nevertheless, the months of October marked a peculiar point first of all due to the Swedish vote and the mobilisation of the House of Commons MPs, followed by Irish, Spanish, French and Belgian interest on top. Besides, the appointment of Federica Mogherini as High Representative for EU External Action Service almost immediately appeared doomed to significantly push the process, as openly shown by her first official visit. She had barely stepped foot into her Brussels’ office when she visited Gaza, the Occupied contended territories and Israel before moving to the Donors conference held in Egypt for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Withal, her determination to try to solve, or at least come about a point in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, came crystal clear since the quiz-style hearing she sat in front of the MEPs in early October. Forty years may seem not many for a woman serving as chief of EEAS, but definitely too many for the ranging Israel-Palestine conflict shaking the Middle East. During the last plenary seat of the EP, Mogherini returned on the issue by endorsing the Hemicycle in Strasbourg to come about to the change that the world is waiting for too long, to move a significant step forward in the Palestinian Statehood affair. The EU can find the role that best suits itself in the process of peace and security in Middle East so to change the ad infinitum feature that this affair gained, “[the EU] can be the first political player in the region to facilitate a dialogue. A dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, but also a dialogue that for the first time really has the chance of being regional.”(1) For those puzzling over the timing, asking to themselves “why now”, it may be useful to recall the stalemate status of the “2013-14 Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians” initiative lead by the US Secretary of State Kerry, which officially collapsed in April 2014. Moreover, the Israeli initiative to “clean” Gaza from its terroristic-affiliated inhabitants has significantly affected the orientation of the public opinion, both in the Territories, both in Europe. The massive operation launched by Netanyahu’s government left on the ground ruins and desperate people in Gaza, whose only hopes lie in the engagement of external unbiased actors to settle the dispute. The summer bombings coupled then with the vote passed in the Knesset in November to speed up the identity-based main feature of Israel due to security concerns. Conversely, the blood events in Jerusalem Synagogue hastened the feeling that the prolonged silence and inaction performed by the international community would have only lead the situation to a sheer escalation. A new ball game shall be set so to engage all the parties to change their attitude. Apparently, the lesson has been learnt, albeit a bit out of time, by the Abbas led Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with the launch of diplomatic initiatives benchmarking the new clothes of the potential 194th Country in the UN. “The recognition of the state and even the negotiations are not a goal in itself, the goal in itself is having a Palestinian state in place and having Israel living next to it” (2), as the HR had to say in Strasbourg, grounds the perception that there will not be peace without a Palestinian entity recognized as a State, equally Israeli security passes through the establishment of Palestine.
Old patterns and game-changers The EU is not the US, no doubt about it. It does not hold the same set of sticks&carrots which its Transatlantic partner is provided with, neither it is a State speaking with one-single voice. Nevertheless, the EU has significant aces and leverages to be played in the post-US Middle East. Since the launch of Obama’s strategy to lessen the US footprint in the region, the EU shall claim its pivotal role in the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute leveraging on its double-role: as biggest donor for the Palestinian, and as first-class trade partners for Israel. Becoming fully aware of its role, the EU may be at the head of the peace process that for so long has been suffering from the lack of mutually-trusted lead negotiator. The diplomatic recognition may give considerable reliability to EU’s initiatives as it would follow the prescription of the 1999 Berlin declaration on the recognition of Palestine and the implementation of the UNSCR 242 (3). From a more concrete economic perspective, the recognition of Palestine would couple with EU financial support to the PNA. As abovementioned and recognised in the latest World Bank Factsheets, the EU’s payer role has benchmarked the path towards the establishment of a State in Palestine, despite all difficulties clinched with the Israeli occupation of parts of its territories and restrictions imposed by this situation. Although, without a willing Palestinian leadership able to channel the funding and empowered to make the right use of them, the risk is that the EU financial endowment may be managed by terroristic groups financing malicious purposes and grounding Israeli security concerns. The forthcoming EP vote itself, if favourable to the recognition of Palestinian Statehood, would activate a positive mind-process of Palestinians’ perception of the role played by diplomacy discarding the choice of undertaking violent and extremist actions. Despite of all the feelings moved by the initiative, the recognition issue must not be upfront. Back to 2012, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s status was upgraded by the positive vote of the UN General Assembly from “observer entity” to “non-Member Observer State” and the passage was perceived as an historical achievement (4). It was indeed, but as relevantly underlined by the international doctrine regulating the recognition, the act is the outcome of political contacts and decision, and does not forcedly flow into the real and effective practise of sovereignty on the territory. Indeed, due to its unilateral and political nature, the practice opens to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two subjects, besides giving evidence to the political willingness of the pre-existing State to recognize and consider as peer the other entity of this political equation. Seen the number of States and international organisations negotiating or having formulated political and/or economic agreement with the PNA, it is a slight signal of appreciation of the to-be Palestinian State as capable to engage in such practices and perform as State within the international community scenario. Not negligible are the fences hindering the PNA to exercise power over the Territories deemed to be Palestinians, as for the issue related to the borders of the putative State. Registering the opposition of the main political force in Gaza – Hamas– the two-State solution seems to be mostly accepted as the only one viable, meanwhile there is no glimmer from Israel to re-discuss the return to the 1967 borders, either for the status of Jerusalem and the access to religious sites. The sustained Israeli plan of settlement expansion echoes the concerns of a significant part of the international community, whose dissent may be depicted with the labelling of products coming from the settlement as the only regime of sanctions possible promoted by the EU on July 2013. Standing the FTA and economic integration between Israel and the EU, the guidelines issued by the Institutions have been implemented in the practice to sanction a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s ban on territorial occupation and illegal settlement. Thus the PNA waits to open the process to be recognised as member of the International Criminal Court to see the opening of the prosecutor’s investigations so to bring in before the court probation of specific incidents and violation– a move announced by Abbas as part of his strategy aiming to the Palestinian Statehood widespread recognition. It is noticeable that the meaning of the Palestinian Statehood recognition can be translated as the unsustainability of the Occupation, and not be mistaken as an anti-Semitic attempt to cancel Israel from the Middle Eastern map. MEPs initiative to recognize the state of Palestine is expected to encourage the end of hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians, or at least to breach on the stalemate gained by the prospects of peace in Middle East. Hopefully, the forthcoming vote in Strasbourg will not let again the olive branch fall from negotiators’ hands.
-. www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/acfb2.html www.un.org/press/en/2012/ga11317.doc.htm
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