The European neighbourhood policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The European neighbourhood policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

  Breaking the cycle of revenge. In the Japanese manga series “Attack on titan” written by Hajime Isayama, the cycle of revenge is a pattern which shapes the entire story of its work. The main character, Eren Yeager, is a young boy who is deprived of his liberty. By anger, he decided to regain his own independence by depriving the freedom of his jailers. However, the truth is more qualified that he thought. Indeed, his guards were persecuted by his people centuries ago. Although “Attack on titan” is a narrative, it sounds in our world, especially with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an old and complicated conflict. This article doesn’t aim at describing the history of the conflict, but analysing the key issues at stake today and understanding the EU’s position in this conflict. It is interesting to see how the American influence in the region and the division of the EU Member States on this particular issue have affected the European neighbourhood policy and prevent any political European action from undertaking.

American influence

  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict upholds in a region which has always been an economic crossroad between Europe, Africa and Asia. Many empires flourished in Middle-East thanks to trade through History like the Achaemenid Empire, and more recently the Ottoman Empire. The Middle-East has also always been a religious crossroad which saw the birth of the three main monotheistic religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

  The Middle-East is rich in many resources like oil and gas resources. Thus, the region attracted the greed of many States like European countries and the United States. For instance, the British implemented a mandate in Iraq after World War I and took possession of the Iraqi oil indirectly through the Turkish Petroleum Company[1]. However, since the end of the World War II and the Suez crisis in 1956, the European countries influence in the region faded away to the benefit of the United States. Indeed, the region has become an important part of the American foreign policy. For instance, the United States drafted the Baghdad Pact in 1955 with Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom, which was a military alliance to contain the Soviet influence in the region[2]. Since 1945, the American foreign policy in the Middle-East has relied on three main cornerstones:

  • “ensuring the free flow of energy resources from the region.
  • helping to maintain Israeli security.
  • making sure no State or group of States can challenge American power in a way that would put the other two interests at risk”[3].
  • (situational events like the Cold War or terrorism since 2001[4]).

  In a nutshell, beyond the particular relation with Israel, the United States are interested in the Middle East for oil[5], that is why the United States supported a coup against the Iranian Prime Minister in 1953 in order to prevent domestic oil from nationalizing[6].

  Nowadays, the United States have military bases in many countries in the region like Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait and Bahrain for instance[7]. Washington has maintained strong ties with countries like Saudi Arabia based on security and free flow of oil. The White House still steps in many regional issues like the Syria crisis, the Iranian nuclear issue, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  Indeed, the United States are the main mediator in the region, especially about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a matter of fact, the United States has maintained a special and unique relation with Israel. Indeed, we can consider that the American support to Israel may be contradictory with their foreign policy in the Middle-East. For instance, in 1956 during the Suez crisis, President Eisenhower considered the partnership with Israel as an inconvenient and a source of Arab radicalization[8]. However, the belief in a common destiny (rooted in the Bible) is one of the pillars of the Israeli-American relation, as a moral dimension. The religious power is important in both Israel and the United States, that is why a religious sympathy exists between these two countries. Moreover, Washington recognizes the liberal institutions in Israel as similar as those in the United States[9].  

  Since the 1980’s, Israel has been considered as an outpost in the region. Indeed, the second dimension of the relation between Tel-Aviv and Washington has relied on political realism[10]. The United States has deemed Israel as an ally against the former USSR, terrorism since 2001 and now against Iran.

  Nowadays, despite some disagreements, the United States and Israel maintain a strong relationship, especially in the field of military cooperation. For instance, in an agreement signed in 2016, the US government granted $38 billion in military aid to Israel between 2019 and 2028[11].

  Regardless of this special relation, the United States has always defended a two-states solution, based generally on the 1967 borders, the first one Israeli and the second one Palestinian[12]. Depending on the US president, the US government will be more or less neutral or in favour of Israel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict solution. For instance, President Trump, considered as pro-Israeli, proposed an action plan in 2020 in which he suggested the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and the annexation of the Jordan Valley by Israel which is part of the occupied Palestinian territories[13].

 Nowadays, it seems that the newly elected US President Joe Biden, will restore ties with Palestinians that Donald Trump broke up. However, Joe Biden will work with the Trump’s legacy in the region, who led a policy in favour of Israel. Joe Biden will continue to be close to the Israeli government while discussing with Palestinians[14], although the Palestinian issue is no longer seen as a priority by Arab countries.

The EU Member States division

  Besides the significant presence of the United States in the region, the European Member States are split on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since the Venice declaration in 1980, the European Union has defended a two-states solution based on the 1967 borders, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of these two States and wanting address a response to the Palestinian refugee’s issue[15]. However, the unanimous vote has prevented strong political measures from undertaking in the region[16].    

  Indeed, Member States are divided into three groups:

  • The first one regroups Germany or Poland and Hungary which are generally in favour of Israel, Germany because of the memory of the Shoah, Poland and Hungary because of their historic compliance with the US position on this issue[17].
  • The second one can be resumed to France, which has ties with the Israeli and Palestinian communities.
  • The last one gathers Portugal, Belgium or Luxembourg, is generally in favour of the Palestinian community[18].

  For instance, in 2020 the Israeli Prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, proposed an action plan based on that of Trump, in order to annex Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. In Germany, the members of the Bundestag considered in a resolution that sanctions against Israel will be harmful[19]. In the same time, in Belgium and the Netherlands, members of parliament urged their national governments to impose sanctions against Israel at the European level[20].

  Moreover, Israel fuels the division between Member States by approaching the Visegrad Group which is an organization formed by Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. For instance, the Visegrad Group attended a summit with Israel in 2017[21]. The Israeli government relies on these countries to reassess the EU’s position on this conflict. Besides, Czech Republic was the only country in Europe to vote against United Nations resolution 67/19 in 2012 which upgraded Palestine to a non-member observer state status in the United Nations General Assembly[22]

The economic partnership between the EU, Israel and the Palestinian Authority

  It is worth reminding that Europe and Israel have a historic link, as the roots of Zionism developed in Europe[23]. So, nowadays, it is not surprising that the EU and Israel have serious relations.

   Despite a lack of political actions because of the American influence and the division between Member States, the EU has tied up strong economic relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.In 1995, as a part of the Barcelona Process, the EU signed an Association Agreement with Israel, which is a treaty establishing a closer relation in the fields of economics, trade or police cooperation[24]. In fact, the EU remains the first trading partner of Israel. Indeed, in 2018, 34% of Israeli exports were directed towards the EU and 43% of Israeli imports came from the EU[25]. Moreover, the EU and Israel have an intense scientific cooperation: Israel attended the Galileo project, the European Global Positioning System. Furthermore, Israel participated also in Horizon 2020 which is “the biggest EU Research and Innovation Programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020)[26]”. Within this framework, Israel developed 846 scientific project in 2018 funded by the EU, which represented nearly €600 million[27].  Lastly, the EU deepened its police cooperation with Israel: Europol and Israel signed an agreement in 2018 to extend the cross-border cooperation[28]. It was the first working agreement between Europol and a third country.

  Although the EU is the first trading partner of Israel, Brussels decided in 2005 not to grant a preferential tariff for products coming from Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. However, nowadays, this measure is complicated to implement because of the expansion of the Israeli settlements and the lack of information from the Israeli authorities[29].

  In 2008, talks were ongoing between the EU and Israel in order to grant a special status to Israel (deepening the Association Agreement). However, the Israeli military operation in Gaza in December 2008 suspended the discussions. Nowadays, the resumption of negotiations is linked to advances in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[30].

  Moreover, the European Union is also the first financial support for the Palestinian Authority[31]. In 1997, as a part of the Barcelona Process too, the EU signed an Intermediate Association Agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The European financial aid relies on two cornerstones:

  • Emergency economic assistance to Palestinian refugees
  • Supporting the implementation of a Palestinian State

  In 2017, the European financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority represented €357 million[32]. However, the EU has to cope with contentions between, on the one hand, the West Bank headed by the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, and on the other hand, the Gaza Strip headed by Hamas since 2007[33]. As well as Israel, advances in the partnership between the EU and the Palestinian Authority are bound to progresses in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

The Union for the Mediterranean and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

  The Union for the Mediterranean (UFM) is an intergovernmental organization founded by the French President action, Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2008, which gathers EU Member States and 15 countries of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean like Morocco, Egypt, Republic of Albania and Turkey. The Union aims at enhancing “regional cooperation, dialogue and the implementation of projects and initiatives with tangible impact on our citizens, with an emphasis on young people and women, in order to address the three strategic objectives of the region: stability, human development and integration”[34].  It is the south dimension of the European neighbourhood policy.

  The Union for the Mediterranean was created to reinforce the Barcelona Process. The Barcelona Process is a partnership with 12 Mediterranean countries that wishes to establish “a common area of ​​peace, stability and prosperity by means of a strengthening of political and security dialogue, of an economic and financial partnership and of a social, cultural and human partnership[35]”. Thus, the Union for the Mediterranean aims at gathering Mediterranean countries based on the achievement of practical and sustainable projects[36].

  However, as the Barcelona Process, the Union for the Mediterranean doesn’t take into account Mediterranean political issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[37]. In 1995, during the Cannes summit, the European Heads of State and Government decided that “the Euro-Mediterranean partnership [Barcelona Process] is fundamentally distinguished, by its comprehensive approach centred on relations between Europe and the Mediterranean, from the peace process in the Middle East. Partnership is not a new forum for conflict resolution and should not be seen as part of this process, although it can, among other objectives, help to promote its success « [38].

  As a result, many ministerial conferences as a part of the Barcelona Process were either failures or postponed because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict like in March 1997[39].  Indeed, since the Oslo Agreements in 1993, the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has heavily degraded[40]. “Every ministerial conference that takes place both during the Oslo years and after the outbreak of the second intifada and the collapse of the peace process to this day is marked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”[41] said Dr Maria Gianniou.

  The Union for the Mediterranean (UFM) inherited the same problem. Indeed, only one blurred paragraph is dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[42] in the Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean in 2008, which implemented the Union for the Mediterranean : “Heads of State and Government reaffirm their support for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, as referred to in the Lisbon Euromed Ministerial Meeting (November 2007) and according to the Annapolis process”[43].

  In December 2008, the Gaza War between Israel and Hamas seriously affected the Union for the Mediterranean, that is why in 2009 every UFM’s meeting was cancelled[44]. Nowadays, the talks on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inside the Union for the Mediterranean ended up in a stalemate. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict still remains a trouble spot between Israel and the Arab countries inside the UFM, which could dive the UFM into a deadlock, especially on the issue of the Israeli settlements[45].

  However, the Barcelona Process and the Union for the Mediterranean have been economically profitable for both countries. For instance, the UFM funded a desalination plant in the Gaza Strip in 2011[46].

A political leap?

  Despite the American influence and the division between Member States, the European Union tried to impose its political action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 5 years. Since 2015, an EU interpretative notice from the European Commission has forced a differentiated labelling between Israeli products originating from Israeli settlements in    Palestinian territories and Israeli products made in Israel[47]. Israel challenged this EU interpretative notice, but the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favour of the EU in this case against Israel in 2019. Moreover, France and seven Member States demanded the reimbursement of destroyed infrastructures by Israel on the Palestinian territories funded by the EU[48]

  However, the conflict doesn’t seem to be a priority for the EU. Indeed, since the review of the European neighbourhood policy in 2015, the EU-Israel partnership and the EU-Palestinian Authority partnership haven’t been reshaped[49]. The review of the European neighbourhood policy in 2015 relies on two cornerstones:

  • Stability
  • Flexibility

  The EU partnership with both countries is still linked to the progresses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict[50]. The EU should deepen the economic partnership with both countries independently of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. As has been observed, conditionality didn’t work with Israel and the Palestinian Authority[51]. The EU could redefine priorities with both sides and dealing with separately in order to unite Member States on the matter. Moreover, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be treated inside the Union for the Mediterranean with Arab countries. Indeed, in order to provide some solutions to the conflict, the EU has to deal with the neighbouring countries of Israel and the Palestinian territories because they are also political actors in the conflict. Israel needs guarantees because it is still afraid of its neighbours. Thus, the two-states solution is the only steady solution. So now, let’s talk.


[1] Lisa Romeo, “Enjeux du pétrole irakien 1900-1930 », lesclefsdumoyenorient.com, 7 janvier 2014.

[2] “Pacte de Bagdad”, le monde-diplomatique.fr.

[3] Steven A. Cook, “This Is the Moment That Decides the Future of the Middle East”, foreignpolicy.com, September 17 2019.

[4] Antoine Milot, « La présence américaine au Moyen-Orient après le coronavirus », legrandcontinent.eu, 2 mai 2020.

[5] Ibid.

[6]  Benjamin Dabeuf, « La lettre de l’éduc. Que font les États-Unis au Moyen-Orient ? », courrierinternational.com, 9 Octobre 2019.

[7] AFP, vidéo intitulée « Bases militaires américaines au Moyen-Orient | AFP Animé », youtube, 3 janvier 2020.

[8] Dana Allin et Steven Simon, « Comprendre le soutien des Etats-Unis envers Israël ».

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Piotr Smolar, « L’alliance militaire entre les Etats-Unis et Israël renforcée pour dix ans », lemonde.fr, 14 septembre 2016.

[12] Dana Allin and Steven Simon, op.cit.

[13] « Conflit israélo-palestinien : quatre questions sur le plan de paix présenté par Trump », europe1.fr, 28 janvier 2020.

[14] Martine Gozlan, « Iran, Palestine, Israël : quelle sera la future politique de Joe Biden ? », marriane.net, 10 novembre 2020.

[15] M. Simon Sutour, Rapport d’information n° 662 (2017-2018), Sénat, 12 juillet 2018.

[16] « Israël-Palestine : l’Europe peut-elle changer la donne ? », touteleurope.eu, 20 avril 2018.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Adel Atieh et Lucie Solem, « Le rôle de l’Union européenne dans le conflit israélo-palestinien », eurocité, 7 avril 2017.

[19] AFP, « Les députés allemands opposés à des menaces de sanctions contre Israël », lorientlejour.com, 1 juillet 2020.

[20]Raphael Ahren, « Des députés néerlandais réclament des sanctions en réponse à l’annexion d’Israël », timesofisrael.com, 30 juin 2020.

[21] M. Simon Sutour, Rapport d’information n° 662 (2017-2018), Sénat, 12 juillet 2018.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Amicie Duplaquet, « La place de l’Union européenne dans le conflit israélo-palestinien », lesclefsdumoyenorient.com, 31 décembre 2015.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] European Commission, « What is Horizon 2020 », ec.europa.eu.

[27] M. Simon Sutour, op.cit.

[28] « Europol et Israël signent un accord pour lutter contre la criminalité transfrontalière », eu.neighbours.eu, 19 July 2018.

[29] « L’étiquetage des produits des colonies israéliennes : une mission impossible ? », cncd.be, 10 octobre 2017.

[30] European Parliamant, « Partenaires du sud », europarl.europa.eu.

[31] Ibid.

[32] M. Sitour, op.cit.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Presentation, ufmsecretariat.org.

[35] Barcelona Declaration, 29 November 1995.

[36] “UfM: Relaunching the Barcelona Process”, euneighbours.eu.

[37] Maria Gianniou, “La coopération euro-méditerranéenne et le processus de paix israélo-palestinien : une relation chronique et interdépendante », pages 207-223, L’Europe en formation, 2010.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] « Israël-Palestine : l’Europe peut-elle changer la donne ? », op.cit.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Maria Gianniou, op.cit.

[43] Council of the European Union, Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, 13 July 2008.

[44] « Israël-Palestine : l’Europe peut-elle changer la donne ? », op.cit.

[45] Jihâd Gillon, « Nasser Kamel (Union pour la Méditerranée) : « Les conflits restent à la porte de l’UpM », jeuneafrique.com, 12 décembre 2019.

[46] « Le projet « Usine de dessalement pour la bande de Gaza », ufmsecretariat.org.

[47] « Israël-Palestine : l’Europe peut-elle changer la donne ? », op.cit.

[48] Ibid.

[49] M. Sitour, op.cit.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

Arthur Quinquenet

After studying literature in a Higher School Preparatory Class, I have integrated Sciences Po Strasbourg in 2018. In charge of the European Neighbourhood Policy, I am interested by European affairs. I want to discover the European world and explain burning issues to European citizens.

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