What has the EU achieved in the Middle East Quartet to date? (Aug ’11)
December 25, 2011 Leave a comment
The formation of the Quartet in Madrid 2002 highlighted the growing influence of the European Union in international affairs, and was largely a reactionary measure by the international community to the failed unilateral approaches of the United States to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This framework gave legitimacy to the European Union’s efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) using its normative influence power. The EU has been able to influence the Quartet widely, particularly in reference to Palestinian institutional reform . Yet its grouping with the United States, Russia and the UN has also been its biggest downfall and has led the Quartet to adopt policies that conflict with the normative, all-encompassing and inclusive approach the European Union boasts as its foreign policy strength . Consider the failed disengagement policy adopted by the Quartet in the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian elections that declared Hamas the legitimate government in Gaza. In addition, the EU’s disunity in the foreign policy realm has cast doubts on its role as a legitimate international actor.
The main criticism since the birth of the Quartet is that the disengagement policy it took on the persistence of the United States significantly hindered progress in the peace talks. The European Union’s ability to maintain relations with even the most erroneous regimes in the past has given it flexibility and legitimacy as a genuine actor in the global arena. However, the isolationist policy adopted by the Quartet prevented the EU reaching out to Hamas through economic incentives, development assistance and other diplomatic tools . This effectively stalled the peace process, and in fact only strengthened the popularity of Hamas in Gaza.
The conditions imposed on Hamas as precursor to peace talks were three fold: the renunciation of violence, the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and commitments to previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority . These conditions were biased, unnecessarily rigid and overambitious as recognised by the European Union Committee House of Lord’s report, 2007 . The severance of huge sums of development aid to Gaza by the United States and the European Union crippled the Palestinian economy and reversed positive achievements in building institutional capacity and improving governance in the region .
The pairing of the European Union with the United States has undermined the European Union’s agenda, thought that trend is increasingly shifting in favour of the European Union . The Quartet’s policy towards building Palestinian governance and institutional capacity has been driven by the European Union. This policy has been relatively successful, though criticisms rage that in practice these achievements have been moderate, at best.
The European Union has been successful in shifting away from the five-decade unilateral American approach to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The higher credibility of the European Union and acceptance on both sides of the conflict that the EU is a legitimate interlocutor has allowed it to play a greater role in fostering cooperation and facilitating peace talks, though none have been fruitful to-date. The EU’s leadership style and its capacity to bring new ideas to the table have been popular. The Venice Declaration culminating in a proposed two-state solution is a reminder that the EC at the time was imaginative and active in the MEPP. In addition, the EU’s ability to build consensus amongst ideologically opposed parties makes it the ideal actor to lead the peace process forward . After all, the Americans have failed at every turn.
On the count of multilateralism as a key goal of the EU envisaged in the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSFP), the European Union has been highly effective in promoting a multilateral approach to solving the Palestinian-Israeli disputes . Yet, these multilateral forums have culminated in little concrete action and a peace solution to the decades-old conflict remains a distant utopia.
Whilst the Quartet has certainly been active, there remains disunity within the EU on foreign policy issues. It is now the year 2011, the suspension of the settlement moratorium has expired and the previous division between Fatah and Hamas now seems trivial as a bold and united Palestinian Authority (PA) takes its cause unilaterally to the United Nations. Unfortunately, there remains little unity within the EU itself as Catherine Ashton has stated that each state will make its own decision with respect to the issue of Palestinian independence, undermining the role of the EU as a united and powerful mediator .
The last eighteen months have diminished the credibility of the Quartet as a genuine multilateral forum to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Nearly a decade after its birth, its relevance is increasingly being questioned. In particular, the European Union’s inability to influence the position of the Quartet with relation to the disengagement policy adopted towards Hamas dealt a huge blow to the credibility of the EU. The EU’s soft power diplomatic tools were rendered obsolete amidst a militarily superior United States. Early hopes that the new multilateral framework would aid legitimacy and bring about an expedient solution to the conflict were overly optimistic. The United States continues to play the dominant role in the Quartet at the expense of a consensual, multilateral approach that reflects the normative power of the European Union. Finally, disunity within the European Union on a Common Security and Foreign Policy has undermined its legitimacy as a genuine international actor.