Europe and the UN resolution on a Palestinian State

The European Union (EU) is divided on how they will vote on the upcoming UN resolution to recognise an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.

This weekend, European foreign ministers are set to meet in Poland (the current president of the EU) in a final effort to find a unanimous position on the Palestinian UN resolution. However, it is clear that there are stark differences between the 27 members of the EU.

Germany and Italy have indicated they would vote against the UN resolution on a Palestinian state. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel has stated: “it is not certain that unilateral recognition will contribute to promoting peace.” In addition, Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, has stated: “Peace is made through negotiation, not through imposition.”The Czech Republic and other Eastern European states are also believed to be planning to vote against the Palestinian state UN resolution, even though many recognised a previous declaration of a Palestinian state in 1988 when they were all part of the Soviet bloc.

In contrast, France, Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden, Spain and others have hinted they will support the Palestinian UN bid. French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated in May that: “If the peace process is still dead in September, France will face up to its responsibilities on the central question of the recognition of a Palestinian state.” Spain’s Foreign Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, stated: “There’s the feeling that now is the time to do something, to give the Palestinians the hope that a state could become reality.”

The EU has a potential to play an influential leadership position on this issue. However, EU disagreements seem to preclude any meaningful foreign policymaking. Moreover, an EU stance in support of the Palestinian UN bid in contrast to the US could adversely impact trans-Atlantic cooperation on the Middle East. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies comments:

“For Europe, this is a major headache. Given that the United States has already announced its willingness to veto their application at the UN Security Council, there is a real chance that deep divisions – both within Europe and between Europe and America – could needlessly damage transatlantic cooperation the Middle East. The last time this occurred was the Iraq War in 2003, and those rifts have not fully healed.”

There is also discussion, that as way of avoiding disunity amongst EU nations, and adopting a leadership role, the Europeans are considering influencing the wording of the resolution to seek common ground. This could also have the effect of setting the tone for a less contentious General Assembly session in September. Jonathan Schanzer comments on the potential for such common ground language in the resolution:

“while the nonbinding UN resolution in September may ultimately call for a state and satisfy the Palestinian desire for recognition, it could also stipulate that the Israelis must ultimately agree to the final status of its own borders, thus ensuring Israel’s ability to determine its own security parameters. Such a clause could indemnify the Israelis from Palestinian legal action in international courts following the vote.

Israel begrudgingly indicated that it might be willing to live with language that recognizes a Palestinian state as long as it recognizes Israel as a Jewish one. Moreover, Israel would undoubtedly welcome any resolution that calls for an end of the Palestinian demands for the ‘right of return’ to Israel for the millions of descendants from the original Palestinians displaced in the 1948 and 1967 wars.”

The EU has a great opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership that could ameliorate the dangers created currently posed by the UN Palestinian bid, while still nodding toward Palestinian aspirations.

Amichai Magen, head of political development at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, writes that Europe should use apply its long-term view of peace-building to the Palestinian state issue, as it did following the fall of the Soviet Union.

He writes:

“Europe would only recognize the new states that emerged from the breakdown of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia on condition that they respected democratic principles, tackled corruption, guaranteed human and minority rights, accepted arms control, and committed themselves to good relations with their neighbors…Giving a European hand to a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at this time would amount to a betrayal of these values, as well a colossal political error that could well result in even greater regional instability.”

He notes that despite Europe’s endorsement of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Reform and Development Plan, “in reality, the PA remains precariously weak, scoring poorly on all major indicators of democracy, the rule of law, civilian control of armed groups, corruption and human rights.”

However, Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has noted that a continuing EU willingess to turn a blind eye to the lack of democracy in the Palestinian Territories has been recently highlighted by Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs trip to Ramallah. He notes that despite speaking about the importance of democracy in the Middle East in light of Arab Spring, Ashton has been silent on the lack of democracy in the Palestinian Territories, even in the wake of the PA’s decision on 22 August to postpone local elections indefinitely and for the fourth time.

Ottolenghi writes:

“The last time Palestinians voted freely was in January 2006. Given that their president is supposed to serve a four-year mandate, which expired in January 2009 without new elections; that the Palestinian parliament is similarly supposed to serve a four-year mandate, which expired in January 2010, again, without new elections; and that local councils were similarly elected for a four-year term between January and December 2005 – no Palestinian institution currently enjoys any democratic legitimacy.”

The EU has the potential to be a great leader in promoting democracy in the Middle East. With the US focused on its own domestic problems, many in the world are turning to the EU for moral leadership. Will it answer the call? So far, the signs are not promising. Either division or the continuation of the unhelpful, reflexive pro-Palestinian stances – regardless of other values – exhibited by Ashton and others seem more likely.