Israel Rafalovich
Israel Rafalovich

Europe, it is time to lead

Something has clearly changed on the international political stage that gives the European Union an unprecedented opportunity to bring stability and an end to a violent conflict in the Middle East, without the need to have someone’s permission to act.

Europe is capable of conducting an active foreign policy and has the ability to commit the necessary financial, diplomatic and military resources in order to bring much-needed stability and peace to the Middle East, taking into consideration that the road map is going nowhere and the peace negotiations are deep in the mud.

Europe’s historical ties to the region are a source of diplomatic strength and will give it options for negotiations that will rival those of the United States.

The European Union must dare to be more involved in solving conflicts and engaging in peace missions. Europe is needed on the international stage and should play a decisive role in calming conflicts. It must act in a prudent manner and not as if it is a superpower, and it should seek to become a counterbalance to the US on the world stage.

Europe is still seen, in the Middle East, as a credible broker, and therefore should use it diplomatic wit and the economic leverage, without being the parties’ banker, to push through a European solution to the conflict in Lebanon and the Middle East in particular.

The time has come for Europe to stop being guided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the US, which is partisan, as it is the main supplier of weapons to the Israelis.

Europe is working on the margins of American-dictated policies, which has proven counterproductive.

The US influence in shaping the EU’s stance is especially marked in Europe’s refusal to have direct contacts with Hamas. Informed sources in Tel Aviv confirmed in telephone interviews that indirect talks between the Israeli Defence Ministry and Hamas were under way in Cairo.

This is also a European opportunity to develop a foreign policy that will enable Europe to deal with the crisis in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

It is an opportunity as well as a challenge to be able to walk alone again on the international stage without American crutches.

The US diplomatic manoeuvring possibilities in the Middle East are limited now because of the fallout from the Iraq war. Much will depend how seriously Europeans will be taking their international commitments and face tough opponents. The bottom line will be whether European diplomatic activities will amount to anything substantial.

A new Middle East summit, as the rumours fly from Moscow, if is to succeed, has to result in a concrete attempt to tackle the final-status issue. The way this issue will be dealt with will determine what kind of state a future Palestine might be and whether the peace settlement will last.

There are significant gaps between the parties’ starting positions. There is also the need to accelerate the speed of the talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

From a security point of view, there has to be a full Israeli-Palestinian security agreement. At the same time Europe has to bring about an Israeli commitment of non-intervention in Gaza and the West Bank, in order not to undermine the Palestinian Authority that is anyway in decline.

Europe will have to convey the message forcefully that, even if it sometimes does not speak with one voice, when putting forward its foreign policy it is not two-tongued when it comes to the Middle East.

It has to be made clear that it is a mistake to overestimate Europe’s political disagreements. It has to be a message that will convince the doubters that Europe has the will and the determination to bring lasting peace to the Middle East.

The Middle East is not in the need now of a new summit; new ideas are needed, and not a substitute for peace making.

It is of importance that Europe will revitalise a decisive policy of active engagement on the international stage in order to be able to reverse the cycle of tensions and violence around the world.

Furthermore, it should use existing mechanisms in order to be able to hold accountable those who act against legal and moral norms, and it must stand united behind its common values.

It has to be made clear what Europe understands and what it means when it talks about freedom and human dignity, as it is the prerequisite for a serious and frank dialogue with other cultures and religions.

Europe’s strength lies in remaining impartial at the same time as pointing out wrongdoings by all involved sides in the Middle East.

The EU can secure itself a leading position at the forefront of the new world order, and this with a collective foreign policy.

If the ability to project force is now the sign of an independent European foreign policy, then Europe is at last getting more bold and resolute in its action.

Since the war in Iraq, European states have supported most areas of the EU’s foreign policy, but in order to make the policy more assertive, policy making and the involved institutions must be streamlined.

Europe must change the diplomatic dynamic on the international stage if it wants its leadership to be accepted and avoid the entire foreign policy losing its credibility.

There is only the hope that courage and political imagination will secure Europe’s future in the changing world.