SEMINARS

THE EUROPEAN UNION

  xi The Union and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: From Venice to Madrid
by Dr. Rosemary Hollis

Venice Declaration, June 1980

The Venice Declaration was issued in the wake of the US-brokered Camp David accords, to signal Europe's intention to play a more active role in the search for a more comprehensive approach to peace-making in the Middle East. According to the declaration, "the traditional ties and common interests which link Europe to the Middle East oblige [the EC members] to play a special role" in the pursuit of regional peace. The formulation of the declaration was in itself a milestone in the EC's quest for a common foreign policy.

However, the declaration was condemned by Israel, as it made explicit Europe's sympathy for the Palestinian cause. On the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, as well as positions expressed by the EC on several previous occasions, the Declaration stated that:

"the time has come to promote the recognition and implementation of the two principles universally accepted by the international community; the right to existence and to security of all the states in the region, including Israel, and justice for all the peoples, which implies the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

The Declaration went on to state that the Palestinian problem was not simply one of refugees, that the Palestinian people must be placed in a position to "exercise fully their right to self-determination", and that the PLO would have to be associated with the peace negotiations.

Further, the EC stressed that they would "not accept any unilateral initiative designed to change the status of Jerusalem", and maintained that "settlements, as well as modifications in population and property in the occupied Arab territories, are illegal under international law."

After Venice: Slow Progress and Poor Relations with Israel

The EC made only half-hearted attempts to follow up the declaration with action. This, in any case, was stymied, by Israeli, Egyptian and US opposition and preference for the Camp David process. Israeli reaction to the Venice Declaration was particularly vociferous.

Two days after the Declaration was promulgated, the Israeli cabinet stated :

"Nothing will remain of the Venice decision but a bitter memory. The decision calls on us and other nations to bring into the peace process that Arab SS which calls itself 'the Palestine Liberation Organisation'... all men of goodwill in Europe, all men who revere liberty, will see this document as another Munich-like capitulation to totalitarian blackmail and a spur to all those seeking to undermine the Camp David Accords and derail the peace process in the Middle East."

EU-Israeli relations were further damaged by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The EC condemned the invasion, and continues to call for a full Israeli withdrawal from all of Lebanon. The EC imposed an embargo on arms sales to Israel, this being lifted in stages after the opening of the Madrid conference and signing of the Oslo agreement.

Development of the EC Position on the Palestinians

The EC progressively moved towards a more forthright endorsement of the Palestinian right to self-determination and the importance of involving PLO in peace negotiations. The Intifada, beginning in December 1987, caused much adverse publicity for Israel in the EC. In November 1988, the EC formally welcomed the PNC decision to accept UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as a basis for an international conference, which implied, according to the EC, " the acceptance of the right of existence and of security of all the states of the region, including Israel." The EC also welcomed PNC's renunciation of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Israel remained implacably opposed to any dealings with the PLO and continued to oppose an international conference for fear of the involvement of all UN Security Council members, preferring to deal with Arab states individually.

The Israelis remained critical of all EC statements in support of Palestinian rights. In January 1989, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the chairman of the European Parliament that it was difficult to conceive of the Europeans as participants in the political process in the Middle East, precisely because the EC had demonstrated a pro-Palestinian bias.

For their part, a delegation of MEPs visiting Israel in 1989 told Knesset members that the EC could not accept Israel's rejection of any European role in facilitating peace talks. They emphasized that Europe was geographically closer to the Middle East than either of the superpowers and was Israel's largest trading partner.

During the Gulf Crisis of 1990-1991, the US quashed European (notably French) attempts to link movement on the Arab-Israeli conflict in return for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

1991 Madrid Peace Conference

The Madrid Conference was convened by the US, with Russia as co-sponsor, essentially a token role. The EC was invited to attend , as opposed to participate and the UN was invited as observer only. The EC, though not altogether happy with the arrangements, deferred to the dynamics fuelling the process .

Meanwhile, the Commission and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers argued publicly about which of them should speak on the EC's behalf. In the event, the (Dutch) Chairman of the Council made a speech demonstrating the differences between the EC and the US positions, calling specifically for Israel to accept the concept of "land for peace" and urging an end to settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The exclusion of the EU from the political aspect of the peace process is in marked contrast to the EU's role as the largest aid donor in support of the process - a fact which makes continued exclusion of the Europeans from the political side of the process unlikely, if not untenable.