Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Why Europe Can’t Bring Peace to the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams
April 20, 2013


Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official, has received a remarkable letter from the “European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process.” This self-selected collectivity might more accurately be called the “Formerly Eminent Persons Group,” inasmuch as the first word describing each one of its members is “Former,” but I suppose that these Formerly Eminent Persons do indeed also represent the views of Currently Eminent European Persons. The letter and its list of signatories are copied below.

The letter is important in one way: it shows that European official and elite thinking continue to blame Israel for everything related to the so-called Peace Process. To take one example, the letter states that

We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion.  We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories.

The failure of the parties? Five years? Five years ago, in the spring of 2008, the parties were negotiating, apparently seriously, as part of what was then called “the Annapolis process.” That failed when Mahmoud Abbas refused an extremely generous offer from Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. The Formerly Eminent Persons appear to have forgotten this, or far more likely to be seeking to avoid that truth. Equally inaccurate is their line about the “failure of the parties,” a phrase which refuses to acknowledge that only the Palestinians have refused to negotiate in the last four years, not “the parties.”

In any event, the Formerly Eminent Persons soon arrive at their key insight, which is “that the Peace Process as conceived in the Oslo Agreements has nothing more to offer.” What does this mean, actually? Turns out, rather unsurprisingly, that it means we must all get tougher now with Israel. We must all insist that Israel’s borders are the 1967 lines and everything beyond that is illegal and illegitimate. Everything– including, therefore, such things as Israel’s control of the Western Wall and the Jewish sector of the Old City of Jerusalem, from which Israelis had been kept away when Jordan controlled the Old City. The Formerly Eminent Persons wish above all to erase the letter to Prime Minister Sharon from President Bush in 2004, where he called the major settlement blocks “new realities on the ground” that all efforts at negotiation had acknowledged Israel would keep.

There is more in the letter that is wrong, such as the notion that human rights conditions in the West Bank are deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation. One can make a good argument that they are deteriorating, in Gaza due to Hamas and in the West Bank due to the growing pressure from the PA against journalists. The letter does not appear to consider the possibility that any problem in Palestinian areas might possibly be the fault of Palestinians.

The letter’s greatest sins are those that are quite familiar in letters from Europe, whether from Formerly Eminent Persons or from Currently Eminent Persons: the sin of blaming everything on Israel and blaming nothing on the Palestinians, demanding nothing of the Palestinians, and treating the Palestinians like objects rather than people. Nowhere does the letter mention the issue of anti-Semitic broadcasting and hate speech in Palestinian official media, nor the matter of the glorification of terrorism and terrorists by the PA, and the impact such conduct has on prospects for peace.

The letter takes a shot at President Obama, saying that all he said and did during his trip to Israel “gave no indication of action to break the deep stagnation.” Just talk from the Americans, you see; we are all, including Mr. Obama, seen as coddling Israel (and we do not even have Formerly Eminent Persons writing letters).

This letter is a useful reminder of European attitudes, at least at the level of the Eminent: Blame Israel, treat the Palestinians as children, wring your hands over the terrible way the Americans conduct diplomacy. The Israelis will treat this letter with the derision it deserves, and the Palestinians will understand that because this kind of thing reduces European influence with Israel, the EU just can’t deliver much. Indeed it cannot, and the bias, poor reasoning, and refusal to face facts in this letter all suggest that that won’t be changing any time soon.



Dear High Representative

We, the under-signed members of the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process, are writing to you to express our strong concern about the dying chances of a settlement based on two separate, sovereign and peaceful states of Israel and Palestine.

The Eminent Persons Group is composed of a number of former Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and senior officials of EU Member States who have decided to concert their efforts to encourage a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion.  We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories.  The security and long-term stability of Israel, an essential objective in any process, cannot be assured in such conditions, any more than the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people.

President Obama made some of these points during his March 2013 visit to the region, particularly in his address to the people of Israel, but he gave no indication of action to break the deep stagnation, nor any sign that he sought something other than the re-start of talks between West Bank and Israeli leaders under the Oslo Process, which lost its momentum long ago.

We are therefore appealing to you, and through you to the members of the Council of Ministers, to recognise that the Peace Process as conceived in the Oslo Agreements has nothing more to offer. Yet the present political stalemate, while the situation deteriorates  on the ground, is unsustainable, given the disturbed politics of the region and the bitterness generated by the harsh conditions of life under the Occupation.

The concern of the European Union at this deterioration, clearly expressed in a series of statements, not least the European Council Conclusions of 14 May 2012, has not been matched by any action likely to improve the situation. The aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis and the interests of the European Union, prominently referred to in those Conclusions and in other relevant EU documents, cannot be met by the current stagnation.

It is time to give a stark warning that the Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy. The Palestinian Authority cannot survive without leaning on Israeli security assistance and Western funding and, since the PA offers little hope of progress towards self-determination for the Palestinian people, it is fast losing respect and support from its domestic constituency. The steady increase in the extent and population of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and the entrenchment of Israeli control over the OT in defiance of international law, indicate a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights.

We have reached the conclusion that there must be a new approach. Letting the situation lie unaddressed is highly dangerous when such an explosive issue sits in such a turbulent environment.

A realistic but active policy, set in the context of current regional events, needs to be composed of the following elements:

– a sharper focus on the essential need for a two-state solution, as the most likely outcome to offer lasting peace and security for the parties and their neighbourhood and the only one recognised by UN resolutions as just and equitable;

– an explicit recognition that the current status of the Palestinian Territories is one of occupation, with responsibility for their condition falling under international law on the occupying state;

– an insistence that Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 lines are illegal, must cease being expanded and will not be recognised as one of the starting points in any new negotiations;

– a stipulation that any representative political organisation with a valid claim to participate in negotiations must renounce the use of violence outside established UN norms;

– the renewal of efforts to establish a unified Palestinian representation of both the West Bank and Gaza, without which a comprehensive peace cannot be successfully negotiated and the absence of which serves as an excuse for inaction;

– the encouragement of reform of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, including representation of all the main Palestinian parties committed to non-violence and reflecting the expressed wishes of the resident Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza;

– a vigorous international drive for the implementation of much improved humanitarian and human rights conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza, monitored by the United Nations, whatever the state of peace negotiations might be at any time;

– a reconsideration of the funding arrangements for Palestine, in order to avoid the Palestinian Authority’s present dependence on sources of funding which serve to freeze rather than promote the peace process;

– a clear and concerted effort to counter the erasing of the 1967 lines as the basis for a two-state outline.  This should include a clear distinction in EU dealings with Israel between what is legitimate – within the 1967 lines – and what violates international law in the Occupied Territories;

– a clearer willingness within the EU to play a political and not just a funding role and to resume a more strategic dialogue with the Palestinians.

For all the good sense of EU statements on this issue over the years, the EU’s inactivity in the face of an increasingly dangerous stagnation is both unprincipled and unwise.  European leaders cannot wait for ever for action from the United States when the evidence accumulates of American failure to recognise and promote the equal status of Israelis and Palestinians in the search for a settlement, as accepted in United Nations resolutions.

Later generations will see it as unforgivable that we Europeans not only allowed the situation to develop to this point of acute tension, but took no action now to remedy the continuing destruction of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. We regard it as essential for EU interests that the Council of Ministers and you take rapid action to correct this unacceptable state of affairs.

We are sending copies of this letter to Members of the Council of Ministers and to the US Secretary of State.

Members of the EEPG send you their respectful greetings.


Guiliano Amato, Former Prime Minister of Italy
Frans Andriessen, Former Vice-President of the European Commission
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Former Vice-Prime Minister of the Netherlands
John Bruton, Former Prime Minister of Ireland
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Former European Commissioner and Former Foreign Minister of Austria
Teresa Patricio Gouveia, Former Foreign Minister of Portugal
Jeremy Greenstock, Former UK Ambassador to the UN and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Lena Hjelm-Wallén, Former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden
Wolfgang Ischinger, Former State Secretary of the German Foreign Ministry and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Lionel Jospin, Former Prime Minister of France
Miguel Moratinos, Former Foreign Minister of Spain
Ruprecht Polenz, Former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag
Pierre Schori, Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Sweden
Javier Solana, Former High Representative and Former NATO Secretary-General
Peter Sutherland, Former EU Commissioner and Director General of the WTO
Andreas van Agt, Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Hans van den Broek, Former Netherlands Foreign Minister and Former EU Commissioner for External Relations
Hubert Védrine, Former Foreign Minister of France and Co-Chair of the EEPG
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Former President of Latvia

Post a Comment 18 Comments

  • Posted by EthanP

    I wish these ‘High Minded’ types would just once show such concern for the Israelis who constantly face the threat of missiles and terrorism from the ‘oppressed’ Palestinians. Would that they showed such concern for Syrians and Egyptians who daily suffer. When was the last time they showed such concern for Tibetans, Karens, or Kurds. Oh thats right, it only matters when concern is bought with Arab Petro Dollars. Or perhaps it’s only good old fashioned anti-Semitism.

  • Posted by Lily

    Jeremy Greenstock, the former UK ambassador to the UN, was one of the ‘formerly eminent’ signatories.

    Greenstock wrote an extraordinary column for the Guardian in January 2009. He claimed that Hamas “has no deep-rooted argument with the west or Christianity, no political alliance with Tehran or Hezbollah, no respect for al-Qaida and no “charter” for the destruction of Israel in its political programme”.


    On the BBC’s Radio Four Today Programme, Sir Jeremy claimed that Hamas “are not intent on the destruction of Israel. That’s a rhetorical statement of resistance and not part of their programme”. He added that the Hamas charter opposing Israel’s existence was “drawn up by a Hamas-linked imam some years ago and has never been adopted since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government in January 2006 as a part of its politcal programme”. Greenstock also said that Hamas was not trying to set up a Taliban state.


    How many ‘greenstocks’ are on that list?

  • Posted by Dave

    In this group three or more are openly anti Israel. They showed vehemently and acted accordingly when they were serving officially: Hubert Vedrine, former France FM, Javier Solana, former EU official, Miguel Moratinos former Spain FM. Most of the members of this group are from the left which is as we now know profoundly anti Israel. No credibility.

  • Posted by abunudnik

    It occurs to me, reading this, that there is only one disincentive to war: you might lose. Lose what? Lose your land. Therefore, in the interest of peace, Israel has a duty to keep all lands won in war to deter future war. The problem is how to run it? The moment Israel annexes the territories it cannot but extend equal citizenship since it will now be under its own law and Jewish populations would drop to dangerous levels. Self-defense would go out the window and the Jewish state would disappear within a generation. Either that or a bloody civil war with the same result. It must simply run the WB and Gaza as protectorates – permanently. The reason there is no solution is that the problem is already solved. It’s not a perfect solution but what is? The Palestinian Arabs will just have to grow up and take advantage of what freedoms and lives they have to be happy.

  • Posted by Gary Katz

    I bet that, from 1948-1967, when Jordan ethnically cleansed Jews from Jerusalem, barred Jews from their holy sites and desecrated other Jewish holy sites, not one of the “formers” would’ve spoken up (had they been around at that time). I wonder how many of them speak up for Tibet?

  • Posted by ESLombard

    These “high minded” folks have perhaps never been assaulted in a dark alley by thugs. The Palestinian thugs can put on their best, obsequious demeanors, but their acts speak all the truths we need. They will never relinquish their conquests of the 7th century. Ultimately, they are determined to resume their place in Spain and Palestine. None of their promises or manipulations or lies are to be believed. Were these high minded folks in our alley, they would have the good sense and apprehension to behave precisely as we have.

  • Posted by WilliamLee2014

    you will note that the communique contains these weasel words:
    “…renounce the use of violence outside established UN norms”

    Under UN norms, the Pals are justified in killing the zionist occupiers.

  • Posted by Truth seeker

    Zionists including the writer want endless war between moooosleems/aeeeeerabs and the west lead by Americans to protect apartheid Israel ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and theft of their lands

  • Posted by Alan C

    thank goodness the Europeans at least issued a mea culpa, and recognised that the charade of a two state solution has been killed by Israel. Of course they blame the Israelis – they are the occupying and dominant power, who are continuing a process of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and appalling cruelty to the indigenous people of the region. Elliot Abrams as usual acts as the apologist, sneers and demonstrates his one-sided approach. Palestinians deserve equal human rights and the restitution of their property, land and water. Israel is an apartheid entity, with no democracy for non-Jews and a military police state whose violence is cruel beyond measure. At last people like the Europeans are saying so, and refuse to be cowed by the usual knee-jerk allegations of ant-semitism, which are just a way of stifling the truth of what they are doing.

  • Posted by Esav Benyamin

    Anyone who describes himself as “eminent” is not. Little people who accomplished none of the goals they state here are trying to pass on the responsibilities they failed to address when they had the chance. Very much “former” eminences. Quite.

    What is this “letter” about then? Perhaps they miss the limelight, and are hoping for an interview. Or another of those delightful ministerial dinner parties.


  • Posted by Eliyahu

    just by the way, Hubert Vedrine’s father was a high official in the pro-Nazi, collaborationist Vichy regime in France.

    I am a little surprised to see Lionel Jospin’s name on the list, although a socialist, he called the Hizbullah a terrorist group and was rewarded for that by getting hit on the head by a rock while on an official visit [as French PM] to Ramallah. It seems that Jospin subsequently learned which side the bread was buttered on. And as a loyal opportunist and faithful moneytheist, who knows whom to butter up.

  • Posted by Eliza

    It would serve Abrams cause better if he were able to resist the snide comments regarding the Eminent Persons Group. The reasoning they espouse cannot be deflected by this and it just makes Abrams sound petty.

    Of course the Olso peace process has stagnated over many years to the point where is it now part of the problem. The USA, even under Obama, is either unable or unwilling to seriously undertake moves towards a just resolution of the conflict. This letter is just a small step in recognition of this.

    The EU and other western states eventually have to make it clear that it no longer has any confidence in the USA as ‘peacemaker’ in the ME. Their inability to act as an honest broker will cost the USA a measure of its remaining soft power – as it should.

    This letter is directed to the USA; its point is not so much that Israel must be blamed or pay but the USA must be criticised and must pay a price for their ineffective policies re I/P conflict. The price is a lessening of American influence and soft power.

    It matters little how Israelis react to it. They may dismiss it in a similar manner as Abrams, but so what.

  • Posted by David Wavey

    You can’t be serious. It is obvious to everyone that Israel has no intention of negotiating in good faith and never did. In addition, having given up 78% of Palestine, why should Palestinians negotiate on the remnant 22%? Both the “peace process” and your comments are a joke.

  • Posted by Eliyahu

    Wivey, on the contrary, the Arabs –so-called “palestinians”, a people that never existed in history– never had any intention of making peace. That is why many or most Israelis believe that the Oslo accords were a mistake. However, the PLO/Palestinian Authority did commit itself to certain things in the Oslo accords. Two of those were that borders and the Jewish settlements in Judea-Samaria were to be a matter of negotiation for a final status. But the PLO/PA in its usual bad faith now refuses to honor its own commitments. They demand Israeli capitulation on these matters as the price of negotiation.

    Abu mazen refused PM Olmert’s overly generous offer made in September 2008 and since has refused to negotiate with Israel at all, that is, he has refused to negotiate for the last 5 years. He wants Israel to concede on all matters of substance before any “negotiations”. This also indicates that the material situation of the Arabs in Judea-Samaria, including the Palestinian Authority’s zones of control, is not bad. Abu mazen said so himself, in fact.
    But the most important fact that all this diplomatic and non-diplomatic maneuvering of Mahmud abbas [abu mazen] and his European partisans demonstrate is that the PLO/PA does not keep its signed commitments and that the European diplo-thugs who support Abbas don’t care that he violates the PLO/PA’s signed commitments. Indeed, these Euro bigots endorse Abbas’ refusal to make peace.

  • Posted by Eliyahu

    one of the things that wivey, eliza and alan seem to be saying is that agreements made with Jews do not need to be honored. That sounds like the old antisemitism to me.

  • Posted by Jeffrey

    The EU can insist the settlements are illegal as much as they want to. Their insistence does not change the inconvenient truth that most of them are not illegal. it just shows the moral bankruptcy of the EU and its lack of respect for international law .

  • Posted by Ana Thorn

    All these former eminent dignitaries are in a tough spot. The Islamization of Europe is steadily progressing and these distinguished humanitarians (European doublespeak for morally bankrupt) probably see the writing on the wall.

    What can they do if they want to protect themselves in their self-imposed new world order (self-imposed via unchecked immigration and PC policies) ? It seems that they’ve picked the old appeasement approach — feed the crocodile and hope that it is full by the time it gets to them.

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