Arzi in the Media > De Volkskrant, 23.9.2011

EU pledged to oppose Palestinian UN bid

De Volkskrant, 23.9.2011
by Eran de Vries, chairman of Stichting Arzi for Israelis living in the Netherlands

De Volkskrant, 23.9.2011 The EU has over the past decade visibly increased its credibility in the eyes of Israelis and Palestinians, thereby deepening its role in the peace process. This is what the EU stands to lose if it voids its own written commitment not to support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood.

The EU's Middle Eastern success story has been documented through various opinion polls among Israelis and Palestinians. In Israel these polls were carried out by the EU delegation to Israel, together with Ben Gurion University and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

The first poll, in 2004, showed 74% of Israeli responders think the EU "sides with the Palestinians." By 2007, only 34% of responders reported an "unfavorable" view of the EU. By the following poll in 2009, only 26% of responders reported that unfavorable view.

On the Palestinian side, an independent poll conducted by the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument showed trust in the EU was increasing there, too: From 54% in 2009 to 75% last year.

This progress was made possible through a consistent and trustworthy policy. The EU kept to its promises.

Among those promises, was one made publicly by the EU on the White House lawn in 1995, when an EU representative signed the Oslo Interim Agreement as witness to the commitments undertaken by the parties.

One of those commitment was Article 31, stating: "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the west Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status agreement".

This article forms the juridical basis for the American decision to oppose the Palestinian unilateral declaration. Supporting the declaration is supporting the violation of the commitment which the EU itself had undertaken. And if EU states do that, why should Israelis (or Palestinians for that matter) trust future pledges by the EU?

On September 16, the Dutch politician and diplomat Jan Pronk – who cannot be suspected of harboring a particularly pro-Israeli bias – was asked precisely this question at a conference about the Kairos document in Amsterdam. In view of Article 31, wouldn't supporting a unilateral declaration of statehood undermine EU credibility? He gave but a three-word reply: "Yes, it would."

Indeed, the EU has always condemned construction in Israeli settlements as unilateral and refused to accept them. Supporting such actions by the Palestinian side would be highly inconsistent, not to say hypocritical. In the balance hangs the success of a long-term and responsible policy that the EU has undertaken to increase its role as a credible, honest broker in the resolution of the Middle East conflict. The EU's approach of nurturing dialog while rejecting unilateral moves is making that policy a spectacular success.

Israelis perceive recognition of a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians as a reward for the terrorism and genocidal philosophy of Hamas – which is to become a part of the new entity's leadership. They see it as a reward for intransigence and rejectionism by elements within PLO, and they consider it as a show of disregard to the fate of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier whom Hamas has illegally abducted and held in captivity for more than five years.

The more credible the EU is seen in the eyes of Israelis, the greater influence it can have on their actions, with profound consequences for the peace process.

Supporting a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood would shatter their trust in the EU, and with it much of what the EU has labored to build.

The writer is an Israeli-Dutch advocate specializing in legal issues involving the two countries and chairman of Arzi, the Political Voice of Israelis Living in the Netherlands.