Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The View from Europe: Jobs, Markets and Human Rights for Palestinians

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The View from Europe: Jobs, Markets and Human Rights for Palestinians

Article excerpt

THE VIEW FROM EUROPE: Jobs, Markets and Human Rights for Palestinians

The election of Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel refocuses attention on the idea that peace between Israel and the new Palestine could be achieved. And soon, provided that no one is beguiled either about the definition of "soon" or "peace."

However, the nations of Europe, collectively and individually, not only can but must play a major role in ensuring that both the economic and political support necessary to achieve peace is provided when and where it is needed.

The Oslo accords opened the way for the state of Israel to exploit the peace to create a role for itself as a dominant economic as well as military power in the region because it would be accepted by an increasing number of Arab and Muslim states. However, these states, too, can benefit through the new commercial opportunities, but only if there is international support for the development of the Palestinian as well as their own economies.

Since, to date, European nations have been slow to recognize and accept their moral and financial obligations for their own collective regional security, it may seem unrealistic to expect them, collectively or individually, to expend much economic or political effort on making the Middle East peace process a success.

But, hamstrung as it is in Congress by a rampant Israel lobby in Washington that finds unaceptable any financial encouragement, for whatever reason, to the Palestinians, the U.S. government is unable to fulfill even the limited economic pledges it has offered the Palestinians as incentive to carry out their obligations under Oslo. And the Barak government is hoping to evade fulfilling even the pledges made by its Likud predecessors to the Palestinians because of Israeli popular resistance to making territorial or economic concessions to the Palestinians as the price of peace.

All this creates a role for the European nations in the peacemaking as essential and necessary as the role many of them played in the past in halting or alleviating the destruction of the fighting. Without Norway, there would be no Oslo accords, whatever their defects. Without Europe, Norway and the rest of the Nordic countries, there would have been far less efficient international participation over the past 50 years in U.N. Middle East peacekeeping organizations and in educational and social assistance to the Palestinian refugees.

However, this did not balance the overall U.S. assistance given to the state of Israel. Nor did it halt the deepening Palestinian despair as Israel flouted one U.N. resolution after another. But the opportunity has arrived for European nations to further exercise a strong and balanced influence on the work for a sustainable peace. They can upgrade their concern for the exercise of human rights in both Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled areas.

And they can contribute to confidence-building among both Palestinian and European citizen-investors. To do so, however, European efforts must be both whole-hearted and sustained and not a repeat of the experience in Bosnia, where the British and French often seemed to be working at cross-purposes with Germany and Italy, to cite but one example.

Even as the Europeans continue to reform their own economies, and re-examine their own monetary, workplace and social welfare policies against the backdrop of high unemployment and unsustainable citizen benefits, the Palestinians face much greater problems that the Europeans can easily address. …

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