September 4, 2011

EU and Palestine? It's complicated.

Postscript to my previous post: The European Union nations are considering a compromise United Nations General Assembly resolution that will recognize Israel and Palestine alongside each other and also push for resumption of bilateral negotiations over borders and other remaining issues. [Thanks to Laura Rozen for breaking and analyzing the details of this late development.]

Such a compromise would certainly help restore European unity on this and other issues. Several EU member states have been planning to support or abstain on the maximalist version of a resolution, which will recognize Palestine as a full state without such substantive conditions as calling for further negotiations. It would be great for the EU to demonstrate consensus on a thorny international issue -- and at the UN, no less. All the better if they can simultaneously embrace Palestinian statehood and get credit for promoting Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The EU is also no stranger to compromises that help to avert a battle between competing principles in the UN. The Palestinians must know very well that Europe loves a compromise, and that the ever-elusive EU consensus is at a historic low right now. If the Palestinians reject the compromise and hold out for the straight-up UN resolution recognizing statehood -- the version that Israel and the United States and France and Germany and Italy are all set against -- won't the rest of the world happily pick it up again and leave the EU compromise in the dust? If so, the EU consensus will break down as well, as several EU states would probably jump aboard rather than be seen as opposing the vehicle for Palestinian self-determination.

On the other side, at least half the EU members will vote against any one-sided resolution, out of deference to Washington and in solidarity with the State of Israel. Though the Israelis may try to dismiss the significance of the vote and the EU's ambivalence after the fact, countering the Palestinian effort is currently a top foreign policy priority for Israel and far outweighs any initiatives for resuming peace negotiations.

In trying to avert an awkward situation, the Europeans are definitely taking a risk. Without a consensus on the maximalist resolution, they will look indecisive and ineffective. Combined with the failure of their own compromise, this would turn into a major black-eye, egg-in-face, crow-eating moment even as the same Europeans are being lauded for their successful NATO strategy in Libya.

At the UN, and within the EU caucus, the Palestinians hold a strong trump card, which is their claim on colonialist guilt and liberal passions, and the atmospherics of the Arab Spring. The EU hopes its new compromise will save it from having to choose sides. But this is one issue where the sides themselves may insist that everyone choose.

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