21
Sep

By Martti Ahtisaari & Javier Solana

It is not often that Europe has the chance to play a pivotal role on the world stage. But as the Palestinians push for recognition as a state at the United Nations later this month, the European Union is finding itself courted by each side, and therefore more influential on the Middle East process than at any time since the Oslo Accords.

As ever, the biggest challenge facing the E.U.’s 27 member states is presenting a unified front. There are 10 compelling reasons for them to coalesce around a “yes” vote and keep the two-state approach to Middle East peace alive.

The critical vote is likely to be in the General Assembly, on a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians’ status from observer to non-member state. The Palestinians are likely to get a majority, but what matters more than the outcome of the vote is its size and composition.

The Israeli government is lobbying hard for a “no,” and the P.L.O., unable to significantly shape realities on the ground, hopes to at least show some diplomatic traction for its continued faith in the two-state approach. Europeans find themselves in the unusual position of being the key prize in this tussle.

The first reason why the E.U. 27 should vote “yes” is that the U.N. resolution is an attempt to keep the two-state solution alive. This solution is under attack from the steady expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that the conflict should now be accepted as “insoluble.” As a result this vote is not a meaningless distraction, but a reaffirmation that the peace process is meaningful.

The second reason for a European “yes” is that the Europeans have already invested hugely in the two-state solution that is under scrutiny, including the annual €1 billion aid to help build a functioning Palestinian state. Again, a “yes” is a reaffirmation that the project is worthwhile and can succeed.

The third reason for a “yes” is simply to respond positively to Mahmoud Abbas’ state-building achievements. Failing to vote “yes” would be to respond to demands for state-building by refusing to formally acknowledge where they have got to.

The fourth reason is about the Arab Spring. Anything other than a “yes” would expose Europeans to charges of double standards from both post-revolutionary governments and conservative Arab regimes (for different reasons) for failing to support rights for Palestinians while advocating them elsewhere. Read more…

Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and U.N. mediator, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. Javier Solana is a distinguished senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, and served as secretary general of NATO and E.U. high representative for common foreign and security policy. Both men are members of the board of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 16, 2011 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 17, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune with the headline: Ten Reasons for a European ‘Yes’).

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