The EU, Egypt and the IP conflict

Recently a bunch of EU country ambassadors were summoned by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and urged not to waver and engage Hamas, because "all of this is their fault." As some of the European powers try to find a solution to the Gaza blockade, it's not only Israel scuttling solutions — the Egyptians are doing it to in order to preserve their monopoly on talking to Hamas, stay relevant, and make sure they're not short-changed in any future deal:

Kouchner has said the EU could defuse tensions around Gaza by checking the cargo on ships bound for the tiny Palestinian coastal enclave as well as the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into the Hamas-controlled territory.

Providing further details of the proposal made last week, the French diplomatic chief said the checks could take place in Cyprus, which, unlike Gaza, has a deepwater port. Cargo could also be unloaded in the Israeli port of Ashdod.

"This would simplify the checks," he added, though acknowledging the plan "is not a success for now."

According to Kouchner, there would also be a list of banned products, but not a blanket ban on merchandise delivered to the Palestinians.

He expressed pessimism for the Rafah proposal, saying "it's not certain this would work because our Egyptian friends do not want us to speak directly with Hamas."

I wonder if Kouchner expressing this publicly is meant to embarrass the Egyptians and signal that they might just ignore them (and their American protectors). More details on possible deals over Rafah here.

This is coming at a time when there are voices within the EU rising to act more effectively on Middle East issues, as well as more independently from the US. For the last few decades, despite being a full members of the Quartet and the major donor to the Palestinians (as well as an important trade partner to the Israelis), the EU has played second fiddle to hopelessly biased and ineffective US administrations.

Chris Patten writes in the Guardian:

Today's miserable standoff in the Middle East requires new initiatives. The short-term failure of Israeli policies has concentrated global attention on their blockade of Gaza rather than on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. The long-term failure has rendered increasingly difficult a two-state solution as Palestine is broken up into barriered Bantustans.

As President Obama's military commanders have told him, the absence of anything resembling a peace process in the Middle East, and the identification of Washington with a very rightwing Israeli government, has made it more difficult for the US to deal with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others.

If politics does not succeed, then humanitarian aid will continue to be necessary. Yet we should never depend on the provision of humanitarian relief as an excuse for diplomatic drift and the failure to confront intransigence. Organisations such as Medical Aid for Palestinians do not exist so that others can duck their moral and political responsibilities.

. . .

However, the EU has too often since taken the view that only Washington really drives things forward. Yet what should the EU do when American policy is going nowhere? Not surprisingly, the secretary-general of the Arab League called the so-called quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia), which supervised the non-implementation of the road map for peace, "the quartet sans trois".

. . .

Today, the EU should not only call for an immediate end to the Gaza blockade but should work harder to promote reconciliation between the splintered Palestinian body-politic. The UN should be tasked with preventing the flow of weapons while the EU should take the initiative with Turkey and the Arab League to re-establish a government of national unity involving Fatah and Hamas for the whole of the Palestinian territory. In due course, the EU should monitor free elections there. You cannot favour democracy everywhere except in Palestine.

Without Hamas there will not be a peace settlement. What we should require from Hamas is simple – a ceasefire, acceptance of the outcome of a peace process provided it is endorsed in a Palestinian referendum, and help in securing the release of Corporal Shalit. To insist that they accept all past agreements is bizarre when no such requirement is made of Israel. Look, for example, at settlement building.

We should go further. There has been speculation the US may consider unilaterally tabling an agreement with a timetable for achieving it. Opponents of this proposal have questioned whether it would be wise for the US to thus risk its prestige. The EU could work with Turkey and the Arab League to draft proposals for an agreement to be tabled in the UN security council. This may not be immediately acceptable to the US but would at least bring some momentum.

Go for it!

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