Brace for trouble. The EU peace initiative is about to kick off
This spring of 2011 does not appear to be the best moment for a new peace initiative. After all, peace talks have not been seriously conducted for two years now.
The uprisings that have engulfed the region have narrowed down the room for compromise even more. Even under a different coalition, Israel could hardly be expected to make concessions when the regional order seems poised to collapse, its peace treaty with Egypt is under serious strain, Iran's ascendance appears unstoppable and America's influence appears eclipsed.
For their part, the Palestinians are hardly in the mood for concessions. Their strategy of institution-building and delegitimisation against Israel aims at support for a unilateral declaration of independence that should obviate the need for talks. The wave of protests in the Arab world has left the Palestinians without the diplomatic backing and pressure of friendly Arab regimes who in the past would cajole the Palestinians on America's behalf.
America, for its part, appears to have abdicated, in the name of human rights, its role of the main regional power. Its ability to influence the process, already damaged by two years of diplomatic blunders by President Obama, is now diminished by the regional turmoil, its abandonment of trusted allies for the sake of uncertain change and its involvement, alongside Britain, in a war that lacks a clear mission and risks lasting much longer than expected.
America has abdicated from the process
Only a fool would step into this chaotic vacuum in the belief that now is the best time to extract a compromise from the warring sides.
Enter the EU. With Foreign Secretary William Hague in the driving seat of a European peace initiative, in the coming weeks there will be a concerted European effort to use the Quartet (EU, US, Russia and the UN) to draft the parameters of a peace treaty in the hope that the parties will adopt it. That the EU is hoping to exploit declining US influence to put forward a European initiative is both predictable and lamentable. That it stands even a remote chance of success it is unlikely. As the Libya mission has already painfully made evident, Europe lacks the capacity and staying power to prompt such dramatic diplomatic breakthroughs on its own. It also lacks the unity to agree on such momentous foreign policy initiatives.
But Europeans believe there to be both urgency and opportunity on their side. The urgency is dictated by the mistaken belief that a swift resolution of the conflict can help stabilize the region. The opportunity is offered by American eclipse - and the resulting possibility that European enthusiasm for a solution can carry the day.
The opposite is true. No regional player that would have to take risks in the process will be willing to make even minimal concessions until the dust settles. Besides, Europe does not carry the weight of America - it cannot offer credible guarantees that both sides need if a deal is to be successful. All that a new peace initiative can trigger is a blame game while it is ongoing and a new escalation of violence after it fails - something that has happened in the past with deadly punctuality.
The turmoil in the MidEast means many things - but one thing that should be self-evident is that it proves the moral bankruptcy of four decades of European foreign policy in the region, including the morbid obsession with forcing Israel into ever growing concessions for the sake of a peace that exists only in the Western mind.
So brace for trouble. The EU peace initiative is about to begin.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies