Europe's waining influence

At the UN General Assembly in November 2011, the vote over whether to elevate Palestine toa non-member observer state effectively split Europe in half. Of the twenty-seven European Union (EU) members, fourteen elected to support the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) request, twelve abstained, and the Czech Republic sided with Israel, the United States,Canada, and five other countries in voting against the motion. In a statement issued on the same day as the vote, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Commission’s spokespersonfor external affairs, reiterated the EU’s support for Palestinian statehood ‘‘when appropriate’’and ‘‘as part of a solution to the conflict.’’* Recalling the 1999 Berlin Declaration, Ashton alsohighlighted the fact that European advocacy for a ‘two-state solution’ had preceded both theUnited States’ shift to formally accept that as a goal and the celebrated Arab Peace Initiative.

 As Rory Miller’s Inglorious Disarray: Europe, Israel and the Palestinians since 1967 recounts, the EU could also look back to various other occasions when European diplomacy led the wayto what would later become the mainstream positions in Washington, Jerusalem, and the Arab capitals. Particularly groundbreaking was the Venice Declaration in 1980 that informallyrecognized the PLO as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, a decade beforethe U.S.-led Madrid Conference, where Palestinian representatives merely comprised part of the Jordanian delegation. Yet, as Miller explains, while Venice represented a ‘‘highpoint’’ inthe European Community’s ‘‘attempt to develop a ‘distinctive role’ in the search for MiddleEast peace,’’ both its conception and execution were indicative of the kind of weakness that still plagues Europe’s relationship to the conflict today (p. 94).

Review of The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World edited by Fawaz A. Gerges

With this volume Fawaz A. Gerges, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, has perhaps achieved the best attempt yet to present a comprehensive account of the background, events and fallout of the various uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa that began in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, in December 2010. The volume comprises 21 chapters authored by a range of very well established and highly reputable contributors. The aims of the volume, as Gerges states in the introduction, are twofold.

The first is to highlight commonalities, links and “systematic conditions” (35) throughout the region while also noting the important distinctions between each case study. The second aim is to reach beyond the sometimes-superficial conclusions prominent in the tidal wave of academic, semi academic and media analyses that have grown as the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath unfolded. This book rejects obvious conclusions – for example, “binary opposites (stable monarchies versus volatile republics)” (35) – and avoids the dangers of perpetuating common errors such as assuming causality between events or historical determinism.

Why Palestine isn’t a state

When the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) achieved recognition as a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly in 2012 it was against the wishes of The United States and Israel, as well as a handful of other nations. More importantly perhaps, this technical upgrade for the ‘State of Palestine’ has had little impact in terms of the reality ‘on the ground’ in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli and Egyptian forces continue to contain the – Hamas governed – Gaza Strip by sealing its land borders, patrolling its air space, preventing access to aid supplies by the Mediterranean Sea and tightly controlling the movement of both people and goods in or out. The situation is not much better in the West Bank, despite the fact that it is governed by a Western-friendly regime in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The larger of the two Palestinian territories is highly fragmented; it is physically cut off from East Jerusalem its de jure capital, its economy is moribund and the number of Israeli settlers living there in violation of the fourth Geneva convention has surpassed 500,000 and continues to grow. While across all of occupied Palestine human rights violations are ubiquitous and carried out on a daily basis by the occupying Israeli military forces and, as well, by the two rival Palestinian governments which are both starved of legitimacy. It seems then that little changed from the period prior to the PLO’s upgrade at the UN. This may be unsurprising given the nature of Palestine’s international context, particularly: an Israeli government dominated by politicians espousing irredentist and revisionist narrative of the conflict and stalwart support of that government by the United States, the sole hyper-power of our time.