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).