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The European Union’s governance practices and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Michelle Pace,

Paper to be presented at the ECSA-DK Annual Conference, Aarhus University, 25 and 26 September, 2014 (Panel D: EU’s External Relations and Foreign Policy)

*** First Draft. Please do not quote without prior permission from the author ***

Abstract: This paper focuses on the EU’s governance practices of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (IPC). Since 1980, the common unifying objective underpinning the EU’s discourse and diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the IPC has been that of ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, of bringing an end to Israeli settlement activity and of helping bring about a Palestinian state with Palestinians living alongside Israelis in peace and security. The academic discussion on the EU’s involvement in this conflict has centred upon issues of EU actorness, its capabilities and expectations and / or effectiveness, concluding that the EU has been weak and / or ineffective in this context. This paper suggests that Bang’s notion of governance as political communication can help us nuance better the EU’s endless efforts at attempting a solution to this intractable conflict. Such a focus on political communication will help us learn something more general about EU actions in the IPC.


“Operation Protective Edge” was launched by Israel on the 8th July 2014 in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. This invasion lasted seven weeks and killed more than 2,200 people – the vast majority of whom were Gazans. EU countries responded by defending Israel’s use of force in Gaza but blamed it for harming “peace” prospects in the longer term. Laurent Fabius (French Foreign Minister) and Belgium’s Didier Reynders emphasised that Europe should play a leading role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.1

Less then two years earlier (on 14 November 2012) Israel had launched its “Operation Pillar of Defense” – with the killing of Hamas’s chief of its military wing, Ahmed Jabari. This “operation” lasted 8 days. Guido Westewelle (then German foreign minister) insisted it was “obvious that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself and protect its own citizens against rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip”. Most European ministers agreed that Hamas bore the principal responsibility for the crisis. 2

On 27 December 2008, following Israel’s incursion into Gaza (Operation Cast Lead), the then French Presidency of the European Union issued a statement declaring that:

‘The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on the process set out in Annapolis and on the establishment of a viable Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel in peace and security. Work must be carried out, notably on the basis of the Arab peace initiative, to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a comprehensive and operational manner. Europe encourages the inter-Palestinian reconciliation behind President Mahmoud Abbas, as called for by the Ministers of the Arab League on 26 November, and supports the mediation efforts of Egypt and the Arab League in this respect’.3
The common unifying objective underpinning the EU’s discourse and its diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the IPC since 1980 has been that of ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, of bringing an end to Israeli settlement activity and of helping bring about a Palestinian state with Palestinians living alongside Israelis in peace and security.
Like many other works on this topic (Hemmer, 2010, Musu 2010, Tocci 2007 and 2009, Mueller 2013) this author agrees that however well-intentioned, EU efforts at mediating a solution to the IPC have not achieved much. The EU, in particular, has very little to show for years of commitment in this context. The Palestinians are still living under occupation, Israeli settlement activity continues unabated and no Palestinian state is in sight while the mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians gets deeper by the day. However, this contribution aims to go a step further and add something more to the ongoing debate in the field. It does this by moving away from the focus on EU actorness, expectations and capabilities or effectiveness and by highlighting instead the EU’s governance of the IPC. In this respect, I am influenced by Bang’s definition of governance as political communication and seek to apply this to how the EU communicates its take on this ongoing and enduring conflict in one of the most turbulent regions in the world. Understanding the impact of this form of governance, I argue, can help us nuance better the EU’s endless efforts at attempting a solution to this intractable conflict and learn something more general (and perhaps more positive) about EU actions in the IPC.
The paper aims to achieve this by first unpacking what governance as political communication entails. It then highlights how the EU actually governs the IPC: first through a set of bilateral relations with the conflict parties, then through multilateral fora such as the EMP and the ENP and also through its involvement in the Middle East Quartet. The paper then dedicates a section on the EU’s governance of the IPC since the 2006 Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip to date. It concludes by summarising its findings and some policy implications.
Governance and the EU in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Bang’s (2003) definition of governance4 as an interactive mode of social and political communication can be usefully applied to the case of the EU and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his edited volume Bang and his contributors adopt an anti-foundational approach which offers a multidisciplinary framework for studying governance. Governance is understood as “the contingent product of political struggles embodying competing sets of beliefs” (p. 208) and “highlights the importance of dilemmas, traditions, and political contests” (p. 210). They conclude that therefore, “any existing pattern of government will have some failings”. Moreover, “failure … is inevitable in all governing but that ‘There are different ways of coping with the inevitability of failure, ranging from small-scale incremental adjustments based on trial-and-error learning to comprehensive attempts at constitutional and institutional redesign’ (p. 114).” They continue to add an important premise to their thesis in that those who participate in governance “must recognise the likelihood of failure but proceed as if success were possible” (Jessop in Bang, 101-116). Successful governance is here taken as the ability to empower and rule together with civil society in dialogical and co-operative relationships – an interactive politics of presence and becoming in which political power is as intrinsic to effectiveness, order, autonomy and solidarity as are meaning and norms (Bang et al, 2000, Bang (ed) 2003: 7).
I have applied this understanding of governance to the wider EU-Mediterranean relations earlier, where I focused on the direct recipients of EU policies on the Mediterranean.5 In its application to this particular case study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, EU governance practices are not only about securing the effectiveness of political decisions and actions, but also about how political and social order is constituted (through the securitization of the said conflict) and about freedoms and equality (or lack of them) in the Israeli-Palestinian context. How far do EU practices towards the conflict go in empowering the very targets of these policies, that is, the people in the Palestinian Occupied Territory and Israel? Do EU governance practices encourage the everyday political engagement of these peoples? Why is it that, at their grassroots, Palestinian as well as Israeli societies remain frustrated both with their leaders and especially with external actors like the EU?
The paper will now briefly take a look at the EU’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by scrutinizing the EU’s governance of this case-study. Key relevant governance practices to the EU’s stated objective of pursuing a two-state solution are its bilateral relations with the parties concerned, that is with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
EU bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority

Since the early 1960s, when the European Community initialled bilateral relations with its southern partners, preserving political, social and economic security and stability in and around Europe have been the key markers in European policy towards the Middle East. Bilateral relations between the EU and its southern partners are, in the main, managed through association agreements.

The legal framework for EU-Israeli relations is provided by the EU-Israel Association Agreement signed in Brussels, on 20 November 1995, and following ratification by the then 15 Member States’ parliaments, the European Parliament and the Knesset, entered force on 1 June, 2000. It replaces the earlier Cooperation Agreement of 1975. The main features of the EU-Israel Association Agreement include provisions on regular political dialogue, on freedom of establishment and liberalisation of services, the free movement of capital and competition rules, the strengthening of economic cooperation and cooperation on social matters. The agreement establishes an Association Council to be supported by an Association Committee. It also reinforces the arrangements for free trade in industrial products which had been in force since the late 1970s. The agreement also mentions many other areas of cooperation that are open to negotiation. At Israel's request, there is a Joint Declaration on the importance both parties attach to the struggle against xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism.6
The legal basis for the EU’s relations with the Palestinian Authority is the Interim Association Agreement on Trade and Cooperation signed with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Article 2 of the EU’s AAs with these conflict parties includes a clause in respect of ‘the democratic principles and fundamental human rights established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ which ‘inspire the domestic and international policies of the Parties (the EU and the respective Mediterranean partner) and shall constitute an essential element of (each) Agreement’. Bilateral relations with the southern partners are very relevant to the EU’s stated objective of pursuing a two-state solution for the Middle East conflict since they represent the most valid leverage for the EU vis-à-vis conflict parties.7 The EU has however, to date, never evoked the suspension of any agreement with any Mediterranean partner in the case of violations of human rights. One might hope that states and foreign policy actors act according to states principles / societal values but Foreign Policy is much murkier than that and the governance framework suggested here can shed light on how we can nuance such instances better. While application of EU and international law could see withdrawal of bilateral benefits due to Israeli and Palestinian violations, in practice the EU has preferred constructive engagement with both parties, (as with other southern Mediterranean countries).
In fact EU legal obligations and the duty of non-recognition of violations of international law may be undermined by certain aspects of current EU policy and practice, the most well-known being treatment of settlement products and Palestinian political arrests of members of rival factions.8 Rhetorically, the EU has regularly condemned violations of international

law that prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. However, such discursive practices have been very tepid in practice. At face value, this comes across as the status quo of a dissonance between EU statements and actions in the region. However, EU officials insist that dialogue is the way forward with Israel and the Palestinians in order to keep the parties at the negotiating table of the EU’s objective for a MEPP:

“Israel and the EU have a strong economic partnership but a weak political partnership. We need to do everything we can possibly do to enhance the latter. And we strongly belief that sanctions are not the way forward: dialogue is.”9

EU-multilateral fora vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Other potential leverage opportunities for the EU in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are multilateral fora (which complement bilateral initiatives). In 1995, the Euro-Mediterranean Conference was held in Barcelona, during which the Barcelona Declaration was approved and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) established. This regional initiative foresaw a political role for the EU and its partners in promoting political values including good governance and democracy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is formally separated from the EMP framework. In practice, the EU’s role in the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) cannot be disassociated from wider regional Mediterranean initiatives (including the ENP and UfM, see below) as it is strongly connected to these. In fact, the stalling of the MEPP has had a major impact on the EMP, hindering progress in the political basket. Since its launch in 2008, the revamped Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean10 has also been hampered by the ongoing conflict. However, if we take Bang’s notion of governance, we may be able to appreciate the EU’s role in such multilateral fora through different lenses. As a hypermodern polity, the EU is a different kind of sovereign entity, which implicates openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence as a political system (EU Commission White Paper on Good Governance p. 10). The EU therefore presents itself as an alternative mediator in the IPC – one that facilitates extensive consultation and dialogue between the core actors involved in the conflict. And the EU’s multilateral fora are the context it provides for such engagement. In this way the EU goes through various measures to ensure that the location of such meetings is suitable for all parties to the conflict (for example Malta is considered as neutral ground). Moreover it attunes political institutions of conflict parties to a culture of consultation and dialogue which in turn commits parties to demonstrate accountability and teamwork in relation to the “other”.11
In its 2003 European Security Strategy, the EU reiterated its interest in a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict, stating that ‘it is in the Union's interest that countries on our borders are well governed. Our task is to promote a ring of well-governed countries to the east of the European Union and on the shores of the Mediterranean with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations. Resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority. Without this, there will be little chance of dealing with other problems in the Middle East’.12
In 2004, the EU developed the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), a new foreign policy tool for its eastern and southern neighbours, with the aim of strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of both the EU and its neighbours. It is based on deepening its bilateral relations with neighbouring states including the Mediterranean Partners of the Barcelona Process. According to the EU, the ENP framework provides a coherent approach that ensures that the whole of the EU is committed to deeper relations with all its neighbours. At the same time, it allows the EU to develop tailor-made relations with each country. The participating countries benefit from a privileged relationship with the EU in particular through bilateral Actions Plans between the EU and each ENP partner, which define the breadth of bilateral relations.With its Action Plans, the ENP is designed as a soft power instrument to support partners in conflict resolution efforts through ‘a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development)… [that] goes beyond existing relationships to offer political association and deeper economic integration, increased mobility and more people-to-people contacts. The level of ambition of the relationship depends on the extent to which these values are shared’.13 The EU-Israel Action Plan was the first such plan adopted under the ENP. EU-Israel cooperation is wide-ranging, and spans from political dialogue and trade-related issues to transport, energy, environment and research. In its EU-Israel Action Plan the EU declares that:
‘This Action Plan sets out a comprehensive set of priorities in areas within the scope of the

Association Agreement and beyond. Among these priorities, particular attention should be given to:

‘Enhance political dialogue and co-operation, based on shared values, including issues such as facilitating efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict’,
And dedicates a whole section on the:
Situation in the Middle East’, stipulating that the two partners, the EU and the Israeli government, have agreed to:

‘Strengthen political dialogue and identify areas for further co-operation on:

– Progress towards a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflicts

– Working together with the EU, on a bilateral basis and as a member of the Quartet, with the aim of reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and a permanent two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security, in accordance with the Roadmap, and the obligations of the parties set out in it

– Supporting efforts by the PA to dismantle all terrorist capabilities and infrastructure; and ensuring a complete and unconditional cessation of terrorist activities and violence

– While recognising Israel’s right of self-defence, the importance of adherence to international law, and the need to preserve the perspective of a viable comprehensive settlement, minimising the impact of security and counter-terrorism measures on the civilian population, facilitate the secure and safe movement of civilians and goods, safeguarding, to the maximum possible, property, institutions and infrastructure

– Improving economic and social conditions for all populations

– Further improving access and co-ordination to facilitate the implementation and delivery of

humanitarian and other forms of assistance and facilitate the reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure

– Pursuing efforts to support and facilitate reforms, transparency, accountability and democratic governance in the Palestinian Authority, and the consolidation of all security services; promote a climate conducive to the resumption of co-operation in all areas

– Taking concrete actions against incitement to hatred and the use of violence from all sources’.14
The EU has also concluded an Action Plan with the Palestinian Authority and covers economic and political cooperation.15
The deepening in the EU’s bilateral relations with Israel and the PA (as well as with other Mediterranean Partners) has however been challenged by the EU’s involvement in a broad range of policy areas. For example, in the case of EU-Israeli relations, the ENP created, on the one hand, further opportunities for the deepening of economic, scientific and research links while, on the other hand, the ENP has led to further tensions in this relationship due to the EU’s involvement in the MEPP. While the EU works on building closer bilateral relations with Israel, the two are increasingly being separated over peacemaking matters. More generally, although the EU has on some occasions considered the use of conditionality vis-à-vis Israel, it does so in a very cautious calculated manner. For example, when, during the Israeli incursion into Gaza (2008-2009), Brussels decided to freeze talks on the upgrade in EU-Israeli relations, it did so in a very careful, rhetorical manner:
‘In a war situation, in a situation in which Israel is at war, using its war means in a very dramatic way, in a powerful way in Gaza, everybody realises that it is not the appropriate time to upgrade bilateral relations which normally take place in a more ...peaceful context,’ the EU's then ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, told the media in Jerusalem and insisting that the two sides had imposed a ‘mutually agreed time-out’ in the negotiations.16 In effect the upgrade dialogue was postponed not cancelled altogether. Governance in this case is a matter of navigating relations with conflict parties.
The mainstream European position remains that: ‘The EU’s policy is based on partnership and cooperation, and not exclusion. It is the EU’s view that maintaining relations with Israel is an important contribution to the Middle East Peace Process and that suspending the Association Agreement, which is the basis for EU-Israeli trade relations but also the basis for the EU-Israel political dialogue, would not make the Israeli authorities more responsive to EU concerns at this time. It is also a well-known fact that economic sanctions achieve rather little in this respect. Keeping the lines of communication open and trying to convince our interlocutors is hopefully the better way forward.’17
The EU has often been criticised for basing its agenda (vis-à-vis relations with Israel and the PA) on an overall optimism with regard to the liberal peace paradigm - without creating the necessary flexibility to make strategic adjustments in such a long-lasting case of a pending state-building project, persisting conflict and frustrated national identities, all of which are strong characteristics of the Middle East conflict (Richmond and Franks, 2009). Furthermore, moving away from its rhetoric and in practice, the EU seems to prioritise its trade and economic interests with its southern neighbours over its claims for a peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict. However, the EU’s preference for bilateral benchmarking appears to be based on the assumption that improvement in each country will produce improvement in the region in many ways. 18 Thus, a running thread and underlying basis in the EU’s EMP and ENP instruments is that an economically thriving Israeli and Palestinian economy will bring about more conditions for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict. This is why the EU has had so much faith in the Middle East Quartet Envoy who’s role is precisely to focus on the economic development of the Palestinian Territories.19
EU and the Quartet
The EU’s relations in international fora and with other external actors offer yet another leverage opportunity for it to make a mark in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the context of the MEPP, the EU plays a role as part of the Quartet on the Middle East (composed of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations) which mandate is to mediate this process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leaving the occupation on the side, the EU, under this umbrella, seeks to support the Palestinians with continued and comprehensive political, economic and social reforms. In particular, the EU seeks to support Palestinians in their institutions-building efforts towards an independent and democratic Palestinian state. For instance, as an acknowledgement of its shortcomings vis-à-vis the Middle East conflict, as well as the importance of the US, the EU sought to re-engage the administration of George W. Bush in the Arab-Israeli conflict through the Quartet. The EU was involved in the initiation of the Roadmap and with European pressure the US eventually launched the Annapolis process in Nov 2007. The then German EU presidency successfully used the Quartet as a forum to coordinate international efforts towards the Middle East. The EU, with a lot of experience with regional initiatives in general, managed to influence the Quartet’s position at Annapolis.20 The conference marked the first time a two-state solution was articulated as the mutually agreed-upon outline for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even though the US, rather than all the Quartet members, was tasked with monitoring progress and even though the US is often considered to be the main mediator in this conflict, the EU has carved itself an indirect role: one which often, in intractable conflicts, may have more real value than what is publicized in the high politics domain. According to EU officials, what really matters at the end of the day is often the discussions that happen behind the scene. ‘This is where our diplomatic efforts work best. Catherine Ashton is famous in our EEAS corridors for this. She doesn’t necessarily publicise what she is doing on the MEPP. Often we get to know of her engagements after she has been to the region”.21
With the European Commission being the biggest donor of financial assistance to the Palestinians, the 2006 Hamas victory cornered the EU into a quagmire. Hamas is proscribed as a ‘terrorist organisation’ on the EU’s list but the election results were deemed by international observers (including the EU’s own team of election observers) as probably the most fair, free and transparent election in the whole Middle East region to date.22 The EU’s main fear was Hamas’s position in regard to the two-state solution.23

The EU chose to join the US and its other Quartet partners (as well as Israel) to insist on Hamas that it agrees to three conditions: (i) renunciation of violence; (ii) recognition of Israel; and (iii) acceptance of previous agreements between Israel and the PLO. The EU also maintains a no contact policy with Hamas, at least at an official level. Hamas officially refused all three conditions. The then Israeli government of Ehud Olmert quickly signalled that it would refuse to hand over to a Hamas-led authority approximately $60 million in customs revenues (that Israel collects each month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority). The EU – at the request of the Quartet and the European Council – established the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) to facilitate need-based assistance to the Palestinians and support by international donors. Emphasis was placed on sectors that enabled the continued functioning of essential public social services.24 In terms of governance, the EU shows quite a lot of flexibility in the face of constraints such as those explained above. The EU thus remains engaged in the IPC, comes up with new alternatives, without being pre-programmed to engage in a kind of strategic communication which values influence and success (as commonly understood) above all else. (Even though officially, since 2006, the EU has conditioned engagement with a Palestinian government on its compliance with the three Quartet principles).

As regards EU governance of Israel’s actions within the IPC, from February 2009, the EU suspended talks of an upgrade of relations with Israel, in part due to Operation Cast Lead and in part due to the lack of progress in the peace process. When EU officials were questioned about this governance approach to the IPC, they agreed that what is constantly being evaluated in Brussels is the question of leverage and purpose. Clearly EU officials felt at the time that they had the leverage and advantage in presenting the Quartet principles to Hamas. In terms of Israel, EU officials felt and still feel strongly that the EU does not have that degree of leverage so they communicated at the time what they felt could possibly make a difference to the conflict parties.25 These officials also mentioned that they had to keep in mind Justice Goldstone’s report. On September 15, 2009, Justice Richard Goldstone, heading a United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza 2008-2009 conflict, declared:

“We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza”.26

The report accused both the Israeli Defense Forces and the Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.27

Moreover, EU officials agreed that Israel’s actions on the ground, not least its expansionist, settlements policy, continue to undermine the right of Palestinians to self-determination. The EU, they insist, remains committed to this right:

‘The European Union would like to restate its firm commitment to enabling the Palestinian people to fulfil their unconditional right to self-determination, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign state’,28
The Council has taken a strong position on Israeli settlements. In its 2009 Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process, the Council stated that:
‘… settlements, the separation barrier where built on occupied land, demolition of homes and evictions are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The Council urges the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities, in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and including natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001’.29
On December 2, 2010, a group of high level ex-EU officials, including Chris Patten and Javier Solana, wrote to the President of the European Council urging the EU to take much stronger action to hold Israel accountable for violations of international law, including the construction of settlements on occupied land, which is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention. But Lady Ashton responded by confirming that ‘the EU had no intention at this point of changing its approach to resolving the crisis’.30
When nuanced from a governance perspective, one can understand how the EU communicates its take on the conflict in such instances by noting what action or reaction EU officials at a particular point in time consider to have “operative significance”. In the specific case of the IPC, observers therefore need to distinguish between whether the EU is acting strategically or tactically in its self-referential capacity. For Bang et al (2003: 10) the distinction between strategy and tactics is drawn within the conception of the political. This refers to moving away from the old dichotomy between rational and irrational action, to the space in between where EU officials claim the EU has a capacity for growing reflexivity. This in turn they claim has been accumulated through years of engagement in the IPC. EU officials confided with this author the manner in which they observe how both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have their own everyday negotiating tactics as ordinary individuals. These tactics often influence strategic elite action indirectly by making new uses of, manipulating and diverting existing political spaces. In confidence, the author was informed that EU officials have concluded that the IPC offers a rich arena where politics is not only the arena for strategic struggle and negotiations between parties who seek a successful process. It is also a futile ground of all those who rather participate tactically to feel politically alive and kicking and who want to make a concrete, immediate difference right where they are. This is why the EU has come up with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean31 which to the minds of EU officials offers ordinary members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities a context to get involved and discuss new ideas.32 In this way, EU officials argue it is possible to approach the political issues in the IPC as comprising not only political authorities and a political regime but also a political community.33
Critics however insist that, in further contravention of past agreements, Israel has been flouting a number of its obligations under the agreements it has nominally accepted including the Roadmap, the Oslo Accords, and the Agreement on Movement and Access:
“At the time of writing of the present note, the Israeli blockade continues to be imposed despite the widespread international calls and the demands of the Palestinian leadership for a complete lifting of the blockade and despite indications from the Israeli Government that it may ‘ease’ it. As such, Israel continues obstructing free movement of persons and goods through Gaza’s border crossings, humanitarian access, commercial and economic flows, and the normal functioning of the Palestinian society. Families, sick persons and students also continue to be denied passage through border crossings, resulting in the death of several more Palestinian civilians this year owing to lack of access to life-saving medical care unavailable in Gaza. Commerce, trade and economic recovery continue to be completely thwarted by this unjust blockade. As a result, abject poverty, food insecurity, and near-total aid dependency now affect more than 75 per cent of the population in Gaza, where unemployment has reached dramatic levels; malnutrition, stunted growth, anaemia and other diseases have risen to unprecedented levels, especially among children; and hopelessness is widespread, with far-reaching consequences for the Palestinian people and society at present and in the future”.34
EU officials informed the author that, for many months, they were engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts at pressuring Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza – which it finally agreed to in mid-June 2010. Through these efforts they also communicated their strong belief that Israel’s strategy was unsustainable in the long run.35
In its Action Plan with the Palestinian Authority, the EU acknowledges that:
“Palestinian participation in the European Neighbourhood Policy takes place in the context of the overall political situation in the region which affects the scope of actions that can be feasibly undertaken. There are a number of constraints and limitations resulting from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continuing occupation, including settlement activity, restrictions to movement as a result of the closure policy and the separation barrier. The limitations on the Palestinian Authority pending the creation of a Palestinian state must also be taken into account. Joint action will be required both to bring about the implementation of the Roadmap and to continue the preparations for statehood”.36
The EU’s mode of governance of the IPC therefore also includes joint actions that the EU undertakes to bring about the implementation of the Roadmap37 and to continue with its preparations for statehood (together with the parties involved). The Roadmap foresaw three phases of implementation aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in three years: first, cessation of violence, Palestinian reform, including security sector reform, settlement freeze, Israeli withdrawal to the pre-intifada (28 September 2000) lines ‘as the security situation improves’, and Palestinian elections. Second, creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders. Third, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a permanent status solution.

The EU’s mode of governance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the Hamas takeover of Gaza
Following an escalation in intra-Palestinian violence, Hamas and Fatah agreed, in Mecca, to form a National Unity Government (NUG) on 8 February 2007. Despite the formation of a PA national unity government, intra-Palestinian violence continued and during May 2007 there was a dramatic upsurge in both intra-Palestinian factional violence and Israeli-Palestinian violence. Both Fatah and Hamas went to great lengths to kill in cold blood to get rid of their arch enemies. PA security forces committed serious human rights violations in the West Bank, targeting individuals and organisations suspected of affiliation with Hamas. At the same time, Hamas forces committed serious abuses against members and suspected affiliates of Fatah in Gaza. Both sides have arbitrarily detained hundreds of individuals without charge or trial, and often tortured or otherwise ill-treated them. They have also closed down media and organisations linked to the rival factions. 38
The Americans, with the help of the government of Israel, supported the arming of Fatah, in fear of a strong Hamas establishing itself in the Gaza Strip.39 By June 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza. Following this, Israel tightened its control over the area and closed its border crossings with the Gaza Strip. The siege affects land crossings and access to the sea (all under Israeli control). It also reduced the kinds of goods it allows to enter the Gaza Strip from 4,000 prior to the siege to only 150. Hamas responded to the Israeli and international siege by saying that it would seek funding from Arab states and other sources to compensate for any shortfall. As a direct result of the siege policy, Hamas has also developed an economy based on tunnels between the southern Gaza Strip and Rafah. Large quantities of goods have been imported through these tunnels including basic staples as well as weapons (such as rockets). B’Tselem highlights the use of tunnels as an inappropriate substitute for a stable local economy – an area where the EU is committed to supporting the Palestinians in.

What has the EU’s stance of boycotting Hamas (and on the Israeli imposed siege) meant in practice for the recipients of its governance practices? According to B’Tselem, approximately one and a half million Gazans have since been imprisoned and left in dire need of basic supplies.40

The European Union attempts some leverage in this situation through its Border Assistance Mission stationed at the Rafah crossing (EUMAN Rafah) which was launched on November 24, 2005 ‘to monitor the operations of the border crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Eygpt’. According to Milton-Edwards and Farrell, ‘Rafah is Gaza’s only official lifeline to the outside world beyond Israel’.41 Israel and the Palestinian Authority had concluded an Agreement on Movement and Access on November 15, 2005 and the Council of the European Union agreed to undertake the third-party role proposed in the said agreement. The mission was operational from 30 November 2005 until 9 June 2007. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, EUBAM remains on standby, ‘awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage at very short notice’.42 Its stated aim of ensuring ‘the freedom of movement of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip’43 remains susceptible to the ongoing Israeli-Hamas wars.44 However, for EU officials, it remains an important aspect of its governance of the IPC as a mechanism for confidence building. ‘When it was operational, EUBAM Liaison Officers met together with Israelis and Palestinians representatives, receiving real-time video and data feed of the activities at the RCP and contributed to solve any disputes arising from the implementation of the agreements’.45

On June 25, 2006, nineteen-year old Corporal Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid. He was captured near the Kerem Shalom crossing (in Israel), and held hostage at an unknown location in the Gaza Strip by Hamas until his release on October 18, 2011. The Council regularly called for the release of Gilad Shalit46 and although Israel had initially refused to negotiate at all (with Hamas), it later entered indirect talks brokered by Egypt, with the involvement of a German mediator. This is an example of the kind of behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts that Europeans carry out which are not always publicised very well either by the EU itself or by the international media.47


Following the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo on May 4, 2011, the European Commission declared that it ‘considers that the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas could be an opportunity’, ‘that the reconciliation under the authority of President Abbas is something that the EU has called for repeatedly’, and that ‘the new Palestinian government must be committed to non violence, to the two-states solution and to a negotiated and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’.48 It continues to call on the Israeli government, likewise, to commit itself to the two state solution and to return to negotiations. Therefore, one could argue that the EU’s governance style has succeeded in pushing Hamas in a direction that it was prepared to enter into reconciliation talks with Fatah and accept Abbas’s political programme of negotiations with Isreal. As former US President Jimmy Carter stipulated in the Washington Post, it is essential that the international community works with this unity government in order to give the peace process a real chance.49 Those witnessing the Cairo agreement of early May 2011, included representatives from the EU (as well as the UN and the Arab League).

As the incursions into Gaza continue to this day, European governments have concentrated their criticism on the occupation. After the collapse of talks between Israel and the Palestinians in April 2014, 17 EU states cautioned their firms against conducting business with the settlements, which “are illegal under international law”. Funding for the Palestinians, said EU officials, could also be affected since the union would no longer meet costs that legally should be borne by the occupying state.50
While the EU digests the diplomatic implications of the deteriorating situation with the IPC, it has been seeking to communicate its concerns more and more directly to the people that are mostly affected by this conflict: Israelis and Palestinians alike.51
This paper has attempted to highlight the EU’s governance practices of the IPC as a contingent process of political struggles embodying key EU beliefs in a two state solution. It has also highlighted some of the important dilemmas and political contestations involved. It is acknowledged here that the EU is limited in what it can actually achieve in this conflict by way of a peaceful solution. However it has also highlighted the ways in which the EU’s governance style includes flexible and different ways of coping with what is often unexpected developments in this conflict. Through such a governance lens the EU is deemed to be a reflexive actor in one of the most intractable conflicts in the world, a view it is not always credited for.

1 My emphasis. A. Rettman, 2014. ‘EU Defends Israel’s Gaza incursion’. EUObserver. 22 July. Accessed 23 July, 2014. Available at:

2 EurActiv, 2012. ‘EU Ministers caution Israel over escalation in Gaza’. Published 16 November. Last accessed 18 September 2014. Available at:

3 My italics. Paris, 30 December 2008. Statement by the European Union on the situation in the Middle East.

4 H.O. Bang (ed.), 2003. Governance as social and political communication. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

5 Michelle Pace, 2010. The European Union and the Mediterranean. In Jens-Uwe Wunderlich and David J. Bailey (eds.), The European Union and global governance. A handbook. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 304-312.


7 Nathalie Tocci, 2010. ‘The conflict and EU-Israeli relations’. In Esra Bulut Aymat (ed.), European involvement in the Arab-Israel conflict. EUISS, Chaillot paper series, December 2010, Paris, pp. 55-63. See also Michelle Pace, 2010. ‘The end of EU democracy promotion and of the two-state solution’, in the same EUISS series, pp. 87-95.

8 For example, Switzerland has also regularly denounced human rights violations by Hamas, regarding for instance the death penalty, political arrests, and the intimidations of NGOs. See Esra Bulut Aymat, 2010 for more on these issues.

9 Phone interview by the author with an EU official from the EEAS based in East Jerusalem, 19 September, 2014.


11 Phone interview by the author with a former EEAS official (who, during 2011-2012, served as Political Advisor to the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process) based in Vienna, 19 September, 2014.

12 ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World’. European Security Strategy. Brussels, 12 December, 2003. Available at:

13 Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 12.5.2004. COM (2004) 373 final. Communication from the Commission. European Neighbourhood Policy. Strategy Paper. Available at:

14, my own emphasis


16 Leigh Phillips, 2009. ‘Brussels freezes talks on closer EU-Israeli relations’. 14 January 2009. The EUObserver. Available at: Last accessed on 21 September, 2014.

17 Author’s interview with an official from the Council of the European Union, Brussels, 23 March 2009.

18 Michelle Pace in EUISS Chaillot Paper series, December 2010.

19 Phone interview by the author with a European Commission official, 19 September, 2014. See also Quartet website here:

20 Michael Bauer and Christian-Peter Hanelt, 2010. ‘Regional approaches to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the role of the EU’. In, Esra Bulut Aymat, Chaillot Papers, pp. 109-118.

21 Phone interview by the author with an EEAS official based in Brussels, 19 September, 2014.

22 See for example, European Union. Election Observation Mission. West Bank and Gaza, 2006. Statement of Preliminary Conclusions and Findings. ‘Open and well-run parliamentary elections strengthen Palestinian commitment to democratic institutions’. Jerusalem, 26 January, 2006. Available at:

23 The movement’s charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and its paramilitary wing had played a leading role in the second Intifada, carrying out numerous suicide bomb attacks and rocket strikes against Israeli civilians. Hamas officials have refrained from referring to the charter for some time now.

24 The EU’s TIM was phased out in March 2008 and replaced by a PEGASE (Mecanisme "Palestino - Européen de Gestion et d'Aide Socio-Economique”) mechanism which aims to support a three year Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), presented by the PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at the Paris Donor Conference of 17 December 2007.

25 Phone interviews conducted by the author with MEPs and Commission officials based in Brussels, 19 September, 2014.

26 As would be expected in a such a complex conflict, the UN fact-finding mission into the incursion into Gaza of 2008-2009 has been fraught with disagreements and accusations from the start. See The Guardian, 14 April 2011, available at: for more on this.






32 According to the UfM website, this policy aims to enhance regional cooperation and partnership between the two shores of the Mediterranean through the implementation of specific projects that respond to the current needs and aspirations of the Mediterranean populations, and contribute to sustainable development, job creation, exchange of knowledge and innovation. It aims to achieve these through regional cooperation since many of the economic and social challenges of the Mediterranean region are directly linked to a very low level of regional integration. In this context, the action of the Secretariat is centred on the promotion of regional cooperation projects designed to strengthen integration in the region and thus, opportunities for growth and competitiveness.

33 Phone interviews conducted by the author with EU officials, 19 September, 2014.


35 Interviews held by the author in Brussels with EU officials from the EP, the Commission and the Council, February 2012. See also


37 The full text of the Roadmap for Peace is available here:

38 Milton-Edwards and Farrell, 2010.

39 David Rose, 2008. ‘Gaza bombshell’. Vanity Fair. April.


41 Milton-Edwards and Farrell, 2010, p. 265. They continue to stipulate that ‘Israel exercises complete military control along 90 per cent of the rectangular coastal strip’s 70 mile perimeter – the coastal, northern and eastern sides – as well as from the sky, since Israel bombed and bulldozed the Palestinians’ only airport early in the Second Intifada. Only to the south does Gaza border another country: Egypt. If this 8 mile Egyptian frontier remains closed, Gaza is sealed from all 360 degrees of the compass’.


43 See for example:


45 Interview conducted by the author with a former EUBAM Rafah liaison officer, Gaza, August 2008.

46 ‘The Council calls on those holding the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him without delay’. In, The Council of the European Union, 2009. ‘Council Conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process. 2985th Foreign Affairs Council meeting’. Brussels, 8 December. Available at:

47 Interview carried by the author with a German EU official, Brussels, February 2012.


49 Jimmy Carter, 2011. ‘Support the Palestinian Unity Government’. The Washington Post. 4 May. Available at:


51 Crispian Balmer, 2014. ‘EU warns Israel, Palestinians of the cost of peace failure’. Reuteurs. 22 January.

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