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EU: Mideast Peace Efforts Unlikely to Achieve Much In the End

The Danish presidency of the European Union has been visiting the Middle East to present a plan for peace. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Bin-Eliezer, as well as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Although Moeller was received politely by both sides, the plan is generally seen as unlikely to achieve much.

Prague, 6 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union, long a heavyweight economic power, is a comparative newcomer as a player on the international diplomatic scene. And this sometimes shows. Take, for instance, its initiative this week on Middle East peace.

Representing the presidency of the EU, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller presented Israeli and Palestinian leaders with a peace plan that envisages the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The plan contains nothing that is startlingly new. Instead it gathers together ideas and proposals already aired by the United States, European countries like France and Germany, as well as by the Arab League and think tanks. Analysts say the EU's contribution has been to flesh out the different ideas and to bring them into a coherent whole.

The plan consists of three phases. The first involves preparation for new elections for the Palestinian Authority, with voting taking place in January. At the same time, the security situation would be stabilized by agreed moves involving some level of Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian areas. The second stage would be the elections themselves, followed by the creation of an interim Palestinian government. The final stage would be a settlement of "all other questions," including the status of Jerusalem as joint capital of both states.

The Israeli leaders listened to Moeller politely but apparently without much enthusiasm. As senior analyst Natalie Tocci of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies puts it, the EU in reality has very little political leverage with the Sharon government or with the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush. "[The EU] is not taken seriously because basically it does not put its own agenda on the table. What [the EU] seems to be doing is -- and this happens to be the case on the Israel-Palestine conflict and also with Iraq -- is that it is trying slightly to change the U.S. agenda, rather than put a clear alternative of its own."

Tocci says the U.S. position on both of these issues is clear, but the EU, by adapting slightly modified positions, lacks credibility because it lacks a real alternative. She says the Europeans need the courage to find their own way forward and to establish their right to be heard in the Middle East and elsewhere. "I am not saying it is inevitable that Europeans will play a second-grade role in the region, by any means. All I am saying is that while that role continues being some kind of slightly modified version of U.S. policy, I don't really think that there is much future in that kind of approach."

Another senior analyst, Philippe Moreau De Farge of the French Institute of International Relations, broadly agrees with that assessment. Speaking from Paris, he said Moeller's trip can "in no way" be effective: "It's a ritual, a kind of ritual. Every [EU] presidency is keen to have its Middle East 'moment.' We have sent now the Danish minister, but really it is a non-event."

In any event, Moreau believes it is impossible to create peace under the present conditions. "The Israeli government does not know what it wants to do, and the Palestinian camp is totally destroyed, you know. How can you achieve something when the two protagonists do not know what they want to do?"

The Danish EU presidency at least recognizes this problem. In a paper on the Mideast crisis, circulated at the recent foreign ministers' meeting in the Danish castle of Elsinore, the Danes said that while working to cool the situation on the ground, the international community must seek to deal directly with what it called the "ultimate political issues."