Monday 7 June 2010

Flotilla Diplomacy

Following the Israeli raid on the flotilla of activists carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza strip there has been a massive international backlash, but will the EU be able to forge a common policy? In some ways, it's a more opportune time, given the uniform "swing" of opinion against Israel, and the creation of the High Representative and European Council President roles creates some need to show that the institutional reforms will pay off - and shouldn't the EU be able to act in its own backyard?

It will never be easy to have a common policy on the Middle East Peace Process that goes beyond the outline structure of a two-state solution, but it's important that Europe gets involved to facilitate it, and this demands agreeing on the detail. Sarkozy has suggested European or international forces policing boats shipping in aid to prevent arms being shipped in. It's a good start, since it would hopefully go some way to easing the situation for Palestinians and allowing Israel to slowly back out of the politics of blockade - though it's important that we don't slip into a situation where we end up legitimising and helping the blockade. I'm tempted to suggest a Bosina-like solution or interim measure for Gaza (and maybe the West Bank too) - i.e. international protectorate that would build a functioning state, and hopefully police and prevent attacks from the territory while denying Israel the opportunity to attack or blockade it. But then, the Bosnia case hasn't been a proven success yet...

The EU also needs to demand and international element to the inquiry on last week's raid. Israel might be smarting after the last international report (the Goldsmith Inquiry on the settlements, which was very scathing of Israel's role), but the fact is that it took place in international waters, and there is a glaring question of international law that cannot be denied. PR-wise, Israel's attempts to spin the issue in a more favourable light haven't worked, and, though it may not agree, admitting error and having an inquiry with international involvement would be the best option for it. The EU should demand the international element because it is required of the situation and the EU's values - particularly the need to uphold international law.

Some states will favour a tough stance, like Ireland, which backed the last flotilla boat (the crew and passengers were returned to Ireland today), though other states, may not want to go as far as pledging action: how far would Germany feel it could go? Ireland has asked Ashton to put Israel on the agenda for the next Council meeting. Will Ashton be able to channel the differing views into some sort of coherent policy? It'll be an uphill struggle - reading the EUobserver article, it looks like Ashton is out of the loop to a large degree (it doesn't seem to have been a good week for her - there seem to be a few foreign policy ideas being pushed at the EU level without her being consulted).

The idea of another boat carrying MEPs seems to be floating about - perhaps we'll end up sending boatfuls of politicians until Israel gives up and ends the blockade? Diplomacy via flotilla.

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