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May 03, 2013

Time Is Running Out for a Two-State Solution

Andreas Reinicke, EU special representative for the Middle East peace process, on the plans for a new US initiative

Efforts to find a solution to the Middle East crisis are slowly moving into gear again. This March, US President Obama visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. John Kerry, his new secretary of state, is ready to mediate between the two opponents. Both the US and the EU are holding on to the goal of a two-state solution. “But we don’t know how much longer the window will stay open. The time will come when this option is no longer realistic,” said Andreas Reinicke in an interview with DGAP.

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DGAP: Mr. Ambassador, has the peace process in the Middle East failed?

Reinicke: Right now, the peace process is getting a fresh start, thanks through the initiative on the part of US Secretary of State John Kerry

DGAP: How did this new advance come about?

Reinicke: The Europeans played their part here as well. They encouraged Washington, because there was indeed an opportunity for the US administration, once the elections were over, to take up the subject again. We are now in very close touch with John Kerry and his team and expect that we will soon be able to start making a new effort in the Middle East.

DGAP: The process has been in deadlock since September 2010.

Reinicke: In the last year, the Europeans have made it very clear that new stimulus was urgently needed. Without a new peace initiative and a quick solution to the conflict, the sought-after two-state solution is going to become more and more unrealistic for Israel and Palestine. Some hold that this is the last chance to save the project.

DGAP: Could you go into more detail?

Reinicke: The establishment of a Palestinian state is at serious risk of being derailed. The World Bank, the IMF, and the UN have indeed acknowledged how far the Palestinians have come, but because of the restrictions of Israeli occupation, the Palestinian economy is not landing on its feet and is unable to create a financial base to support governmental structures. The continued building of Israeli settlements is going to make it ever harder to reach a territorial compromise. If certain settlement projects such as the so-called “E1” zone near Jerusalem are implemented, it could become impossible to establish a contiguous, viable Palestinian state.

DGAP: Do you already know what the Americans plan to do?

Reinicke: It would be too early to discuss this.

DGAP: And what do you expect from the American initiative?

Reinicke: There are several possible ways to break things down and reach a solution. Understandably, John Kerry is launching his efforts within a very small circle of stakeholders. I expect they will eventually arrive at a common project. We Europeans will strive actively to assist in this. We asked the US to take this step, so naturally we are going to support it.

DGAP: What role will the Europeans play?

Reinicke: One should not forget that the EU is already engaged with a large spectrum of contributions in the region. These range from addressing fundamental questions such as how Israel’s security can be improved to implementing a wealth of diverse projects in the Palestinian territories. We are helping the Palestinians build their state and are supporting them with a police mission, and we are also contributing to the UN Refugee Agency’s work for Palestinian refugees.

The EU has also clearly outlined its views about the basis on which negotiations for the Israeli-Palestinian border can take place: namely on the basis of the 1967 borders. That said, a mutually agreed upon land exchange is also conceivable. And we are consistent in our position on the Israeli border, which is based on international law, for example by levying customs duties and clearly labeling all products that come from Israeli settlements.

In addition to this, European foreign ministers are continually in the region holding talks with both sides. Now it is a matter of applying the instruments that we have at our disposal – applying them in a coordinated and purposeful way – on behalf of this new initiative in the Middle East.

DGAP: Will the EU be outlining a new policy for the Middle East?

Reinicke: Most of all we need to intensify our discussions with the Israelis and do an even better job explaining our ideas and our approach. I do this during my visits to Israel by participating in many discussions in small groups. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton frequently participates in meetings in the region – as of course do the many European foreign ministers. I should point out that they often bring valuable experiences with them from their meetings with their Arab counterparts, which should certainly flow into the talks with Israelis and Palestinians. Most important, however, when talking to the Israeli government, we should express our concerns over the continuing conflict even more emphatically than we have in the past. And we should discuss with them the various ways of finding a way out of this complicated situation.

DGAP: More than anything else, the EU contributes developmental aid to the Middle East. Is Brussels taking the question of security seriously enough?

Reinicke: Quite the opposite. The EU has a very strong security profile. Take our police mission in the Palestinian territories as an example. The EU has a strong stake in helping the Palestinian police become one of the best functioning entities in the region. The EU is also advising the legal system there. The establishment of a security sector is enormously important for both sides. More security in the Palestinian territories also means more security in Israel. But the EU and its member states are also participants in UN peacekeeping missions from the Gaza Strip to Lebanon and the Golan Heights; both of these have a substantial European component.

DGAP: Is the two-state solution still a realistic option?

Reinicke: Yes, it is. We Europeans regard it as the best option. With it, there would be two completely independent political entities. The conflicts between the two countries, which have such a strong impact on the entire region, would then begin to recede – which is what we want, after all. We believe that the two-state solution can be achieved, but we do not know how long the window of opportunity for it will stay open. There will come a time when it will no longer be realistic. The financial difficulties of the Palestinians and the settlement policies of the Israelis are consistently hammering away at its chances. The international community, and we Europeans, as neighbors, in particular, must take action before we reach this point.

DGAP: What are the alternatives to a two-state solution?

Reinicke: The only realistic alternative would be a “one-state solution,” which a range of protagonists find unacceptable, for good reasons. Other positions consider attaching the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt, which is vehemently rejected by both countries. Last of all, a sort of “cantonization plan” has been introduced into the discussion – that is, the creation of individual Palestinian territories around the larger Palestinian cities, which I cannot imagine would be possible.

DGAP: Are these scenarios being given serious attention in negotiation circles?

Reinicke: No. We are concentrating entirely on the two-state solution.

DGAP: Israel’s current four-party coalition has to keep the settlement movement in mind. Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership is suffering setbacks due to the resignation of the prime minister and the unauthorized publication of the minutes to confidential meetings. How do you deal with negotiating partners who are so weak?

Reinicke: I do not think that our negotiating partners are especially weak. Naturally, the events you mentioned do not make things easier, but I believe that, as before, a substantial core of politicians on both sides is interested in a two-state solution. There is a new political force taking shape in the Israeli government: the Yesh Atid Party.  It is admittedly focused on domestic issues, but its members are perfectly aware that the conflict with the Palestinians must be solved. On the Palestinian side, President Abbas and the Fatah Party constitute the power that has consistently stepped up to the plate for a two-state solution and the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.

Both sides have, moreover, announced that they are ready to have their populations ratify a possible accord. So it will lie in the hands of the people, independent of political constellations and a parliamentary majority, to accept or reject such an agreement. I believe that it would have a large majority on both sides.

DGAP: Lately, however, the Palestinian conflict seems to have been taking a back seat in Israel.

Reinicke: Yes, the Israeli people are caught up in other questions at the moment, but again and again, one sees how aware the they are of the need to solve the problem. And the government has the responsibility to put forward an appropriate agreement.

DGAP: How much time is left for a new mediation attempt in the Middle East?

Reinicke: We do not have all the time in the world. We must come to a decision about a new peace initiative in the next few months. The Americans are now holding exploratory talks, and we are in close contact with them, but I cannot imagine the possibility of postponing this new initiative until next year.

Lucas Lypp, the DGAP’s online editor, conducted the interview.

Dr. Andreas Reincike is EU special representative for the Middle East peace process. On April 26, at the invitation of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), he participated in an expert discussion, moderated by Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn, executive vice president of the DGAP.

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DGAP Interview, May 3, 2013

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