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When Sen. Mitchell, the Middle East envoy of the Obama administration resigned on Friday, I immediately asked ‘what is Tony Blair doing’? In the time-frame of a single weekend, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has regained its importance in the Middle Eastern region. If the EU countries want it or not, they will have to play their part in the most complex international terrain and in the absence of Sen Mitchell they may have to rely on the services of the former British prime minister.

Tony Blair, Salam Fayyad, Catherine Ashton, Jonas Gahr Støre and Irit Ben-Abba (from left to right)
From lef to right...

Daniel Levy offers three immediate explanations on Foreign Policy’s Middle East blog for Mitchell’s resignation and four likely outcomes. I would discard the two obvious answers that Sen. Mitchell saw no prospect for staying or he has lost an internal policy debate. For a man who has stood by the Northern Ireland peace talks for 700 hundred days what could another week matter while his boss gives his Middle East speech and receives Israeli prime minister Netanyahu in his office? For me, only the third explanation makes sense, when the American-Israeli alliance has frozen into a bad position in a fast changing Middle Eastern environment. Levy suggests that “the administration utilizing Mitchell’s final act as envoy, namely his stepping down, as a way of sending a message mainly to the Israeli prime minister that if he was not willing to step up his game in a serious way then the U.S. too could step back”.

Blake Hounshell describing the insanity of the situation on another Foreign Policy blog came to the conclusion almost at the same time that “European countries have signalled quietly that they might break with Washington and recognize Palestine, and frankly at this point I think many Americans would welcome the idea, because nothing else seems to work”.

Levy suggest four possible U.S. strategy’s where Europe and Tony Blair has a particular role in #2. From an American point of view, the “lead from behind strategy”, which means that the Obama administration “acknowledges its own limited wiggle space on this issue, given its reading of domestic politi

cs, and allows for a more multilateral approach to achieving de-occupation and security for all. That might include an enhanced role for the Quartet and for the United Nations”. I think this is exactly what the U.S. will do, as its ally’s position is becoming more and more untenable in the rise of the Third Intifada.

There is no other player than the European powers or the EU to put some peaceful motion into the current situation.  The United States is too much tied to Israel, which has a clearly defensive position, while Russia and China are hardly providing an answer to the problem. One regional power, Iran wants to destroy Israel. In Egypt, like in Eastern European countries in 1989, it is not yet clear who is driving, but as Shadi Hamid notes from the Brookings Doha Centre is that “the only thing that liberals, leftists & Islamists probably all agree on at this point is not liking Israel.” Now that Mubarak is not ruling the country, the a

ngry mob wants to burn down the Israeli embassy and a lot of people would like to march from Cairo to Jerusalem. Israel could play its endless tactical game with the Palestinians because it could had been safe from its biggest neighbour, and because Fatah and Hamas were disunited.

 

The Middle East “peace process” has only one viable solution, separating Israel and Palestine for two states. When some European countries, or more desirably, all EU countries at once will recognise Palestine, it will not solve any issues on the ground, like the recognition of Kosovo did not solve anything in the Balkans. Yet once the recognition process starts, there will be no way back as all historic trends, demography, and recent Middle Eastern changes point into that direction and one unnecessary step will be excluded from the negotiation menu.

I think it is important to notice the irony of the situation with respect to Messrs Mitchell and Blair. Sen. Mitchell was credited much for the peace in Northern Ireland while he was just sitting through “700 days of failure and one day of success” from the back seat while Tony Blair’s government was driving.  Whatever Mr Blair has been doing or not doing as an envoy of the UN, US, EU and Russia in the past 1418 days, he is the only special envoy the EU (and currently the U.S.) has in the region. If the events will force Israel to settle for peace, he will be there to receive the glory. (I hope that envy will not prevent his rivals to push for peace).

The EU never had a big ambition in trying to make peace between Israel and Palestine (with the exception of some Nordic diplomats in search for a Nobel-prize), but as history offers this relatively important choice it could use it as a bargaining tool. If only it had anything to bargain for. It would be nice if the EU could ask enthusiastic Arab and non-affiliated countries to follow EU policies in return for recognizing the Palestinian state, if it could reach a consensus on anything from Libya to Kosovo, from Cyprus to FYROM. After all, Palestine, like Kosovo, may find itself in a limbo when it will be recognized by half of the United Nations, not recognized by others, and will not be able to fully integrate into the international relations.

If this is forlorn hope, at least we should try to limit the chaos in our near neighbourhood in the Mediterranean. We should try to work together with our envoy in the field even if many believe that his position is created so that he is not seen in Brussels. We should try to avoid a situation when 23 EU countries recognize the independence of a neighbour and 4 do not. We should try to avoid the situation when we make a country member state without establishing its recognized borders. We should avoid the situation when Benghazi rebels are raising the French flag while Tripoli officials are thanking Germany for abstaining in the UN Security Council. We should avoid recognizing a state with different name various, like in the case of Macedonia or FYROM. We should get ourselves together before Palestine brings its case in front of the UN General Assembly in September 2011.

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