The unexpected revival of the Israel–Palestine peace process in 2013 is welcome news for the EU – although 2014 may bring new challenges.
At the beginning of 2013, virtually no one in the US or the EU expected a revival of the Middle East peace talks. President Obama gave no indication of his intention to invest heavily in the process. The fact that the US did make such an investment and that it paid off in restarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, at least temporarily, was almost entirely down to one decision – the president’s choice of John Kerry as Secretary of State. Kerry took office determined to put in the long hours of diplomacy necessary to convince parties to restart the talks. In August, he succeeded. Israel and the Palestinians agreed to implement a series of confidence-building measures to allow talks to proceed. The US appointed Martin Indyk as the new envoy to lead the negotiations.
This development was not without transatlantic tensions. In July 2013, before Kerry’s announcement, the EU enacted a ban on financial aid to Israeli institutions that work in territory occupied after the Six-Day War of 1967. The ban prohibits the issuing of grants, funding, prizes, or scholarships by the EU (although not its member states) unless a settlement exclusion clause is included. The ban was strongly condemned by Israel as sabotaging the US peace plan and by Kerry, who asked for a postponement. Some Europeans believe it may have assisted the process by increasing pressure on the Israeli government.
The revival of the Middle East Peace Process accomplishes a core European foreign policy objective since 9/11. The EU is the single largest donor to the Palestinian Authority and European leaders have repeatedly encouraged the US to invest in the revival of the peace talks. The US has placed a time limit on negotiations and intends to issue a proposed agreement in the spring of 2014. If the talks fail at that stage, Europeans may be faced with a new crisis in the Middle East, which could include the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.