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A meeting with former European envoy to the Middle East peace process Dr.Marc Otte

Gaza – Monday, January 29, 2018 11:00 AM

In a session with Dr.Marc Otte from Brussels through Skype:

  • U.S cutting the UNRWA funding is unfair and cruel, punishing the victims one again.
  • The Palestinian leadership reaction towards Mr. Trump decision on Jerusalem, is  understandable. But the U.S role in the peace process and in the region remains indispensable.
  • No way to solve the Palestinian refugees issue without Arab’s countries support, and also the EU can do more to develop the Palestinian economy.
  • The European Union will stick to its principles,  continue to listen and  make recommendations to policy makers on both sides.

Guest’s Biography

Ambassador Marc Otte, born April 26, 1947, is a Belgian diplomat. He has served in Washington DC and Kinshasa (RDC) and was Consul General in Los Angeles as well as ambassador to Israel. He was also director for strategic affairs and disarmament and director for policy planning at the Belgian MFA. From 1999 to 2003, he was advisor for security and defense policy to the High Representative for EU foreign and security policy and from 2003 to 2011, EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process. He was director general of the Royal Institute for International Relations/Egmont for the last four years. He is currently Belgian Special Envoy for Syria and vice-President of the European Institute for Peace. He has written several articles and contributed to books on European defense and security as well as on the Middle East.[1]

Workshop’s Attendees:

The workshop was conducted in the Gaza strip. Attendees included- Mr. Omar Sha’aban, head of Pal-Think for strategic studies, and Mr. Marc Otte from Brussels via Skype. In addition, there were 55 male and female specialists, journalists, writers, analysts, and college students who attended the workshop.

Omar Sha’aban’s Contribution:

Mr. Omar Sha’aban started the session and welcomed all the attendees and; noted that Pal-Think for Strategic Studies, is consistently trying to be up-to-date, discussing the issues pertaining the status quo. Then introduced Mr. Marc Otte to the audience, his background, and publications.

The discussion had three focal points:

  1. Can the EU replace the role of the US in the peace process?
  2. Europe’s vision for conflict resolution, after Mr. Trump decision regarding Jerusalem.
  3. The UNRWA’s crisis, and the financial pressure on the Palestinian authority from the current U.S administration.

Mr. Marc began his talk, feeling sorry about what is going on in Gaza, emphasizing that the situation is very bad, and wishing a better new year for the Palestinian people.

  • The UNRWA issue

Mr. Marc Otte mentioned the role of UNRWA in providing the Palestinian refugees with proper education, healthcare, and supporting their dignity.  U.S cutting the UNRWA funding is unfair and cruel, punishing the victims one again.  When it comes to providing assistance to refugees, it is not  charity or compassion from the donating countries, it is respect for a human right recognized under humanitarian law. However, after this decision Belgium and other European countries immediately decided to step in and immediately disburse their contribution to sustain the money flow at least in the short term until a more permanent solution is found. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers a call was made for all EU member states and institutions to look for solutions to compensate the funding gap for the Agency.  In addition, this week in Brussels  there will be a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee of donors in order to assess funding needs for the PA, including examining the possibility of restructuring the systems pertaining to the financial aid issue to the Palestinian authority if need be, including supporting new economic projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

  • The ability of  EU to replace the U.S role as a mediator in the peace making process. 

The Palestinian leadership reaction towards Mr. Trump decision on Jerusalem, is  understandable. But the U.S role in the peace process and in the region remains indispensable. This does not necessarily mean that the EU is stepping back. On  the contrary, EU diplomacy should be pro-active towards the US to underline the negative impact of current policy, including for US interests in the region

Mr. Marc Otte emphasized that it is not only about the role of the U.S, it is not just a U.S issue, but there should be more political involvement of other players. The EU is working on involving other parties such as: Russia, Arab countries, even China, which has formulated its own vision of the two state solutions and might be interested in rebuilding Gaza and reform the Palestinian infrastructures. That being said, all these countries together can formulate  a common strategy, for the sake of supporting the peacemaking process in the region, showing commitment to international law and the two-state solution.

  • Europe’s vision for conflict resolution

Marc stated that these are his personal views, based on dialogues with intellectuals and activists from different parts of the world, and it does not represent an official EU position. A new approach should start with learning from the lessons of the past. The ultimate goal remains to end the occupation that began in 1967, as stated by President Bush in the context of the launching of the Roadmap by the Quartet. In this sense the principles outlined by Oslo are still valid, but the process itself is dead.

So the new approach should restate the end game. Then it should adopt a new method. First parallel processes not sequential: bilateral, regional, multilateral. Second implement what is agreed immediately. No more “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.  Third re-initiate the combination of top down measures with bottom-up ones, like what was done under PM Fayyad with the support of Israel and the donors. Fourth open up new channels of communication and interaction: business leaders, young generations, women, religious leaders, cultural exchanges. As an example, in the aftermath of Oslo  Belgium put together scientists from Israel and Palestine collaborating on certain projects. Taking into consideration that for the time being,  the Israeli government is not in favor of a two states solution that would satisfy the national aspirations of the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders are still divided, it is imperative that civil societies work together and develop a vision of  win-win situations in all areas such security,  business, health, and education and put pressure on their respective leaderships to change course

Palestinians have to do their part of the work ahead. Mr. Marc Otte praised the bottom up approach, which was applied by Salam Fayyad, the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and Finance Minister when Palestinians had a functioning central bank, law and order under well trained police forces, a growing economy, accountable administrations and according to the formula of PM Fayyad were keen on ending the occupation in spite of the occupation. The World Bank and the donor community recognized at the time that the  Palestinians were ready for statehood. A good example of the bottom up methodology, was the Rafah agreement in 2005 in the framework of the Agreement on Access and Movement, with the help of the EU, the US and the rest of the IC. Freedom of movement of people and goods are prerequisites for independence. The role of third parties and certainly the EU is to encourage  people in conflict  to come up  with their own solution and offer guarantees for implementation.
Finally, Palestinians should redouble efforts towards national reconciliation.

Attendee’s questions:

Attendees stated that they are grateful for Pal think’s efforts, and Mr. Marc Otte for his presentation. Several questions were asked:

  • What can the European Union further do to help the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause?
  • Is the EU able to put pressure on the Israeli government to do concessions?
  • To what extent will the Palestinians succeed to keep the U.S far away from the peace process?
  • Do you think the U.S and Israel will allow the EU to step in to support the Palestinians’ refugees, regarding the UNRWA financial aid crisis?
  • Why the EU is still hesitant about recognizing Palestine as an independent state?
  • In your opinion, why the current Palestinian leaders are not able to achieve anything to improve the status of the Palestinian people?
  • What do you advise Palestinians to do, especially after Mr. Trump decision regarding Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel?
  • Do you think that the EU will become less involved, and decline its role influenced by the U.S And Israel?

Answers:

  • Mr. Otte clarified that European Union is not a country, but it is a union of sovereign countries in search for a common foreign policy, note a single one. There  are sometimes internal divisions amongst these countries that need to be resolved. On the other hand, the European Union has been consistent in its policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict He emphasized that collaboration with the U.S is useful, and the rational decision is to welcome all other parties that might play a role in facilitating the peace making process.
  • He confirmed that there is a discomfort towards the current U.S administration policies regarding the Palestinians, especially after recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. However, there is no doubt that Jerusalem has to do with religion decisions as well as political ones.
  • No way to solve the Palestinian refugees issue without Arab’s countries support, and also the EU can do more to develop the Palestinian economy. For example, enhancing partnerships between the EU and the Palestinian companies to encourage economic prosperity.
  • There is no doubt that the European Union countries, will recognize the Palestinian state as an independent state, according to  international law and an agreement on a political solution. The issue here is when to do that, not whether or not and what an early recognition is going to achieve regarding the Palestinian people situation.
  • There are obvious reasons for the weakness of the Palestinian Authority, including the split over Gaza and the continuing Israeli settlement policy. The current generation of Palestinian youth has expectations that should be met if the leadership wants to remain in tune with the mood of the street.
  • Mr. Otte understands the Palestinian leadership anger, after U.S decision regarding Jerusalem, but thinking rationally the leadership should continue to speak to all parties, to rebalance the relations.
  • Mr. Otte is convinced that the European Union will stick to its principles,  continue to listen and  make recommendations to policy makers on both sides and draw a clear plan for determining its mechanisms to have effective involvement in the peace making process.
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