Civil society support for peace in the Middle East?

On 24th June the Euro-Israeli Cooperation Platform EICOP (formed by Citizens of Europe and many partner organisations last September) invited for its first public event in Berlin. The panel discussion took place at the representation of the European Commission in Germany, where around 150 interested guests followed a debate on Europe’s potential to contribute to the peace process in the Middle East. Members of the panel were Ilan Mor, delegate of the ambassador of Israel to Germany, Andreas Michaelis from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dr. Hänsel from Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Jerusalem as well as Dr. Asseburg as representative of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik). Starting with a current opinion poll on Israelis’ sympathy and expectations towards the EU, Dr. Hänsel laid down a ground for debate.

What challenges and what chances lie in the Euro-Israeli relations? Dr. Hänsel put emphasis on the opportunity of more dialogue among young people which bears a chance of a more peaceful conflict resolution in the Middle East. In his eyes, a regional approach to the conflict has to incorporate Israel as well as moderate Arab states. Although the panel debate was expected to focus on civil societies’ role in the region and chances of conflict resolution particularly at the level of civil society activities and young people’s international exchange, the debate was quickly led towards the role of inter-state peace diplomacy by Ilan Mor. The Israel representative called the Europeans to see the Middle East reality through Israel’s eyes as a permanent security threat which does not allow for negotiations with terrorists, the Hamas. In such a threatening situation Ilan Mor sees only small chances of civil society engagement, as the distrust between the nations is so deeply rooted. He made clear that peace and an end of the occupation are strategic goals of Israel’s foreign policy – so long only political negotiations could be promising.

Andreas Michaelis in turn sketched the dilemma of the EU in global politics, that it over- or underestimates its role time and again: he raised the hope that together with the new US government the peace process between Israel and Palestine will get refocused as a regional issue of the whole Middle East. Dr. Asseburg demanded the EU not to stand back behind the US, but to incorporate all conflict parties into the peace process and to work with incentives to not let any party spoil the process. In his welcome speech Mathias Petschke, director of the German Representation of the European Commission, had outlined the role of the EU in the Middle East and, vice versa, the importance of a stable and peaceful neighbouring region in the Mediterranean to Europe.

Besides the United Nations, the US and Russia also the EU with its broad experience in conflict resolution between and within states takes an active part in the Middle East peace process. Dialogue and the relief of human suffering are the main goals of the EU in this process. After a long and strong debate the listeners had the chance to exchange views at a closing reception. Read also: Report at the website of our project partner DGAP (in German language).

Interested in this topic? Please be informed that the next Conference by EICOP will take place in Brussels, from the 26th to the 29th October 2009. Contact us, if you are interested.