A welcome call to almost force the EU to actually become a useful body in the Middle East. Right now, it’s little more than a mostly silent American partner:
The European Union must shake off US dominance and take a bolder approach in pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the former EU commissioner Chris Patten said today on a visit to Gaza.
Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza had been a “terrible failure – immoral, illegal and ineffective”, he said, which had “deliberately triggered an economic and social crisis which has many humanitarian consequences”.
In an interview with the Guardian, the former Conservative cabinet minister suggested it was time to reassess the isolation of Hamas, saying that approach had failed to weaken it.
Patten’s visit, his first since 2002, coincided with a lightning second trip by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, who called on Israel to open Gaza’s borders rather than merely allow in more consumer goods.
Ashton’s second visit since her appointment last December “showed a preparedness to be more independent-minded,” said Patten. “The default European position should not be to wait to find out what the Americans are going to do, and if the Americans don’t do anything to wring our hands. We should be prepared to be more explicit in setting out Europe’s objectives and doing more to try to implement them.”
He implicitly criticised US dominance of the Middle East quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – by saying he concurred with the description of it by the leader of the Arab League as the “quartet sans trois”.
Patten, who found it “easier to get into a maximum security prison in the UK than to enter Gaza”, said Israel’s relaxation of its blockade had not gone far enough. “It’s moved from about minus 10 to about minus eight. It doesn’t do anything to help restore economic activity in Gaza.
“It’s difficult to understand what preventing exports has to do with security. It has everything to do with the view that Gaza should be collectively punished to discredit Hamas. Unfortunately there are some centuries, if not millennia, of history that show that does not work. Presumably the international community as well as Israel wants at some stage – sooner rather than later – to be able to persuade Gaza and its political leadership to take a course which will lead to reconciliation and peace and stability. It’s difficult to know how you accomplish that if you deny the people of Gaza any social or economic progress.”