With the emergence of a new wave of reciprocal Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting, which is currently reaching another peak, it is becoming increasingly clear to both sides that although each has considerable powers of attrition with respect to the other, neither has the ability to win a real victory in this desperate conflict.
In the "unilateral disengagement," if it is implemented at all, there is also no guarantee of things calming down, never mind of a real solution to the conflict. Moreover, even if there is recognition on both of the sides that it is impossible to defeat the other, and that all the victims and destruction are not only unnecessary but also tantamount to military and moral bankruptcy, both of the sides are unable to stop the dance macabre. Not only is the situation completely out of the control of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, there is also no political change on the horizon that could put a stop to this stalemate and offer a new diplomatic strategy.
There is one factor that could instantly change all the parameters and constraints in which the Israelis and the Palestinians are thinking and acting, and could also change the rules of the game between them - and this factor is none other than the European Union - and not the United States as many believe.
The Europeans - particularly the central and northern Europeans - have so far invested diplomatic efforts and an awful lot of money (especially in the Palestinian side) in order at least to moderate the conflict, while building infrastructures and civil, political and economic institutions in the Palestinian entity. The vast majority of these resources have gone down the drain, both because of the Palestinians' incompetent and corrupt management and because of the destruction and anarchy that Israel's military operations have caused.
It now appears that the Europeans, who are despairing and disappointed with both sides, are retreating from their involvement in the region. Their basic commitment to advancing a solution has not declined, but at this time they do not see an effective way of achieving this aim without once again pouring in billions of euros, in vain.
In fact, such a way does exist - a move that, although to a large extent contrary to the basic conception of the EU, would be less costly in all respects and perhaps even of trivial cost to the Europeans. Such a move could bring about a fundamental change in the situation of the Israelis and the Palestinians - with regards to one another and on the global map. This would be to bring two sovereign states - Israel and Palestine - into the EU with full membership status, as the last phase toward a final peace agreement between them. This huge bonus could be included in principle in plans such as the draft of the Geneva Initiative and even the American road map, under the supervision of the Quartet.
Such a move has a number of advantages. First of all, the land would be divided nationally but would remain under a single supra-national umbrella, a situation that would allow for open borders between the two states. The significance of this would be freedom of transit and the movement of immigrants between them and free access to all places. One of the real problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians has always been the tiny size of the strip of land over which they have been fighting, a territory that has been perceived as having zero-sum characteristics. Including them in the EU would take the sting out of most of the territorial problems, both at the symbolic and at the material and strategic-military levels. It would also dispel the Jewish demographic fears and would be a suitable answer to the Palestinians' aspirations for return.
Israel has always seen itself as part of Europe and has aspired to detach itself, conceptually and physically, from its location in the East. However the Palestinians, as well as some of the Israelis could, within their spatial, political, military and economic membership in the EU, preserve their affiliation to Arab culture and identity if they want to, as the EU insures multiculturalism and multinationality to its members.
Undoubtedly many difficulties will arise in carrying out such a move, especially as it involves as a precondition reciprocal agreements and concessions along with a change in perception and identity on both sides. However, Europe can enfold both Israel and the Palestinians without ever feeling that they have come into its midst. The EU can even derive immediate benefit from taking us in because it will thereby be given access to the eastern Mediterranean.
But first we and the Palestinians would have to prove that we have not come to export our troubles into Europe, the troubles of our minds and our fanaticism. This will not be an easy task, but the benefit it brings will be enormous, if both we and the Palestinians stand the test of maturity and understanding, of cooperation between us and of the ability to resolve the conflicts of interest, just as the Europeans are now succeeding, after centuries of cruel wars among themselves, crueler even than our own wars
Baruch Kimmerling is a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent books are Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians (Verso, 2003), Immigrants, Settlers and Natives (Alma and Am Oved, Hebrew, 2003), and The Palestinian People (Harvard University Press, 2003) with Joel S. Migdal.
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