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Europe

Top EU official says the bloc must be a force for peace in the Middle East

For decades the EU has been trying to broker a peaceful solution in the Middle East, but with little real success. The head of the European Parliament's working group for the region, Hans-Gert Poettering, told us why.

Hans-Gert Poettering.

Poettering told DW the EU must do more than just send money to the Palestinian territories

Veteran German politician Hans-Gert Poettering is currently in charge of the European Parliament's working group for the Middle East. With the peace process there apparently stalled, Deutsche Welle asked him what role Europe can play in solving the long-standing impasse between Israel and its neighbors.

DW: Mr. Poettering, we've not been able to talk about progress in the Middle East for some time. What can the EU do in such a stagnant situation?

Hans-Gert Poettering: In politics more generally, and especially in the Middle East, we can never abandon hope of an eventual solution. To give an example: The European Union recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Robert Schuman Declaration from May 9, 1950. This sparked the process of reconciliation in Europe. At the time it seemed unthinkable that the peoples of Europe - and especially the French and German populations - could put their differences behind them and build a united Europe, but the process turned out to be very successful. If there is the necessary goodwill, something similar could be achieved in the Middle East. The European Union in particular must be a strong motor driving towards this goal. We must urge the affected parties not to give up, to keep working towards this success in the Middle East.

In the past few days you could say that the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton was at the wheel of this motor. She has just returned from a visit to Israel and the Palestinian terriroties (17-19 July 2010). However, both sides agreed not to publicize details of her talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while she didn't meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whatsoever. Does this symbolize Europe's powerlessness in the region at the moment?

I don't think you can interpret that as powerlessness. Catherine Ashton went to the Middle East, and she did meet with the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who was also a guest at the European Parliament in Brussels recently. I have talked to him twice in the past weeks. He is very active, and is dedicated to building a Palestinian state from the ground up. I also hope that Catherine Ashton had a very open discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Now even Israel accepts that the borders to the Gaza Strip must be reopened so that the region can develop. Hamas must cease its rocket attacks. And if all this happens, then a two-state solution is possible. That would mean a state of Israel safe within its borders, and a state of Palestine secure within its borders. And we can never cease in our efforts to achieve this, the EU must do its part along with the US, Russia and the UN.

The sticking point, however, is Hamas. Why won't the EU recognize this organization?

Because it still advocates terrorism and refuses to recognize Israel. But at the same time, we can't give Hamas the cold-shoulder. That's why other bodies - albeit not the European Union - are negotiating with Hamas, with Israel's support. Egypt is an important actor in this process. Furthermore, the two groups of Palestinians - Fatah governing the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza - must reconcile with each other. They need to reestablish a working relationship, because only then will a Palestinian state be possible.

So what can the EU do, to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians in Gaza?

The EU already provides a lot of money for both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However, we need to go beyond humanitarian aid. Catherine Ashton said so during her visit. Gaza needs to be able to develop again. The Gaza Strip has been largely decimated during the altercations, during the war. Many things have not been rebuilt, because the necessary materials are no longer allowed into the region. The Palestinians in Gaza need to be given a real chance - more than just financial humanitarian aid. There must be possibilities for development in Gaza once again. And if that can be achieved, it will also improve the prospects for peace in the region.

Interviewer: Karin Jaeger (msh)
Editor: Rob Turner

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