Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have now been talking to each other for more than six months, since the peace process was re-launched at Annapolis in November 2007, with the stated aim of reaching agreement on a Palestinian state before this year is out. The final status issues of borders, Jerusalem and refugees are back on the agenda, and the outlines of a two-state solution are visible.
There have recently been some encouraging signals: Egypt has mediated a truce between Hamas and Israel in Gaza; there are signs of inter-Palestinian dialogue; and there appears to be movement on the Israeli-Syrian track. We have to grasp the opportunity for peace.
Comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic goal of the European Union, and resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict on the basis of a two-state solution is the key to achieving this. Europe wants, and needs, to see the creation of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. For this, the foundations and the structures of a Palestinian state have to be created, which is where the European Union is playing a distinctive role. It is leading international efforts to assist the Palestinians with their state-building efforts under a major strategy adopted by the EU last year. An important part of this strategy is devoted to developing security and the rule of law, which are the cornerstones of the fledgling Palestinian state and the theme of a large international conference of foreign ministers hosted in Berlin on 24 June.
The EU is making a tangible difference on the ground. It is helping the Palestinians strengthen their civilian security capabilities not just with words or money but also with people. Our police mission, EUPOL COPPS, has been active in the Palestinian territories since November 2005, advising and mentoring the Palestinian Authority in its efforts to build up a civil police force and establish law and order. Canada, Norway and Switzerland are supporting the mission and we are working in close coordination with our US partners. We are now about to increase the mission in size and expand its scope to the broader rule of law sector, embracing in particular the penal and judiciary systems. A democratic Palestinian state needs a properly equipped, trained and disciplined civil police and it needs functioning law courts and prisons.
The EUPOL COPPS is not the only EU security mission in the Middle East.
Our border assistance mission, EUBAM Rafah, established at the Rafah crossing point between Egypt and Gaza in 2005, is currently on standby and ready to deploy as soon as circumstances permit and EU member states form the backbone of the United Nations force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Our efforts are bearing fruit and are helping to make a real difference on the ground. In the past year alone, the EU mission has trained 800 civil police officers in public order, refurbished police stations and contributed to the communications network of the civil police. The Palestinian Authority has begun to deploy forces in major urban areas such as Nablus and is gradually taking over responsibility for security in the West Bank. Palestinian and Israeli security forces are cooperating and this cooperation must continue and increase.
These measures in the area of security and rule of law are part of a wider effort to improve conditions for the Palestinian people and revive the economy. For democracy to take root, the people must see that their lives are improving. Roadblocks must come down, trucks must be able to transport goods freely, people must be able to travel to work, to school and to hospitals unhindered, farmers must be able to grow and sell produce, investors must be encouraged to come with foreign capital, and businesses must be set up. And, of course, it is not only the Palestinians who gain from this. Israel s security interests can only stand to gain from a peaceful, democratic, and ultimately prosperous Palestinian state. In truth, the entire region will be stabilised if the Israelis and Palestinians resolve their 60-year- old conflict. The EU is doing everything it can to help with this.
Javier Solana is the EU s foreign policy chief. He wrote this article on the eve of a conference in support of Palestinian civil security and rule of law in Berlin. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.