Discussion with Robert Wexler on Transatlantic Cooperation and the Future of the Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process
On January 30th, 2014, the Paris Office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, in association with the European Union Institute of Security Studies (EUISS), organized a private roundtable with The Hon. Robert Wexler, president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and former congressman of Florida’s 19th district (1997-2010) on transatlantic cooperation and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The discussion was introduced by Martin Michelot, Program and Research Officer at GMF Paris, and Florence Gaub, Senior Analyst at EUISS. Congressman Wexler’s visit to Paris came as part of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace’s outreach effort to examine the American administration’s initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This roundtable aimed to discuss the convergences and divergences between European and U.S. narratives and actions to promote peace, as well as to highlight opportunities for foreign policy and security cooperation at the transatlantic level.
Robert Wexler first underlined the current efforts of the U.S. administration to pursue a comprehensive peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, insisting on the special involvement of the White House in this process. However, a serious U.S. engagement for peace is necessary but not sufficient and transatlantic cooperation will be paramount to bring the two parties to an agreement as Washington cannot act alone. He argued that Europeans often underestimate their own power of leverage in this conflict, and stated that Europe should be more ambitious in its foreign policy. Divergences between the U.S. and European leaders, and maybe more importantly between U.S. and European public opinions, therefore need to be addressed in order to develop coordinated and complementary transatlantic actions.
According to Robert Wexler, two main transatlantic divergences need to be tackled in priority: the question of Israel as a Jewish state, and the issue of settlements. In the U.S., the Jewishness of the state of Israel creates no debate as it is widely understood that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people; in Europe, this idea is debatable, if not controversial. This first divergence triggers diverse oppositions in narratives as well as policies, and could impair the efforts to reach a two-state solution. Consequently, he argued that European leaders should more explicitly declare that the emergence of a Palestinian state can only be made possible if the Jewishness of the state of Israel is internationally accepted. The second divergence, illustrated by official statements and speeches as Europeans call Israeli settlements as illegal whereas Americans consider them illegitimate, threatens more concretely the definition of a transatlantic policy for peace. Given the extreme complexity of the settlement process and its immense political implications on the Israeli political life, a realistic solution to the conflict demands to distinguish between constructions that could effectively block the peace process and those with more marginal implications to the signature of an agreement. U.S. and European leaders need to embrace a more pragmatic approach towards the settlement issue by drawing the line between what cannot be accepted and what will be part of the peace treaty.
The discussion with participants gave Robert Wexler the opportunity to discuss more in details the questions of the Jordan valley and the status of Jerusalem, the implications of the regional turmoil on the peace process, as well as the concrete incentives and disincentives European powers could use to push for a peaceful solution. On each issue, he analyzed the compromises the U.S. administration should make in order to find a realistic agreement. He highlighted the political risks the Obama administration has been ready to take in its efforts for peace, but pointed out that most European leaders have shown little ambition and readiness to take such political risks. Finally, he argued that transatlantic partners should engage with a peace process from a more short-term perspective, with pragmatic and constructive efforts to help Israeli and Palestinian leaders have the opportunity to reach peace.
The roundtable brought together more than twenty officials from French ministries, representatives from European and Israeli embassies, as well as scholars and corporates.