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Publié par Patrice Cardot

There is a risk, says Marc Otte, the EU's Special Representative for the Middle East peace process, that the region may yet become " a black hole of globalisation and a general threat to world peace ". He argues that Europe must project the EU model of integration and cooperation to help tackle the problems of the Middle East.

When General de Gaulle said that he was setting off with “simple ideas” to the “complicated East “, he encapsulated the predicament of Westerners trying to make sense of the problems and the deep-rooted motivations of all the players in the Middle East.

De Gaulle’s comment can also help to shed light on the reasons why the West and its allies have of late seemed unable to articulate anything other than purely reactive strategies, leaving the initiative to their adversaries. In Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Afghanistan, not to mention the Sudan, failure looms as the military and civilian resources of both NATO and the EU come under very real stress.

Consider the Israeli-Arab conflict. The standard view is that the parameters for a solution are well known and that all it would take to implement them is leadership and political courage. Yet even as both Israelis and Palestinians keep on telling the pollsters that a two-state solution is their preferred option, Israeli voters recently ushered in a government that has still to explicitly endorse the two-state solution. And opinion polls among Palestinians show that the popularity of those who advocate military “resistance” is again on the rise.

What is it that the rest of the world seems to be missing? Is there really lack of leadership and political courage all round? Are the people simply losing hope in the feasibility of the more or less obvious solutions to their problems? Do they find the costs too high? Are outsiders, as is too often the case, only listening to what they want to hear? Or maybe only to whom they want to listen to? Are the local parties happy to oblige, so as not to damage relations with their patrons and protectors?

Deeper interconnections between issues of increasing complexity now dominate the changing strategic landscape in the Middle East, especially as its boundaries now extend in the mindsets and strategies of those concerned all the way from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And by that definition, the region is now acutely symptomatic of the unpredictable way the international system has changed faster and more radically than anyone could have expected.

First there is the emergence of new players, who are challenging the assumption that Western values are necessarily the model for the future shape of international relations. In some new and future system of agreed universal values, democracy, human rights, rule of law, focus on fulfilment and responsibility of the individual may have to live side by side with other principles.

The new players include a host of non-state actors who have become strategic threats and act in concert with states that reject the traditional rules of conduct in international relations. By supporting the worst forms of terrorism and actively seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, their aim is to increase their own disruptive potential.

At the same time, considerable governance deficits are leading to the creation of failed states or failed societies at the local level, and at the global level preventing solutions for such problems as the international financial system, global warming, international migrations, competition for resources and so on. This becomes fertile ground for the radicalisation of large segments of societies across the globe, fuelled by social disruptions and preyed upon by reinvigorated religious fundamentalists, extreme nationalists and those who preach messianic ideologies.

The Middle East has evolved into one of the main battlegrounds in the confrontation between the Western model and “the other”. Iran is obviously the elephant in the room, but the rising power of Iran is not enough to explain the prospect of the Middle East becoming a black hole of globalisation and a central threat to world peace.

For centuries, change in the region has for better or for worse always included a fair degree of intervention from outside. Any reflection on the future role of outsiders should apply the principle of “first, do no harm”, as Aaron David Miller reminded us in his recent book “The Too Much Promised Land”. Regional players have often proved apt at bringing disaster on themselves without there being any need for the outside world to aggravate matters with yet more misguided policies.

Now, a new wind is blowing from Washington, capturing the attention of friend and foe alike. Barack Obama’s message is that talking to one’s enemies does not necessarily mean appeasement. Comprehensive peace, including the two-state solution is the objective, and this is increasingly understood to be in the U.S. national interest. Failure to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict would further destabilise the region. The Obama Administration’s determination to achieve results and not to engage in further lengthy processes is a call for everybody to contribute positively.

This new U.S. commitment is improving the odds on a genuinely sustained and comprehensive conflict resolution effort that could change realities in the region. This new approach should be parallel rather than sequential, thus creating mutually reinforcing processes. This means there will be no room for picking and choosing, no possibility of “freezing” one issue in order to tackle another that could be perceived as more important. It should also be inclusive, involving all the players like Turkey and, ultimately, Iran.

Without changing the essentially bi-lateral character of peace negotiations, the creation of an overall international umbrella should be envisaged so as to shepherd negotiations, agree on goals, calendars and benchmarks to assess progress, tie parties to conflicts into binding commitments regardless of developments in domestic politics, establish monitoring by outside referees, articulate contributions by the international community to the implementation of final settlements and discuss the creation of a regional system in the post conflict situation. That would serve to mobilise all players more effectively and send a powerful message of legitimacy and unity of the international community for those who would choose to remain outside. The regional dimension provides guarantees that bilateral and partial deals will last because they are consolidated by regional economic integration and security arrangements.

An internationally agreed forum should mandate the establishment of the mechanisms to set all this in motion. The international economic crisis should be a powerful motivation to set the Middle East on the track of modernisation. The Arab world was represented at the G20 and now needs to find the financial and human resources to become an active participant in negotiating global reform. The financial packages and policy measures agreed at the G20 in London must be used to consolidate peace in the region, and therefore need to be developed by the regional players in conjunction with the international community. The new roles being assigned to the IMF and the World Bank should also be used to create a new template for the region, just as the Marshall Plan paved the way for Europe’s economic and political integration. The trade dimension has to be addressed, too, with regional trade arrangements and WTO membership for all the countries in the region placed on the drawing board. European models like CSCE and OSCE could perhaps be replicated and adapted to regional conditions.

In short, the institutionalisation of relations between countries in the Middle East, along European, Asian or even Latin American lines, has to be pursued as a long term goal and as a political backdrop for peacemaking.

What happens in the Middle East fundamentally affects European interests, and the European Security Strategy emphasises that point. Europe has been involved for a long time and has no choice but to remain so because the future of the Middle East is not some distant strategic concern but is a neighbourhood issue. The spill-over of conflict and instability there is an immediate problem for European societies. Europe is not just a payer but a full player in diplomatic, security and economic affairs, whether we all of us like it or not.

The EU has been a pioneer in developing multilateral instruments like the Barcelona Process a decade ago, and today the Union for the Mediterranean and the European Neighbourhood Policy. History has taught us Europeans that projecting the EU’s model of integration and cooperation is still one of our best assets in stabilising our neighbourhood and widening the areas of rule of law and prosperity. Europe can and must play a central role in the coming transformation of the Middle East.

Marc Otte is the EU's Special Representative for the Middle East peace process

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