In an article today on the scramble by the "Quartet" of Mideast mediators (the U.S., EU, Russia, and UN) to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations ahead of a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN on Friday, The New York Times includes a telling anecdote: As of Monday, France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton hadn't yet informed him of what Europe's stance is on the new Quartet peace proposal, which is still in the works. The detail highlights a larger issue: Europe's struggle to find common ground when it comes to Palestinian statehood.
So far this week, Juppe has met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York (see picture above) and declared that he hopes the Israelis and Palestinians can resume peace talks before the Palestinians ask the UN Security Council to recognize their statehood bid. But France, a veto-wielding Security Council member, has not said publicly how it will vote if Abbas goes through with his plan to submit a statehood request to the U.N. decision-making body. In fact, while the U.S. has announced its intention to veto any statehood bid at the Security Council, British Foreign Minister William Hague explained today that the 27-member EU is withholding its position on a Palestinian bid for UN membership "in order to exert as much pressure on both sides to return to negotiations." France's Le Parisien reports that France is trying to broker a compromise this week in which the Palestinians would try to upgrade their status at the UN through a General Assembly vote rather than seek full membership.
Europe, as Hague suggests, may indeed be staying quiet on the Palestinian statehood bid in an effort to force the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. But its silence may also speak to internal divisions. "While France and the U.K. signaled they're likely to support the Palestinians at least in the U.N. General Assembly," Bloomberg wrote last week, "Germany has warned about the repercussions on peace talks with Israel. Others such as the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have indicated they'll oppose the effort, a position at odds with a broader swath of Europeans who support the U.N. strategy." Europe "is the X factor, and what the Israelis, Palestinians and the U.S. are fighting for," the International Crisis Group's Robert Malley explained. Bloomberg adds that the divisions raise questions about the E.U.'s ability to wield global influence.
France in particular provides an interesting case study. Last week an unnamed former French diplomat told France 24 that France was engaged in a "diplomatic balancing act" based on three objectives. The French government, he explained according to France 24's account, wants "Israel and the U.S. to be appeased, the peace process to be given a fair chance to resume, and the U.N. to respond as positively as possible to the PA proposal." This past spring, Juppe and French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted that they might support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.