The London remarks by Javier Solana have attracted the attention of politicians and analysts in the region. Solana courageously suggested that the international community should be more forceful in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to the extent of imposing a solution if the parties cannot reach agreement by a certain deadline.
Solana knows what he is talking about. He is one of the most experienced European politicians dealing with this issue and he has been intimately involved in the ups and downs of peacemaking over the past ten years. Thus, one significant aspect of his statement is how little hope it held out for the US-mediated bilateral process.
The problem with an imposed solution, however, seems to be the same problem that has beset successive political efforts, including the latest one at Annapolis. There is certainly no lack of initiatives or proposals that enjoy international consensus. In fact, the accumulated resolutions of the United Nations Security Council reflect exactly such consensus. As does the roadmap, a document prepared by the Quartet, adopted by the Security Council and endorsed by all the parties to the conflict and almost all members of the international community.
Yet, there has been no progress.
One of the reasons is the unusual nature of relations between Israel and the most influential players in the international community, the United States and Europe. For historical and strategic reasons, the US and Europe have always been hesitant to differ with Israel or to pressure the country this way or that. Europe, and to a lesser extent the US, seems paralyzed by its historic guilt. On the strategic level, meanwhile, Israel has long been an ally to the West. In the 1960s, Israel helped counter the growing influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Later, the country positioned itself as an ally in the "war on terror", and now Israel is trying to make Iran the main factor shaping strategic relations between itself and the West.
However, the strategic relationship no longer carries the clout it once did. On the contrary, events have proven that these relations have begun to backfire on the regional interests of the western world and, equally importantly, are being used as an excuse to maintain regressive, non-democratic regimes in the region.
It is important to avoid mixing causes with effects in this regard. The way Israel has been allowed to treat the Palestinians and escape its obligations under international law has been a significant factor in the deterioration of relations between the West and the peoples of the region, especially Arabs and Muslims.
Hence, the way to reverse this deterioration, to enhance the credibility of the West in the eyes of the peoples of the region, as well as pave the way for reform of Arab regimes and governments, would include, though not be confined to, establishing a credible international approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that brings Israel into line with its obligations under the roadmap and international law.
So, the question whether it is a good idea to impose a solution, as Solana suggested, depends on two things. First, the solution has to be one that is compatible with the accumulated resolutions of the United Nations and hence international law. Second, the West must be willing to put Israel under sustained and significant pressure in order to implement such a solution (begging the question why that hasn’t happened yet, even on an issue such as ending Israel’s illegal settlement expansion in occupied territory).
Imposing a solution compatible with international law would be the proper approach and represents the only possible consensus. But the question that really needs answering, by Solana as well as his friends in Washington, is the extent to which Europe and the US would be prepared to exert pressure on the parties, especially Israel.
The experience so far is not encouraging.