Now that the Anglo-American coalition has demonstrated its military might in Mesopotamia, the European Union (EU) seems to have only two policy options. The Europeans can continue pursuing the French-oriented approach of challenging U.S. preeminence in the Middle East, including its military presence in Iraq and its pro-Israeli agenda. The EU could, also, wait for the American hegemon to throw it a few diplomatic and economic crumbs, in the form of oil deals in Iraq and a role in drawing the “road map” to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
However, the EU might opt for a “third way.” It could follow the dramatic U.S.-led military victory, by striking a diplomatic coup that could put the Europeans in the Middle East’s driver’s seat. To achieve that, the Europeans should remove the obstacles to the prompt entry of Turkey into the EU. They should also announce their readiness to open negotiations with a free and democratic Iraq, as well as with Israel and an independent Palestinian state that could lead to latter’s gradual accession into the EU — albeit a goal that would take many years to achieve.
By adopting such a strategy of constructive engagement in the Middle East, the EU could try, through the use of diplomatic and economic resources, to achieve the kind of goals that the Bush Administration is trying to advance through the usage of its military power: challenging the status quo in the Middle East and pursuing peace and political/economic reform there.
Indeed, it’s time for the Europeans to conclude that they cannot continue to secure their interests in a region, with which they maintain strategic, business, and demographic ties, by burnishing their “pro-Arab” credentials and by propping-up bankrupted corrupt political elites. That policy may have helped to produce short-term economic interests and re-direct the hostility of the “Arab street” against the United States.
However, perpetuating the rule of Arab autocrats has only helped to turn the strategic and economic periphery of Europe into one of the least advanced and most unstable parts of the global economy. The Middle East not only exports oil to the EU, but also hundreds of thousands of poor and angry immigrants that have become a demographic time bomb.
While both the Israelis and the Palestinians regard Washington as central to any resolution of their conflict, the EU remains marginalized in the process. It is both the largest provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel’s most important trade partner. However, the EU has failed to translate that economic leverage into diplomatic influence.
Signaling to the Israelis and the Palestinians that a peaceful resolution to their conflict could be a ticket for admission into the EU, would be more than just enticing them with economic rewards. Conditioning Israel’s entry into the EU on its agreement to withdraw from the occupied territories and dismantle the Jewish settlements there, would strengthen the hands of those Israelis who envision their state not as a militarized Jewish ghetto but as a Westernized liberal community.
The tragic fate of the European Jewry served as the driving force for the creation of Israel, and welcoming the Jewish state into the European community makes historical and moral sense.
The prospect of joining the EU could help launch a process of economic and political liberalization in an independent Palestine and an Iraqi federation. In the same way that the establishment of NAFTA produced pressure for democratic reform in Mexico, the evolution of trade and institutional ties between the EU, Palestine and Iraq, and eventually Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, could lay the foundations for a movement towards democracy in the entire Levant.
Indeed, the hopes for EU membership have already played a critical role in accelerating democratic change in Turkey, leading to the collapse of the old political order and the election of a reform-minded Islamic-democratic party. Putting Turkey’s EU membership on hold only gives a boost to those in the military and the nationalist and Islamic groups that want to reorient Ankara’s foreign policy from the West towards Iran, Russia and China. If anything, the recent tensions between Washington and Ankara over Iraq and the Kurds only demonstrates that anchoring Turkey in the EU is both in the interest of the Americans and the Europeans and could help also stabilize post-Saddam Iraq.
The much-maligned Old Europe could end up providing the needed economic and diplomatic resources and helping to create a New Middle East. Even a unilateralist Washington should welcome such a role.