From Payer to Player in the Middle East

The European Union’s policy in the Middle East is the litmus test of its common foreign and security policy. Many Europeans share this belief, but, as the EU considers entering the fray of Middle East peace talks, it must respond to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s jibe that in the region “you are payers, not players.”

Yet Europe’s potential contribution should not be underestimated. Europe’s financial contribution to the Middle East has been consistent and impressive. Between 1995 and 1999, it spent roughly €3.4 billion in the region, to which the European Investment Bank added a further €4.8 billion in loans. From 2000 to 2006, Europe spent another €5.35 billion, and the EIB approved €6.4 billion in loans. This year, the European Commission has committed €320 million in Palestine alone.

So much for the role of payer. But has Europe’s financial aid brought peace any closer? The Palestinian Authority has received more aid per capita than did post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan, yet the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have foiled hopes of a broader Euro-Mediterranean framework that, through dialogue and investment, would bring tangible improvements to the lives of millions.

Yet it is starkly obvious that peace in the Middle East will not be born out of projects. Rather, it will emerge from a concept that addresses existential needs. A stability charter to address people’s concerns in terms of land ownership, the economy, demography, and supra-national cooperation must form the core of future dialogue and investment. For peace to take root, long-term regional interests must overcome national agendas. It is this vital multilateral ethos that Europe must champion.