BEIRUT, Mar 5—Although Europe actively tries to manage Middle East crises, it undermines its economic, political, and security interests by assuming a secondary role to the United States and following its policy line. For the EU to be an effective player in the Middle East peace process, it must pursue greater political engagement on three tracks: the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Lebanon, concludes a new paper by the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Drawing on interviews with EU delegations and European embassies as well as a wealth of local actors in Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, Muriel Asseburg assesses Europe’s on-the-ground efforts in conflict management and recommends a more effective European approach to the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Key Conclusions:

  • Israeli–Palestinian negotiations must be the EU’s main priority in the region. The EU should support Palestinian efforts to reach a new power-sharing agreement and send clear signals that it is ready to cooperate with a Palestinian consensus government backed by all factions, including Hamas.
  • Efforts should concentrate on re-opening Gaza’s border crossings to allow for humanitarian aid, reconstruction, and a sustained economic upturn.
  • The EU should move towards ratification of its Association Agreement with Syria and encourage Israeli–Syrian talks, but recognize that U.S. security guarantees are essential for moving the talks forward.
  • The EU should not push for direct negotiations on the Israeli–Lebanon track. Rather, it should work on Syrian–Lebanese relations and push for an early exchange of ambassadors between Damascus and Beirut, for border demarcation, and cooperation on border control.

Asseburg concludes:

“It is time for Europeans to rethink their policy approaches, refocus their activities, and seek a more effective coordination and division of labor with the new U.S. administration. Not only are intensified efforts needed to reinvigorate the Israeli–Palestinian negotiations, Europeans should also stand ready to help advance the other tracks of the peace process. In the end, for Europeans, it is not about claiming a role as a ‘player,’ but about assuming that role and engaging in politics.”



  • Muriel Asseburg is the head of the Middle East and Africa Division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP). Her current research focuses on the Middle East conflict, German and Middle East politics, the Euro–Mediterranean Partnership, and state building, political reform, and political Islam in the Middle East. She was a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in 2008.
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