The Middle East Peace Process
Austrian and EU Interests
The Middle East has long represented a focal point of interest in Austria's foreign policy, hence the Middle East Peace Process is a matter of particular concern to Austria. At present, Austria's most important direct contribution to the Peace Process lies in her active participation in the consultations and decision-making processes within the framework of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, as well as in her high-ranking political contacts in the region. With a view to securing the Peace Process through economic and social development, Austria maintains an intensive development cooperation programme with the Palestinians in the fields of housing construction, agriculture, healthcare, water management and the environment.
In order to strengthen this cooperation, but also as a sign of her readiness to actively support the Peace Process, Austria opened a Representation with the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah (West Bank) in 1998. The EU supports the Middle East Peace Process with the utmost vigour and endeavours to play an active role. Via the Special Envoy of the European Union for the Middle East Peace Process, Miguel Moratinos, as well as the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, the EU is represented as a driving force in the so-called Middle East Quartet (EU, USA, Russia, UNO). The EU is also the Palestinians' largest donor within the framework of the development cooperation programme. Further opportunities to exert a positive influence on the Peace Process are offered by the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which was launched at the Barcelona Conference in 1995 and in which the EU participates jointly with the regional parties involved in the Middle East Peace Process. The Partnership aims at establishing a peaceful Mediterranean area characterised by prosperity and cooperation.
History and latest developments
The Middle East Peace Process was initiated in October 1991 at the Madrid Middle East Conference. The first tangible results, however, only became apparent in 1992, when Israel and the PLO held secret negotiations in Oslo. These negotiations led to the mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Declaration of Principles of September 13, 1993 ("Oslo I Agreement") and the Interim Agreement of September 28, 1995 on the expansion of Palestinian autonomy ("Oslo II Agreement"). It resulted in Israel's withdrawal from the major Palestinian cities on the West Bank of the River Jordan. While the negotiations that Israel conducted simultaneously with Syria and the Lebanon failed, the negotiations with Jordan led to the signing of a peace agreement on October 26, 1994. However, the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in November 1995 and the electoral victory of the Likud Party in May 1996 brought serious setbacks to the Peace Process.
The parliamentary elections in Israel in May 1999, in which the Labour Party won and Ehud Barak became Israel's head of government, led to a re-activation of the Peace Process. The handing over of further occupied territories on the West Bank to the Palestinians started and negotiations were opened on the final status of the Palestinian territories. The Palestinians strove for the creation of an independent State of Palestine - an endeavour which was largely backed by the international community, including the EU and Austria.
In South Lebanon Israel had occupied a "safety zone" since 1985, from which it withdrew in May 2000. In August 2000, US President Clinton made an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in the Peace Process by holding a summit meeting between Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat at Camp David, near Washington. The expectations of a positive outcome to this summit were not, however, met. Instead, at the end of September 2000 a visit by the then opposition leader, Mr. Sharon, to the Islamic sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which was seen as a provocation by the Palestinians, led to a new outbreak of violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, the so-called "al-Aqsa Intifada". The violence has continued incessantly ever since. By April 2003 the clashes had claimed around 2750 victims, of which approximately two thirds were Palestinians and one third Israelis.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (Likud), who succeeded Ehud Barak (Labour) after the 2001 elections and again emerged victorious in the elections to the Knesset at the beginning of 2003, has made Israel's security, and particularly the fight against Palestinian extremists, the lynchpin of his policy. Under his government the Israeli army has reoccupied large areas of the Autonomous Palestinian Territories and brought about a de facto reversal of the results achieved by the "Oslo Process". A strict regime of closures, cordons and curfews has severely restricted economic and social activities in the Palestinian Territories.
The activities of the institutions of the Palestinian National Authority, above all the security forces and ministries, have been massively curtailed, and since the end of 2001 the President of the PNA, Arafat, has been denied freedom of movement within the Palestinian Territories and abroad. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as well as various local and international non-government organisations are all making an active contribution towards maintaining a minimum level of social infrastructure for the population.
At present all diplomatic and political efforts are focussed on implementing the peace plan elaborated within the framework of the Middle East Quartet, the so-called "Road Map", which intends to facilitate the parties' return to the negotiating table by
- defining essential obligations for both sides,
- proposing a binding timeline for the implementation of these obligations, as well as
- independent monitoring of their implementation by a third party (the Quartet),
and which aims to achieve a permanent settlement of the Middle East conflict, including the establishment of a Palestinian state, by 2005.
The Road Map requires the Palestinians to end terrorist attacks against Israeli targets within Israel and the Palestinian Territories by means of restructured and effective security services, while Israel is called upon to withdraw the measures undertaken since September 2000 to reoccupy the Palestinian Territories.
The Road Map also defines concrete tasks to be carried out by the PA in preparation for future statehood (drafting of a constitution, reform of the public administration, separation of powers) and requires Israel to take measures to facilitate the establishment of an independent Palestinian state (first and foremost the withdrawal of troops and a freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the Palestinian Territories).