The Middle East has long presented a focal point of Austrian foreign policy interest. Special attention is paid to support the Middle East Peace Process and the implementation of a negotiated and lasting two-state solution as effective as possible. Hence, Austria takes part in the deliberations and decisions of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU and maintains high-level political contacts in the region.
With a view to securing the Peace Process through economic and social development Austria maintains an intensive development cooperation program with the Palestinian government (Palestinian Authority), UNRWA and other development organizations in the fields of health, water management and environment as well as in building sustainable and effective institutions. In order to consolidate this cooperation, but also as an expression of willingness to actively support the Peace Process, Austria has opened a Representation with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah (West Bank) and granted the Palestinian representation in Vienna the diplomatic status of a Representation of Palestine.
The EU supports the Middle East Peace Process with the utmost vigor and endeavors to play an active role. Austrian and EU positions are based on international law, Israel’s right to exist and previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) - repeatedly reiterated in policy statements and documents of EU foreign ministers.
The EU is the largest international donor of development cooperation and humanitarian aid for building a future Palestinian state.
History and latest developments
The Middle East Peace Process was initiated in October 1991 at the Madrid Middle East Conference after an uprising in the occupied Palestinian territories (first "Intifada" in 1987) and the Gulf War in 1991 had triggered sustained shocks in the region. 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, negotiations with Jordan led to the signing of a peace agreement on October 26, 1994.
Setbacks, such as the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in November 1995, and efforts to revive the peace process, such as those in 1999, when the handing-over of other occupied territories in the West Bank to the Palestinians as well as negotiations on the final status of the Palestinian territories began, alternate with each other ever since. The aim of all these efforts is the implementation of the so-called "two-state solution," i.e. two states, Israel and Palestine in peaceful coexistence within mutually recognized borders - a goal that is supported by the EU and Austria and by most of the international community respectively.
After the outbreak of the so-called "second intifada" (2000), the Israeli government made the country's security, and in particular the fight against Palestinian extremists, the lynchpin of its policy. The Israeli army intensified its military occupation measures in many parts of the Palestinian territories and bought about a de facto reversal of the results achieved by the "Oslo Process". While a regime of closures and the construction of the separation barrier (from 2003 on), that in parts runs deeply within Palestinian territory, have led to a reduction of attacks against Israeli targets, they also resulted in profound restrictions on economic and social activities in the Palestinian territories.
The evacuation of Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip, the withdrawal of Israeli forces to its borders in 2005 as well as the “Agreement on Movement and Access " led to a short hope of increased integration between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The first parliamentary elections under the participation of all major political camps in 2006 promised a democratically-established Palestinian Authority. Due to the intra-Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas these developments came to an end, the closure of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army was reinforced and it was subsequently used in an increasing way as a starting point for various military and terrorist attacks against Israeli territory and became the target of Israeli military actions.
Although U.S. mediation efforts in 2010 had led to "proximity talks", the end of a (partial) Israeli settlement moratorium at the end of September 2010 resulted in their complete breakdown. Alternatively the PLO sought to gain recognition and support at the international level leading to the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state by the General Assembly of the United Nations (GA-Res. 67/19 of 29 November 2012). Together with 137 other Member States of the United Nations, among them 13 EU Member-States, Austria supported the resolution.
In the course of the second term of President Obama as well as the appointment of John Kerry for Secretary of State, U.S. foreign policy has gained the necessary momentum to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Despite these efforts, however, a tangible result could not be achieved so far.