D4.1 IECEU Palestinian territories review
Lead beneficiary: CMC Finland
Delivery date: 14/02/2017
This report examines two European Union CSDP operations in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs): the European Union Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories (EUPOL COPPS) and the European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EUBAM Rafah). This desk review provides background information for an upcoming IECEU report on the OPTs that will be based on primary research material.
The last seven decades of Palestinian history has consisted of wars and violence, displacements, Palestinian uprisings (intifada) against Israeli occupation, as well as efforts to rebuild lives in a protracted and precarious conflict situation. The Arab-Israeli war in 1948 left some 700,000 Palestinians displaced, mostly in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Since then, the number of displaced Palestinians has been estimated to have increased close to five million people. Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip started after the 1967 Six-Day-War between Israel and the Arab States. Since the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in the 1970s, there have been several internationally supported, but until now unsuccessful efforts to find a solution to one of the world’s longest conflicts. Key issues that need to be resolved include the right to return of Palestinian refugees, the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories it has occupied in the wars, and the guarantee of territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the region.
An important part of the EU’s assistance to Palestinians has been the support to security and justice sector reforms. Two decades of Israeli occupation and the chaotic period of first intifada had left Palestinian security and justice sectors in disarray in the early 1990s. Rebuilding, and in many ways establishing security and justice systems under Yasser Arafat’s authoritarian rule in the 1990s turned out to be highly problematic. Much international support to the two fields became wasted due to corrupt practices within the Palestinian authority, as well as due to destruction caused by the Israeli military response to the second Palestinian intifada that started in 2000. In 2003 the US-led Roadmap to Peace was agreed between the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel. As a member of the Roadmap Quartet the EU adopted a more active role in supporting the Palestinian state-building process that was widely seen as a way to move forward and towards a final two-state-solution to the Middle East conflict.
Instead of a negotiated solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the developments within the last decade have led into emerging intra-Palestinian conflict. After the surprise victory of Hamas over Fatah in the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006, the EU and other international donors refused to provide support to the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas that they have categorised as a terrorist organisation. International aid was channelled through special mechanism to the Palestinian President Abbas’s office. Unsuccessful efforts to form a Fatah-Hamas coalition government have led to the split between the West Bank and Gaza. The former is led by Fatahdominated Palestinian Authority (PA) and the latter led by Hamas. International assistance to Palestinians is predominantly targeted to the West Bank, while Gazans only receive humanitarian assistance.
The EU border assistance mission EUBAM Rafah was established in late 2005 to support the implementation of Palestinian-Israeli Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) that aimed to improve Palestinian freedom of movement and open the international Rafah border crossing point between Gaza and Egypt. EUBAM Rafah’s work was praised by the conflict parties and internationally for having significantly increased the number of border crossings and for having enhanced the skills and capacity of the PA border and customs officers working in Rafah. However, violent incidents in Gaza in 2006 led to closures of Rafah crossing point, and together with the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007 changed the situation so drastically that the EU decided to put EUBAM Rafah on hold. Since 2007 the operation has been on standby with minimum staff, waiting for political situation to change that would enable reactivation of its operations.
The EU police support operation EUPOL COPPS also had to cease its activities in Gaza due to Hamas takeover, and since 2007 it has focused its activities to support the Palestinian Civil Police in the West Bank. Having existed for a decade, the work of EUPOL COPPS has moved from material assistance and training towards mentoring and strategic advisory work. Since 2009 EUPOL COPPS also has also supported Palestinian justice sector reform through its Rule of Law Section. The mandate change that allowed EUPOL COPPS to expand its work to justice sector illustrates the EU CSDP operation’s ability to respond to emerging needs and challenges in the field. However, it also pinpointed that the EU needed to improve coherence amongst the agencies working under the European Commission and the EEAS.
Material and technical assistance that EUPOL COPPS and EUBAM Rafah have provided to Palestinians has received positive assessments from aid recipients, Israel, other international donors and outside observers alike. The Palestinian Civil Police performance nowadays compares positively with other Palestinian security forces, and security situation in the West Bank has improved remarkably during the last decade. But there continues to be reports on human rights violations by the PA security forces, including PCP officers. These include the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of detainees. Observers have criticised the EU for providing assistance to increasingly authoritarian PA, the rule of which over the West Bank lacks democratic and legal base, and for increasing technical skills of the PA security forces that use them against their own people. Critics also point out that the EU’s decision not to engage with Hamas while providing assistance to the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank has contributed to the deepening intra-Palestinian division.
Palestinians and outside observers have also raised the question whether international aid in its current form is actually maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories rather than working towards sustainable two-state-solution to the conflict. The EU and other aid providers tend to treat the Palestinian situation as if it was a post-conflict state. In fact, Palestinians have no control of their territorial borders, the sovereignty is undermined by Israel’s control over economic resources, the Israeli Defence Forces frequently interfere in security matters, and Palestinian authorities have no judicial power to act on crimes committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinians. According to the critics building Palestinian state institutions that can only function to the extent Israel so allows maintains the current status quo. Observers have grown increasingly critical over whether the EU’s focus on technical assistance has been appropriate to address the current political and security situation of continuing occupation and intra-Palestinian divisions. The EU, while it has over decades managed to introduce important issues and concepts on the peace agenda, is not seen to have used its full potential to push forward the peace process. Due to this, also the EU CSDP operations’ good achievements have dimmed.