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  • The EU and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1971–2013: In Pursuit of a Just Peace by Anders Persson
  • Rosemary Hollis (bio)
The EU and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1971–2013: In Pursuit of a Just Peace, by Anders Persson. London: Lexington Books, 2015. 193pages. $85.

Anders Persson advances a new and intriguing argument about the contribution of the European Union to finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In essence, Europe has made a difference by legitimizing new ideas, thereby causing others to change their positions and adopt these ideas themselves. Thus, Persson contends, without Europe’s visionary thinking the Palestinians might not have made the advances they have in gaining international support for independent statehood.

The stages through which international understanding of the Palestinian issue has evolved span several decades. As Persson notes, the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, of 1967 and 1973, respectively, made no specific mention of the Palestinians, but did establish the illegality of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (as well as other Arab territories) captured by Israel in the June 1967 war. To this day, every EU pronouncement on the conflict cites those resolutions as the basis for peace.

In the Venice Declaration of 1980, the Europeans blazed a trail by recognizing the right of the Palestinians to self-determination [End Page 469] and calling for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to be represented in peace negotiations — principles eventually embraced in the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. In its Berlin Declaration of 1999, the EU was the first to envisage Palestinian statehood as the key to peace — heralding the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict embraced in the road map for peace adopted by the Quartet (the United States, UN, EU, and Russia) in 2003.

In recounting this evolution Persson does acknowledge the gap between what the EU has called for and the outcome of successive rounds of negotiations. Yet he is not prepared to simply dismiss the EU role as ineffectual. Instead, he offers a new depiction of the EU as what he calls “Legitimizing Power Europe,” as distinct from the now familiar term “Normative Power Europe.” Whereas the latter depiction derives from the EU’s avowed commitment to exporting the values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law — in which it has failed — Persson’s concept embodies the EU’s “important visionary role in the conflict by legitimizing new ideas” (p. 149) and then, over time, reframing how the essence of the conflict and the requirements for peace are generally understood.

The route by which Persson arrives at his concept of Legitimizing Power Europe makes for fascinating reading. He takes us through a discerning account of how peace-building has devolved into state-building in the discourse of liberal interventionism. Thus he shows how would-be (European) peace-makers uncovered the links between security, the rule of law, and from there the need for a state and economic viability, and came to see all these as interdependent, requiring implementation as a package, and not a sequence.

In the early part of the book, where Persson discusses the relationship between “justice” and “peace,” exactly where he is headed is not immediately clear. Clarity emerges, however, when he reveals that of the 200 references to “just peace” he found in a careful search of European Community documents and those of its successor, the EU, on a range of issues, the vast majority of these mentions occur in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (p. 52). His quest to understand the significance of this discovery then becomes an enticement to the reader to accompany him on his journey.

Among the dilemmas explored by Persson in his discussion of “just peace” in general terms, he considers whether peace is a necessary prerequisite for justice or whether justice may be the enemy of a good, i.e., stable, peace (p. 17). He also provides a very thoughtful exposition of the theoretical and empirical relationship between peace-building and state-building, revealing along the way how the EU came to see the latter as its task in the Israeli-Palestinian context...


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pp. 469-471
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