PositionEuropean Union

The passing of Yasser Arafat has elicited from leading EU figures the predictable expressions of sympathy with the Palestinian people and of hope for the future. If the loss of a historic leader does open up the historic opportunity that has been so widely acclaimed, how can the EU best help?

Until today, the EU role in the region has been minimal: dismissed by Israel as hostile, and largely treated as irrelevant by the US, Brussels has been present principally through its financial assistance.

So what will follow the Dutch Presidency's immediate promises to work towards "a peaceful, durable and just settlement of the conflict"? Or the European Commission's assurances of continued commitment to a resolution of the Middle East conflict? Or Javier Solana's hopes for intensified efforts to establish a peaceful and viable state of Palestine as the best tribute to Arafat's memory? Or the European Parliament's vision of "new impetus for the peace process and reform in the wider Middle East"?

Is this just another EU smoke-screen of rhetoric to conceal its inability to influence events?

Not altogether. In the short term, the Commission's involvement will raise the quality of the promised Palestinian elections - for which it has already provided the cash and expertise to register voters. And the consistent EU expressions...

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