The International Spectator

Volume XLI, No. 2 (April - June 2006)

Editorial Note

The second issue of The International Spectator 2006 focuses broadly on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Beginning with the Eastern Mediterranean, the essays by Hubert Faustmann and George Christou take fresh looks at the Cyprus conflict two years after the failed referendum on the UN-sponsored Annan Plan and the ensuing EU accession of the divided island. Faustmann's retrospective approach turns back to the Annan Plan and its rejection by the Greek Cypriot community. In explaining the outcome, the author focuses on the security dimension, arguing that while the Plan met the major security concerns of the Turkish Cypriot community, of Turkey and of Greece, it left those of the Greek Cypriots unaddressed. More specifically, according to Faustmann, Greek Cypriot concerns over Turkey's permanent military presence on the island and their fears that Turkey would not comply with the Plan largely explain the Greek Cypriot "no". On the basis of this analysis, Faustmann points out possible security-related revisions of a future peace plan that could garner Greek Cypriot consent.

George Christou instead focuses on another equally important aspect of the Cyprus conflict: its EU dimension. The much-expected "catalytic" effect of the accession process on the Cyprus conflict notoriously failed to materialise in 2004. On the contrary, the EU dimension has in some respects contributed to consolidating the status quo, by failing to induce moderation on the Greek Cypriot side. This has caused much disillusionment and shaken the commitment to reunification in Turkey and northern Cyprus. The EU's failure to keep its promise to lift the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots has also had a major negative impact. Yet, Christou argues that the EU has the potential to play a crucially positive role. It can promote incremental change within each conflict party, by fostering normalisation, strengthening moderates and supporting their culture of shared governance and reconciliation.

Moving to the Mashreq, Roberto Aliboni concentrates his attention on the Gulf and the EU's relations with it. He argues that a set of developments, ranging from the US Greater Middle East policy, to the Iraqi crisis and the new energy security dilemmas have raised the European imperative to engage with the Gulf. Different forms of engagement entailing different levels of cooperation with the US can be envisaged: weak EU-US strategic convergence; some transatlantic cooperation, modelled on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI); or an enhanced independent EU presence in the Gulf. After analysing these three scenarios, the author concludes that Europe has an important, albeit limited, political and security role to play in the Gulf, which could develop even in the absence of a conventional transatlantic setting. An enhanced EU role in the Gulf could also offer the US new policy options with respect to such problems as Iran's nuclear programme.

Karam Karam analyses domestic developments in Lebanon since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and its implications on Lebanon's external relations. The withdrawal of Syrian troops and parliamentary elections in May/June 2005 represented a major turning point, which has not, however, engendered a genuine renewal of the political system. To find a way out of the impasse, a national dialogue was launched in March 2006 aimed at finding answers to a myriad of domestic and international challenges. The author analyses, in particular, three major exigencies: effective national leadership; reform of the political system in view of its "deconfessionalisation"; and establishment of viable foreign relations with, principally, Syria and Israel.

Yezid Sayigh instead focuses on domestic developments in the occupied Palestinian territories and their impact on the conflict with Israel. He maps the Palestinian domestic political scene, analysing the deep-rooted determinants of secular Fatah's decline, and the parallel rise of Islamist Hamas, which culminated in the latter's stunning victory in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections. According to Sayigh, the reasons for Fatah's decline are long-term and structural. They are linked to Arafat's de-institutionalisation of Palestinian politics and governance, which also caused declining confidence and credibility in relations with Israel especially following the eruption of the armed intifada. In this context, Hamas has offered the public a more consistent and clean leadership and organisation. Sayigh argues that, by failing to counter Israel's unilateralism, the EU and the US have contributed to the PA's and Fatah's decline, and that by continuing to do so, they could reduce the prospects for Hamas' incremental moderation into an effective and legal political force and for the wider reconciliation within the Palestinian political system.

In her "Opinion", Anne le More tackles the question of the suspension of aid to the PA following Hamas' victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. She assesses the overall effectiveness of the donor policies toward Palestine over the course of the Oslo process and the second intifada, arguing that international aid failed in its objective to sustain the peace process and foster Palestinian socio-economic development and institution-building. Moreover, by switching to emergency assistance over the 1990s without accompanying policies restraining Israel's conduct, aid to the PA actually contributed to the fragmentation of Palestinian territory and governance. Suspension of assistance following the election of Hamas not only risks to generate a humanitarian and economic crisis in the Occupied Territories, but also to aggravate the conflict's asymmetries.

Laura Guazzone's "Opinion" takes a broader angle on the question of political Islam and the international approach to it, by analysing the differences between Middle Eastern Islamist parties and al-Qaeda. The author argues that whereas Islamist parties in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco or Palestine pursue political platforms based on reform, social solidarity and militant grass-root participation and justify the resort to violence only against military occupation, al-Qaeda's platform is nebulous, indiscriminately violent and ultimately apolitical. Capitalising on the distinction between the two could provide a key in helping Europe and the West rethink their strategies against global Islamist terror.

Finally, after the Italian parliamentary elections in April 2006, Sergio Romano assesses the legacy of Berlusconi's foreign policy in the Italian foreign policy section. He argues that for over half a century, Italy's foreign policy has been inspired by the triple goals of European integration, close transatlantic ties and a privileged partnership with the Arab Middle East and Mediterranean. Under the Berlusconi government the balance between these three goals was substantially altered. Showing little enthusiasm for the European integration project, Berlusconi systematically gave priority to transatlantic relations, thereby contributing to Europe's internal divides. In the Middle East, Italy's centre-right government provided unprecedented support for Israel and its policies, in part as a means of bolstering relations with Washington and in part as a strategy to gain the support of Jewish communities on either side of the Atlantic. Romano concludes that the new course of the Berlusconi government may not have lived up to the hopes and expectations of its leader.