[Overseas view]A Mediterranean union?

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[Overseas view]A Mediterranean union?

Nicolas Sarkozy must be relieved that the “Union for Mediterranean” summit has been held in a satisfactory way.

We could even think that it was a diplomatic success.

The French president’s great project was first disputed by his European partners, first and foremost the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

They asked ? and succeeded ? to enlarge the project to include every European Union member and not to limit it to Mediterranean countries. It was then criticized by Arab countries, which found themselves isolated in too large a partnership.

They also feared it would give a unilateral diplomatic gift to Israel, participating with it at an international summit, without any promise of real progress on Palestinian issues.

Sarkozy feared that if every country was to be part of the summit, and few heads of states or governments were to come, it would have been a failure for him at a time he was getting poor ratings in polls. But as it turned out, almost all of them attended the meeting, alongside Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary General.

The missing ones were the Libyan leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the king of Morocco, Muhamed VI.

Even though the big family picture, where everybody would have been together, has not been possible, at least everyone sat at the same table, giving Nicolas Sarkozy a photo opportunity with all the leaders.

For a few days, Paris was the center of world diplomacy. To reach this success, Sarkozy has been compelled to modify his initial plan. He has accepted to put strategic matters at the core of the process, and not confine them to technical aspects.

At the beginning, Sarkozy made a comparison between European union and Mediterranean union: Let’s launch a pragmatic cooperation project, without making peace in the Middle East a prerequisite. He made a reference to European countries which together launched European construction to achieve peace. But the comparison was not accurate.

European countries were able to cooperate on real projects, such as common production of coal and steel then strategic raw materials because they have decided first to make peace. Cooperation has strengthened peace but not created it. The decision to live in peace for good has been the first step, not the second one.

The Mediterranean union in its technical aspects ? student exchanges, sea lanes, working against pollution, and so on ? could only succeed through dialectical linkage with a global peace process in the region. The Palestinian case is just too important for Arab countries to be set aside.

Along with the summit, Sarkozy has obtained from the Syrian and Lebanese presidents the opening of embassies between the two countries. Syria refused to do it for sixty years, considering Lebanon as its courtyard. Lebanon, on the edge of civil war a few weeks ago, could be hopeful again and looking to a brighter future. Syria, formerly beleaguered and marginalized, is now considered a necessary partner. Bashir al-Assad, a former diplomatic pariah, was the summit’s guest star.

Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert were said to be very happy with peace agreement perspectives almost never before presented.

If the high level participation was unexpected and welcome, and paves the way for diplomatic triumph in Paris, the hard task begins now.

Will these projects be realized ?

Could we believe in an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, when Olmert is in a very weak political situation? With corruption accusations launched against him, his political future and his government’s future is very unsure. He could be unseated soon. A Likud government chaired by Benjamin Netanyahu who is hostile to any agreement with the Palestinians, could be in charge before next fall.

On top of that, the colonization of Palestinian territories ? certainly not the best way to achieve peace ? is still going on.

Mahmoud Abbas’s position is also fragile and he has little room to maneuver both internally ? with the stalwart opposition of Hamas ? and on the international front.

There is therefore a fear that the success of the summit would not be followed by real results. We could not forget that when the Barcelona Process, a North-South Mediterranean cooperation project, was launched in 1995, optimism dominated. The Barcelona Process failed mostly because it was hijacked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We could only hope that the political ambitions heralded in Paris would not vanish after everyone goes home.

It is still too uncertain to say whether the Paris summit will be the first step toward welcome and peaceful strategic and economic changes in the region, or if it will join the long list of wonderful summits with lots of smiles in pictures and triumphant final declarations but without any concrete achievement.

*The writer is the director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris.

By Pascal Boniface
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