In his address to the second Euro Arab Peace conference organised by the Government of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Defence Minister and Crown Prince of Dubai, said that the President, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE Government and the people of the country were ready to dedicate themselves to the cementing of ties between the Arab world and Europe in order to advance the peace process.
His Highness said that Installing a fair and long lasting peace in the Middle East has become a European and Arabic strategic nesessity. It requires a strong position that guarantees the peace process and overcomes any obstacles placed in its way.
Officially the conference focused on strenthening Euro-Arab ties during the ten year build-up to their scheduled customs union. Speaker after speaker, however, urged EU representatives to play a greater role in the peace process so that the United States was not the sole arbiter of the peace plan.
It was pointed out that the European Union is the Arab states' main commercial partner, with 47% of all imports to the Arab states coming from Europe, while exports to Europe reached 38% of the Arab total.
Oil and gas account for 60% of the European Union's total imports from the region. Studies show that by the year 2020, the volume of these imports will triple, which means that the Euro-Arab partnership is so important that none of the parties can do without it.
In spite of this common interest, it was felt by Arab delegates that the European Union had failed to respond adequately to some of the challenges relating to the peace process. It was not exerting pressure proportional to its economic weight to make Israel take a more reasonable stance at the peace talks. Israel is succeeding in its efforts to marginalize the EU from the peace process. This is ironic, as Europe is one of its main financial supporters.
Animated discussions broke out among delegates regarding the attitudes of governments within the EU toward Arab interests. The Europeans were accused of placing economic relations with Israel above the rights of the Palestinian people. Some of the more robust speakers demanded that Europe impose economic sanctions on Israel. The debate also covered European arms sales in the context of the peace process.
One of the working sessions held during the conference focused on Europe's role in achieving peace in the Middle East. Doctor Ismat Abdel Mequid, the Arab League General Secretary, emphasized that Euro-Arab relations play an important role in the Arab world because of the historically strong political and social links between the two regions. It is important that the Arab region's strategic importance to Europe be recognised, and that stability be achieved to ensure the prosperity and peace not only of the Arab region, but also of Europe.
Ambassador Miguel Moratinos, Special European Union Envoy for the Peace Process in the Middle East, said that there is a convergence between European and Arab interests. Economic policy is just one side of the coin, while cooperation is the other.
At the close of the conference, a consensus had been reached that Europe should play a more positive role in the development of the peace process in the Middle East, a role that fits its political and economic importance.
Has Europe at last found the will to take a firmer stand against Israel and demand a place at the peace talks to defend the rights of the Palestinian people? And will Europe threaten sanctions against Israel to back this up?
Although Euro-Arab dialogue will continue, it is unlikely that this will be translated into more effective political action in the near future.