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Bouris Dimitris, The European Union and Occupied Palestinian Territories: State-building without a state, London and New York, Routledge, 2014, 214 p.

Giulia Daniele

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1Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, and the Oslo Accords in particular, have been covered and analysed extensively in the relevant literature, the broad effect of the distinctive character of the European Union as it operates in such a background has not thus far been fully taken into account either at the political or the academic level. Within this framework, Dimitris Bouris’ book The European Union and Occupied Palestinian Territories: State-building without a state has gone a substantial distance towards compensating for such a gap, by dealing with both the theoretical and the more practical issues, using an approach founded on the evaluation of empirical material relating to the role of the European Union as a state-builder in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In detail, the most significant contribution made by this book is based on the articulation of primary sources, which the author terms ‘voices from the field’. These voices come from among the current protagonists (Palestinians, Israelis and Europeans), and mostly represent the views of officials from the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, several NGOS (such as Crisis Action, Human Rights Watch, the Alternative Information Centre, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and al-Haq), Permanent Representations of some EU and non-EU member states, and EU civilian missions (in particular EUPOL COPPS and EUBAM Rafah).

2After introducing conceptual insights on liberal peace, peacebuilding and state-building, and underlining that building states has become synonymous with building peace, the author states that “these institutions should include the elements of security, rule of law, a police and justice system” (p. 21). Bouris then goes on to question the increasing function of the EU as a state-builder across the world. In this sense, the author emphasises the responsibility of the EU to help in building a state, addressing specifically the role of security, police and rule of law.

3Having identified these necessary elements, which are applicable worldwide, Bouris goes deeply into the specificity of the case-study of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the objective of a ‘two-state solution’ providing for an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel and its neighbouring countries. This has historically been the EU’s strategic priority, and has been declared as a necessary first step in the long process towards a peaceful and a just conflict resolution. Nevertheless, by looking at the current immobile status quo and moving from a theoretical perspective to a more pragmatic one, Bouris explores three parameters in order to test the EU’s effectiveness in providing support for Palestinian state-building. These are the generation of legitimacy, coherence and the ability to enforce the regulation of violence. In relation to the first factor, on the one hand the EU has proposed a number of stages that have been accepted and adopted by the international community, but on the other hand, after the elections that brought Hamas to power in 2006, the EU has been engaged only with the government of Abbas and Fayyad, and not with the new legitimately elected one in Gaza, effectively minimising Hamas’ role in moving towards the state-building process. Regarding the second parameter, the EU has been often criticised for its failure to obtain successful results in order to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and the inadequacy of its work has been demonstrated by the insufficiency of its actions to oppose the construction of illegal Israeli settlements within the West Bank, and failure to seek any kind of conditionality from Israel. As for the third parameter, the EU has not been able to fully transform its theoretical statements into consequential policies on the ground that could have offered some broader peacebuilding alternatives.

4Although the EU’s strategic political challenges and limits are clearly exposed by his analysis, in the second half of the book Bouris stresses the importance of evaluating the efforts of the EU to develop the Security Sector Reform (SSR), including the promotion of the rule of law, and the Judiciary Sector Reform (JSR) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. What the author intends to underline from his study, is that the European initiatives have attempted to recommend technical improvements on such issues, while, on the other hand, the Palestinian context has been characterised by the strengthening of the executive at the expense of the legislative system (pp. 161-3). This view is well supported by a comprehensive historical overview regarding the main steps of the engagement of the international community with both reform processes. In addition, the EU’s efforts are shown to have been rather inconsistent, due mainly to the fact that “in reality the EU has not paid much attention to helping the improvement of democratic civilian oversight and accountability” (p. 162). The implication of this is that the EU has not fully understood and improved the specific situation existing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

5This observation represents one of the most challenging remarks offered by Bouris, as he admits that the question of whether the EU could be effective as a state-builder still remains at the centre of the political discourse, and in particular in relation to the three parameters he has used throughout his analysis. In his conclusion, the author emphasises that these criteria should not be considered as a panacea, but should be seen alongside other influential factors, which are represented primarily by the seemingly endless Israeli military occupation. In this way, he makes clear the consequences generated by the power asymmetry both between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the EU itself in limiting the effectiveness of the EU’s role as a state-builder. Moreover, he recognises the negative effects caused by the dual nature of European policy, and requests instead that the European Commission and the European Council should speak with a single voice.

6By being able to explore the most successful steps forward along with the major problems regarding the EU’s role in Palestinian state-building, Bouris ends his exhaustive study by suggesting two parallel paths to be followed by the EU in order to lead towards a possible peacebuilding and state-building process in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: firstly, the adoption of a more politicised approach; secondly, the increase of coherence in its actions and political decisions. Bouris’s writing is a strong reminder to his readers that both of these can be achieved by the EU as condicio sine qua non to not only support a renewed pathway towards the so-called ‘peace process’, but also to make the EU a central player in the state-building agenda by including a greater political element to the discourse, to run alongside the technical one. Although European foreign policy has been often ignored, especially in relation to the context of the Middle Eastern conflict, Bouris’ contribution may offer an alternative perspective to enable the rethinking of diverse possibilities for pursuing a just conflict resolution in Israel/Palestine.

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Giulia Daniele, « Bouris Dimitris, The European Union and Occupied Palestinian Territories: State-building without a state, London and New York, Routledge, 2014, 214 p. », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 138 | décembre 2015, mis en ligne le 30 janvier 2015, consulté le 10 août 2020. URL :

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Giulia Daniele

Ph.D. (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies-University of Exeter)

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