EPC: What is next for the Middle East: moving beyond cycles of war and instability?

by | Jun 21, 2024

(20 June 2024 – EPC) 


  • Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Hamidreza Azizi, Visiting Fellow, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) 
  • Silvia Colombo, Researcher, NATO Defense College & Associate Fellow, Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) 


  • Mihai Chihaia, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre

The aim of this conference, organized by the European Policy Centre, was to discuss the future of the Middle East, focusing on overcoming the cycles of war and instability and delve into several key topics: the current situation in the Middle East, Biden’s ceasefire plan, the implications of the Iranian presidential elections, the role of the European Union, and the potential impact of a possible Trump administration. 

Challenges and Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

To begin with, Aaron David Miller outlined the five fundamental issues in any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, security, and mutual recognition. He emphasized the vast differences between the parties, comparing them to the Grand Canyon, and stated that “it is intellectually dishonest to talk about resolution prospects under the current leadership”. The current leadership, in Miller’s view, lacks the will to resolve these issues, making progress difficult. For example, the status of Jerusalem remains a major stumbling block, with Israel considering the entire city its indivisible capital, while Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Aaron David Miller also addressed Biden’s ceasefire plan, noting that headlines suggest an even more turbulent period ahead. “History has shown that great powers fail to impose their ambitions on existential conflicts,” he remarked. The recent clashes between Israel and Hamas illustrate the difficulties in maintaining a durable ceasefire. The cycles of violence, often triggered by isolated incidents like tensions in Jerusalem, show how hard it is to establish stable peace without addressing the conflict’s root causes. For Biden’s plan to succeed, it must include credible security guarantees for Israel and tangible commitments to improve living conditions for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Broader Middle Eastern Dynamics and International Influence

In a second part, Hamidreza Azizi discussed the implications of the Iranian presidential elections, noting that Iran’s foreign policy, centered on “resistance” and “looking East,” will likely remain unchanged regardless of the elected president. A conservative victory in Iran could strengthen an aggressive foreign policy and increased resistance to Western sanctions. For instance, conservatives might continue supporting groups like Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq, thereby enhancing Iran’s influence in the region.

About the EU’s potential role in de-escalating the conflict in Gaza and the Red Sea region, Silvia Colombo noted that while the EU has taken measures such as Operation ATALANTA, its ability to influence major crises is limited due to internal dysfunctions. Operation ATALANTA, aimed at combating piracy off the Somali coast, shows the EU’s commitment to maritime security. However, its efforts to play a more significant role in land conflicts like Gaza remain less effective without a unified foreign policy and adequate resources.

Finally, Aaron David Miller discussed the implications of a possible Trump administration. He stated, “Trump’s policies could differ significantly from Biden’s, especially regarding pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians”. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy, a decision that heightened tensions with Palestinians and the international community. This illustrates how a unilateral approach can complicate peace efforts and reinforce extreme positions on both sides. A Trump administration might favor policies strengthening alliances with right-wing Israeli governments while neglecting Palestinian needs. This could lead to escalated conflicts and weakened international efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.

Link to the event with a video recording:

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