The role of non-state actors in

EU policies towards the Israeli-

Palestinian conflict

Benedetta Voltolini

The Institute for Security Studies (EUISS)

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The EU’s engagement with non-state actors (NSAs) – e.g. business groups, NGOs and think tanks – has become part and parcel of EU policymaking.1 EU external relations are no exception to this trend, as the case of EU policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows.2 Given that this is one of the most extensively documented conflicts in history and one of the most relevant issues in EU foreign policy,3 the number of NSAs dealing with the conflict is significant.4 NSAs are involved on the output side of EU foreign policy-making, often benefiting from EU funding, being involved in EU programmes or training activities and dialogue fora aimed at conflict resolution or at the improvement of the situation on the ground in terms of human rights and democracy.5 NSAs are also active on the input side through lobbying and advocacy activities, as confirmed by many EU officials and policy-makers.6 While both dimensions are worth analysing, this paper focuses on the input side.7

The role of non-state actors in EU policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

It investigates what role NSAs play in the EU’s policy-making process in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and examines their interaction with the EU in the context of the conflict. Clearly, EU external policies are also influenced by the dynamics on the ground, the role played by the conflicting parties as well as by third actors such as the US. However, these aspects are not covered here.

The paper examines NSAs’ lobbying and advocacy activities and how NSAs try to influence EU external policy according to their goals and preferences. In this paper the terms ‘lobbying’ and ‘advocacy’ are used interchangeably. No comparison with the lobbying in the US, where lobbying is strictly regulated, or in EU Member States is made and an analytical rather than normative approach is taken.

Although indirect forms of lobbying and advocacy activities targeting EU external policies are also possible, most notably through Member States, this paper only deals with the direct interactions between the EU and NSAs. Even though both the EU and NSAs are embedded in the conflict, this paper does not take a ‘conflict-driven’ point of view, but adopts instead an EU focus, concentrating on the role of NSAs in EU external policies. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taken as an exemplary case of EU external policy in order to point out specific dynamics in the EU policy-making process.

The term NSA is used as an umbrella term to encompass a variety of actors. By drawing on the relevant literature,8 NSAs are defined here as groups that are autonomous from the government (which does not mean that they cannot receive public funding); that have a relatively formal structure; and that try to influence, or have a potential interest in influencing, the EU’s policy-making process towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.9 The timeframe of the paper concentrates on events that have occurred since 2000.

By providing insights into the landscape of NSAs involved in the sphere of EU policy-making with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this paper aims to contribute to understanding how the EU’s policies are shaped, formulated and implemented. It sheds light on actors that are usually not taken into account in the analysis of EU policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus adding further nuances to the study of the EU’s external policy-making process.

The paper is structured as follows. First, EU policy towards the conflict and the role played by the different actors (Member States and EU institutions) in the policy-making process are explained. Second, the paper analyses how the EU engages with NSAs by providing an overview of these actors and highlighting their main features. The third section focuses on the role played by NSAs and how they impact on the EU’s policy-making. Finally, the conclusions summarise the main findings.


1. See European Commission, Communication on General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties by the Commission, COM(2002)704, Brussels, 11 December 2002; Nathalie Tocci (ed.), The EU, Civil Society and Conflict (London, Routledge, 2011), available at:

2. This paper does not examine the Arab-Israeli conflict, but focuses on the more limited issue of Israeli-Palestinian dynamics. While the two aspects cannot be disentangled, this dimension of the conflict has been given more attention in EU foreign policy and by civil society and NSAs. Most of their activities revolve around Israeli-Palestinian relations, while the broader Arab-Israeli dimension is less dealt with. Therefore, the author has preferred to concentrate attention on this aspect.

3. In this paper, foreign policy is defined as ‘the sum of official external relations conducted by an independent actor in international relations’ (Christopher Hill, The Changing Politics of Foreign Policy, Houndmills/Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan, 2003, p. 4). Hill proposes a broad definition of foreign policy comprising both high and low politics and taking into consideration the actions of all governing mechanisms (ibid., pp. 4-5). This paper also uses the terms ‘EU policy/policies’ or ‘EU external policy/policies’ interchangeably when referring to all forms of foreign policy that the EU pursues towards Israel and the Palestinians. The former expression is preferred whenever Israel/Palestine is mentioned in the sentence, while the latter is used when this is not clearly specified. As said, the scope of the paper refers to EU foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and includes all actions and policies that the EU deploys in this regard.

4. Interview with EU official, Brussels, February 2011.

5. On the output side, especially on the EU’s engagement with civil society organisations in conflict situations, see Tocci, op. cit. in note 1; Benoit Challand, ‘Coming too late? The EU’s mixed approaches to transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, in ibid; Nathalie Tocci and Benedetta Voltolini, The EU, Civil Society and Conflict Resolution in Israel-Palestine. Paper presented at the Workshop on ‘The EU and the Middle East’, EU-GRASP 7th FP, Jerusalem, 22 May 2011.

6. Interviews with EU officials and MEPs, February-March 2011. This paper focuses on the EU level. NSAs can also act at the level of Member States and use them as an indirect channel to influence EU policies. Often NSAs try to use all available channels, thus lobbying at both the EU and national levels.

7. This research is based on a database compiled by the author. It also contains NSAs that are ‘potentially interested in influencing EU foreign policy’. This means that, although no specific instance of lobbying/advocacy activities has been found so far, these actors have interests at stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and advocacy/lobbying are part of their activities. Therefore, it is supposed that they could potentially be involved in EU foreign policy-making, if specific facts or particular interests are at stake.

8. Among others, see Bas Arts, Non-State Actors in Global Governance: Three Faces of Power, Max Planck Project Group on Common Goods, Bonn, Working Paper 2003/4; Jan Beyers, Rainer Eising and William Maloney (eds.), Interest Group Politics in Europe (London/New York: Routledge, 2010); Daphne Josselin and William Wallace, Non-state Actors in World Politics(Houndmills/Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2001); Ken Kollman, Outside Lobbying. Public Opinion & Interest Group Strategies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).

9. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is considered as a state actor, as it is the administrative body in charge of the government of the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the agreement reached by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel with the Oslo Accords. The current debate about the recognition of the state of Palestine at the UN is also an issue pushed by the PA, but it works as a political and representational body which is different from the NSAs considered here. The PA deals with political power and governs a territory, even if its sovereignty is limited.