European Union Middle East envoy Marc Otte was not replaced when he ended his term last week, and it is not clear when or if he will be. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has not yet decided whether or not to continue the post, according to a report by the AFP news agency.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Ashton, said the EU is taking a second look at its overall organizational structure, and the post is part of the package. The European External Action Service is currently in development and will have some bearing on the decision, she said. “It is an organizational issue, not a change in policy.”
Palestinian Authority officials are not happy about the decision. “We need a special EU independent representative for the peace process and we need the EU's own peace project,” said PA negotiator Nabil Shaath. The EU provides generous funding to the PA and has been a strong advocate for its political positions vis a vis negotiations with Israel.
In any event, the post is likely to stay open at least until September, according to an unnamed diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “A final decision will be taken at a later time, probably in the fall,” the source said.
The dossier held by Otte, who served as Mideast envoy since 2003, is being administered for the time being by Germany's Helga Schmid, a political affairs adviser.
But sources said that Ashton may decide to deal with the Middle Eastern issue herself. She has maintained close ties with her former mentor, who is currently Middle East envoy for the Quartet of peacekeeping nations (EU, U.S., Russia and U.N.), former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.