Wednesday, 5 January 2011
Europe's misguided meddling in Israel
EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - A letter from 26 former top European Union leaders condemning Israeli settlements reads like it was written by the Palestinian Authority. The group wants sanctions on Israel and a boycott of certain Israeli products.
In a letter to current EU leaders, these government leaders of the past decade criticise Israel's settlement policy without offering the context, history, or nuance needed to truly understand the situation.
They make no mention of Palestinian reluctance to return to the negotiating table, of Israel's very real security concerns, of Palestinian incitement, or of the fact that a sizeable portion of the Palestinian population will not even recognise Israel's right to exist.
This letter represents a shift in the approach of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The mainstream of former EU leaders is now bearing down hard on Israel- just when we should be looking to such world leaders to support direct talks without preconditions.
The letter fails to note that Jerusalem, the capital of Israel for more than 3,000 years - with a continuous Jewish presence for 2,000 years - is not a settlement.
The letter-writers say that Israel should feel "the consequences" and pay "a price tag" for expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Perhaps the most myopic section reveals: "Time is fast running out ... Israel's continuation of settlement activity ... poses an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state."
In reality, any threat to the establishment of a Palestinian state comes solely and directly from Palestinian obduracy.
The 26 former top EU leaders signing the letter include the former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former German President Richard von Weizsacker, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, former Italian Prime Ministers Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, among others.
Any debate about the West Bank must begin with some history. As a result of the 1967 war brought on by its Arab neighbors, Israel found itself in possession of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and a reunified Jerusalem.
Israel immediately offered to exchange the lands for peace. And Israel has made variations on this offer repeatedly during these 40 years. But during this same time, all but two Arab states have rejected peace proposals, and the rest have dodged every opportunity to recognise Israel.
The group of 26 also fails to point out that it is Israeli control of Jerusalem that enables Jews, Christians and Muslims each to freely worship at their own holy sites in the city.
These leaders who have held major positions on the international stage should know better than to take the Palestinian bait. These leaders all know Israel well, and are surely familiar with its desire for peace.
They are being disingenuous when they expect Israel to bear the primary obligation for a resolution to the problem. This type of blame game played out publicly will not settle Israel's security issues nor bring the region any closer to peace.
What it will do is raise Palestinian expectations to unattainable levels, and Israel will continue to feel it cannot receive a fair hearing in the court of public opinion.
These 26 leaders should take a page from the Friends of Israel group, headed by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, which was launched earlier this year to defend Israel's right to exist. This group works against the demonisation of Israel and understands the grave obstacles Israel faces as it seeks to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
The former EU leaders' letter conforms to the Palestinian narrative and has only confounded the situation. The letter leaves out an acute sense of proportionality: less than five percent of the West Bank is made up of Jewish settlements. Is that a reason to stall talks?
Any discussion of land-for-peace is incomplete without noting that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. In return, Israel received thousands of rockets and mortars fired into Israeli towns by the Hamas-led region.
Israel continues to fight not just for peace, but for its very existence, something the former EU leaders leave out of their demands. If Europe or its former leaders want to make a real contribution to peace in the region, they will send a clear and unequivocal message to the Palestinian leadership that the game of procrastination is over, and that a resolution on Palestinian terms will not be delivered on a silver platter.
The Palestinian leadership, with feet planted firmly in the mud, is well on its way to betraying its own people and making a peaceful solution truly impossible. The former European leaders should not enable that.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice-president of B'nai B'rith International, an international group for the fight against anti-Semitism