Sunday, September 6, 2009

Crisis in Israel-Europe Relations?

By Barry Rubin

The AP reporter’s voice shows she’s very young and her choice of words show she’s very inexperienced. “What do you think,” she asks me, “about the crisis between Europe and Israel.”

Crisis? Well most immediately this is the kind of “crisis” you want, over a very narrow issue—construction on settlements—which can be easily resolved. The Europeans are supporting U.S. efforts, U.S. policy has become a lot more positive on this issue in recent weeks, and some resolution will soon be found.

The resolution will soon be found because President Barack Obama needs one. In the pattern so often repeated by this administration he has put himself in a corner. If he is going to look “good” at the UN session, feel he has a basis for raising sanctions on Iran, and broker an Israel-Palestinian Authority meeting he has to solve this issue of construction. Right now, he needs a resolution far more than does Israel.

This administration has a genius for putting itself into the weaker position on any international issue.

It’s funny, though, how European governments always find some reason to be annoyed and threatening pressure on Israel but never ever on the Palestinians. Have you noticed that? Massive corruption, incitement to violence, letting terrorists go or never arresting them in the first place, violating commitments, none of its seems to matter.

So European governments have an interesting choice: Is their main goal to be “pro-Palestinian” (if condemning a people to decades of conflict by supporting their intransigence can be called supporting them) or seeking Israel-Palestinian peace?

The answer in most cases—all countries are different—is the former. Being “pro-Palestinian” makes them look “progressive” and “humanitarian,” supposedly scores points in the Arab and Muslim world, theoretically promotes trade and investment with the aforementioned places, and so on.

Also, if European leaders believe—some do, some don’t—that there isn’t going to be peace (even if they privately blame the Palestinians) this policy can seem to make sense for their interests.
Israel’s problem is not predominantly with the European masses or even, to a lesser extent, with governments, but with the European intellectual elites. After all, take the four main countries of Europe: France, Germany, Italy, and the UK.

Relations with France have increased sharply with President Francois Sarkozy, despite his silliness over Lebanon and Syria. Links with Germany remain quite good, and with Italy excellent. The UK has the most problems—the Foreign Ministry often seems incapable of concealing its loathing of Israel—but the fall of the Labour government can’t be too far off and the Tories will be better, not hugely better but enough to put London in line with the others.

Where are the big problem spots? Spain, Sweden, Norway, and Belgium, basically, not exactly the continent’s great powers.

So, a crisis? After more than 30 years analyzing the Middle East, I explain, one has a certain skepticism about crises. In the region, they are like buses—one is along every few minutes—but more frequent.

Oh, and if you want proof of this from 30 years ago--and a real treat of an inside story--read Yehuda Avner on Golda Meir and the crises with Europe of the 1970s.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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