Monday, March 12, 2007

A "Pro-Israel" EU?

Emanuele Ottolenghi on the Commentary blog-

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has just accused the European Union of being too pro-Israel, despite the EU’s recent pledge of 264 million euros for Palestinian refugees. Abbas’s criticism is based on the fact that the EU, to its credit (and to the surprise of many observers), has stuck to its guns and refused to water down the three preconditions set by the Mideast Quartet for the resumption of direct aid to the Palestinians: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and respect for previous accords. Despite Russia’s active undermining of the Quartet’s position, the original consensus on these issues, formed in response to the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006, has lasted longer than even the most dedicated pro-Israel activist could have expected.

Indeed, since coming to power, Hamas has played a central role in maintaining the consensus. The Islamist party has wasted countless opportunities to break the aid embargo. All that Europe has needed in order to set aside the preconditions is a few magic words—cloaked in the usual mantle of ambiguity—and no real action. A literature about the supposed two “wings” of Hamas even began to flourish to prepare the way for such an accommodation. We were told about the tension between the “moderates” inside the PA and the ideologues abroad, the military faction and the political faction, the ones we can talk to and those who just won’t make nice. The point of it all: to encourage the West to engage and aid the PA.

But even the “reasonable” wing of Hamas has refused to play along. Every time Europe’s political class might have been tempted to think that Israel’s nemesis had changed course, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza would obligingly remind them what the organization is really about. Renounce violence? Never. Recognize Israel? Not implicitly, tacitly, or otherwise. And why shouldn’t Hamas refuse? With Fatah in disarray, the Islamists might soon be the only game in town.

And it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Even if the EU holds firm, Abbas can still count on more than a few friends in Europe. With German bishops comparing Israel’s defense barrier to the walls of the Warsaw ghetto and with self-proclaimed dissidents in Sweden calling Israel an apartheid regime, political statements from Brussels amount to little more than a minority view, increasingly at odds with the European vox populi. Then there are those “moderate” commentators eager to punish Israel should it continue to defend itself. Anatole Kaletsky of the Times of London has concluded that Israel should be sanctioned if it attacks Iran, and that sanctions also should be threatened if Israel insists on maintaining “the post-1967 status quo.”

In the face of all this, it is difficult to maintain any pretence that the EU is pro-Israel, let alone too pro-Israel. But who knows? If Hamas keeps up its stream of shrill, bloodthirsty propaganda, even the willfully blind governments of Europe may no longer be able to pretend that the Islamists in charge of the Palestinian territories have turned over a new, moderate leaf.

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