Through this summer’s din and uncertainty of Brexit, the migration crisis and a wave of terror, Europe has remained constant in one respect: its singular fixation on a wrong-headed policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
If the Middle East were an arrivals and departures board at a train station, the Israeli-Palestinian question would be down somewhere at the fifth or sixth spot, behind the war on ISIS, the Syrian civil war, the Libya fiasco and Iranian hegemonism. All those decades in which the mantra “if you solve the Palestinian issue, all outstanding issues will fall into place,” has been proven to be nothing more than hollow conventional wisdom. The Sunni-Shia divide has become a roiling ocean, creating aftershocks in nearly every corner of the region — and beyond.
For years, the Palestinian leadership has become accustomed to “pride of place” on the issue, picking up supporters and apologists globally, but no more so than in Europe itself. Explanations for this are varied: some countries were concerned at one point about the spread of PLO terrorism in Europe, and sought accommodation with the terrorist organization. Some European governments were driven by ideological considerations and looked the other way at the thuggery, then the obstructionism of the PLO and its successors, while coming down hard on a succession of center-left and center-right Israeli governments. Some European leaders saw themselves as mediators and interlocutors, worrying that a shortage of obeisance to the Palestinian narrative would disqualify them from being “honest brokers.”
Indeed, since its 1980 Venice Declaration, in which the then-EEC (European Economic Community) supported the Palestinian’s call for “self-determination,” Europe has always tilted to the Palestinian side, despite the existence of generally good bilateral relations between a number of European Union (EU) countries and Israel.
As the EU grew in size, some differences in this approach became discernible. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, a number of the new democracies could be found voting against, or abstaining on issues considered to be biased against Israel at the United Nations (U.N.) and other international fora. Increasingly, though, the demand for consensus in EU voting has seen the voting independence of the former Central and Eastern European states dissipate in the face of pressure from Brussels and from a number of the senior EU member capitals.
The 2012 decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to “non-member state”—despite the EU’s call for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with the object of reaching a two state solution—was supported by no less than 14 EU members. Only the Czech Republic voted against; 12 others abstained. The message to the Palestinian Authority couldn’t have been clearer: why negotiate with Israel when the international community, including key European countries, could do the heavy lifting for it?
Gaming the U.N. system has become a PA specialty.
One recent case in point is a resolution singling out Israel recently adopted at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly in Geneva. The measure, introduced by Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group and Palestine, singled out Israel for “physical and procedural barriers to health access” in the territories, east Jerusalem and what they call the “Syrian Golan.” The text also cited the “prolonged occupation and human rights violations on mental, physical and environmental health…”
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians knows that emergency rooms and hospital wards in Israel treat Palestinians on a daily basis. Indeed, the Israeli organization, Save a Child’s Heart, which performs, gratis, pediatric cardiac surgery, has treated more than 2,000 Palestinian children since its inception in 1996. Beyond that, Israel has been treating hundreds of cases of civilians from across Syria who have been wounded in the barrel bombings and other carnage of that bloody war in medical facilities in the northern part of Israel.
And yet, 107 countries supported this libelous WHO resolution, including all 28 EU member states. On a continent where the blood libel against Jewish communities was a prominent fixture of life in the Middle Ages, and on the basis of facts widely known in European capitals, it is both incomprehensible, and reprehensible that Israel should be castigated in this way.
Another recent example of Palestinian influence at the U.N. is the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Executive Board’s vote in favor of a resolution on “Occupied Palestine.” There are 40 points in the resolution, some of it rehashing previous resolutions condemning Israel for all manner of absurd accusations of “desecrating” holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. But this measure makes no reference at all to the Temple Mount, only to its Islamic/Arabic name, Al-Haram Al-Sharif. In the resolution, the plaza in front of the Western Wall is referred to as the Al-Buraq Plaza; “Western Wall Plaza” is noted in quotes only.
This isn’t only a matter of semantics, or “sensitivity.” In the past, the United Nations documents have referenced the holy site by both the name recognized by Judaism and Christianity (the Temple Mount) and Islam (Al-Haram Al-Sharif). This current re-writing of history, and the elimination of both the Jewish and Christian places in that history, was supported by 33 countries overall. Four EU countries actually supported the measure, and five did oppose, with two abstentions. But why was there a division in Europe over this blatant historical revisionism?
To the Palestinians, all of this has a purpose: to erase or delegitimize Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s claim to the land. That European countries, no strangers to either the Jewish narrative on their own continent or to the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, would, for the sake of diplomatic expediency, dismiss that history with a simple keystroke or a voting show of hands, is unacceptable.
There’s even more counterproductive meddling beyond the U.N. system. Case in point: Last fall’s EU directive to label products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights prejudges an issue (settlements) that belongs in a direct negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU itself, as a member of the Quartet (which also includes the United States, the United Nations and Russia), wants to have it both ways. Calling for face-to-face negotiations but siding with the Palestinians before those talks have even begun on this issue.
This all amounts to flawed diplomacy. Those European countries which engage in this kind of voting behavior or in extra-curricular diplomacy could better spend their time encouraging the Palestinians to end their quixotic sullying of Israel, rather than enabling it. These resolutions set back what remains of the peace process, they don’t advance it. Palestinian expectations are inflated when Europe backs these initiatives, and in Israel, the belief that it can never get a fair break at the U.N. and other international fora is reinforced.
It’s time for Brussels and other European capitals to send a simple message to Ramallah: if you’re serious about peace, get to the table. If not, there is no shortage of crises to occupy our time and attention.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President