From Europe: Myopia on Israel

The best word to describe it would be chutzpah.

In a letter to British daily newspaper The Guardian, 50 former European foreign ministers and government leaders castigated the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The letter asserts the Trump plan favors one side, and “has characteristics similar to apartheid — a term we don’t use lightly.”

Amongst the signatories are a number of longtime, incessant critics of Israel who, when in power, seemingly did little to hide their bias toward the Jewish state. Indeed, some – early on – applied “apartheid state” to describe Israel and rarely, if ever, criticized the Palestinian side for its intransigence toward good faith negotiations with Israel.

When these officials had the opportunity, in 2000 and 2001 –  when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered unprecedented concessions on Jerusalem; or when his successor, Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza in 2005; or when his successor, Ehud Olmert was willing to make serious territorial concessions at the Annapolis Conference in 2007 leading to a subsequent peace offering in 2008 –  there was no letter from “the 50.”

Nor was there a call by these individuals in 2013 and 2014, during the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry initiative for the recalcitrant Palestinians to match Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of a settlement freeze with reciprocal concessions to move the peace process forward.

Looking at the record, it’s easy to see why.

One signatory of the Guardian letter, Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, chaired the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. That gathering was an untrammeled hate-fest against Jews and Israel, so bad that the United States left the conference after four days. Numerous non-governmental organizations jeered anti-Semitic slogans and jostled pro-Israel attendees. The entire gathering is a stain on the U.N. to this day. Robinson allowed it to get out of hand, even though it was known far prior to the conference that anti-Israel organizations were planning to disrupt the proceedings both inside and outside the meeting hall.

Another signatory is former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. During 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, de Villepin wrote: “Israel condemns the Palestinians to backwardness and suffering….little by little it condemns Israel to becoming a segregationist, militaristic and authoritarian State. It is the spiral of South Africa under apartheid…” Nothing in de Villepin’s article contained a word about Palestinian terrorism or rockets fired into southern Israel, nor about the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of suicide bombers.

And then there is Sigmar Gabriel, the former foreign minister of Germany, who – in a visit to Hebron as leader of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) – referred to Israel’s government as “an apartheid regime.” He subsequently clarified his comments, but the damage was done.

The former Italian Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, who also added his name to the letter, said in 2006 that “Hamas and Hezbollah are not al-Qaida.” And Erkki Tuomioja, who once served as foreign minister of Finland, said in a newspaper interview in 2001 when asked about Israel’s efforts to defend itself against terrorist threats “that it is quite shocking that some implement the same kind of policy toward the Palestinians which they themselves were the victims of in the 1930s.”

Former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, who also signed the letter, once opposed the establishment of an Israeli embassy in Dublin in the 1980s, lest it result in a loss in trade with Arab countries. It should be noted Ireland was among the last European Union member states to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Another signatory, the former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw once called into question the loyalty of American Jews. In a debate in Parliament, Straw reportedly railed against the influence of AIPAC and the “unlimited funds” of Jewish organizations aimed at controlling U.S. policy in the Middle East.

So it should come as no surprise that the 50 who signed the Guardian letter should pool their names to instinctively throw darts at a peace proposal that, finally, addresses Israel’s real security concerns. These former diplomats are on automatic pilot. Over the past two decades, thinking has changed in the region. Witness Israel’s relations, official or otherwise, with most of the Gulf countries, and with a list of countries that have, in the past, been staunch supporters of the Palestinians at the United Nations and elsewhere.

The shadow of Iranian hegemonism hangs over most of the region, threatening Israel and many of its neighbors. The Palestinian Authority’s rejectionist and zero-sum approach to an arrangement with Israel is wearing thin. The message to Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority associates is “get with the program” — negotiations with Israel — or be left behind in a world where Tehran and its proxies are engaged in malign behavior, the objective of which is to sow disorder and chaos at every turn.

When once the Arab world was one in putting Palestinian interests at the top of its collective “to do” list, much of it now focuses on other priorities — like self-preservation.

Israel has had a “Europe problem” for decades. The 1980 Venice Declaration, which called for Palestinian self-determination at the height of Yasir Arafat’s PLO reign of terror, presaged the now decades-long European tilt toward the Palestinians.

The Guardian letter, signed by a Who’s Who of establishment diplomats, doesn’t make what it says right, only foolhardy. It is not 1985 anymore. These former policy makers are missing the point that so many others see clearly now. With Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Iranian influence in Iraq growing daily, Israel is not about to trade security for the hollow assurances that were features of previous peace plans.

The Trump plan offers the Palestinians a pathway to an agreement and invites them back to the table. Letters like that to The Guardian, or the adoption of rote anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and its agencies, only reinforce the Palestinian belief that time is on their side.

The prestige of the letter’s signatories could have been better used to disabuse the Palestinians of that notion. Instead, they have clung to biased notions which only set back the effort to resolve the conflict, not move it forward.

About the Author
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO of B’nai B’rith International
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