Will the EU criticize Abbas’s refusal to meet Rivlin?

It hasn’t happened so far and, given the EU’s track record, it is unlikely to happen at all.

What’s this about?

This week both Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, were scheduled separately to address the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. For a few days, there have been stories in the press about European attempts to arrange a meeting between Rivlin and Abbas, with European Parliament President Martin Schulz taking a leading role in these efforts.

For example, the following was reported by Times of Israel: “After speaking with Rivlin on Wednesday, Schulz told reporters he hoped the two leaders would cross paths when Abbas arrived at the assembly later that evening. ‘I hope (Abbas) will arrive in due time before President Rivlin will leave, so my answer to you is that the diplomatic progress I wish depends a bit on the timetables of both,’ he said. ‘If we achieve that both are crossing the floor in the European Parliament, I think they will not run away from each other so I will do my best,’ Schulz added. Rivlin interjected: ‘I can assure you that I will not run away.’ ”

What was Shulz’s goal? — Some good atmospherics and perhaps a photo op, suggesting comity, dialogue and civilized discourse. Even though Rivlin’s role as president is largely a ceremonial rather than a political one, a meeting would have generated positive vibes So, it was thought.

Rivlin was agreeable to a meeting but Abbas refused.

The Jerusalem Post reported that on learning that Abbas has snubbed him, Rivlin said, “On a personal level I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas, my friend Abu Mazen, refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders.” He said this during a joint press conference with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

And what did she say in response? “I will not comment on what Rivlin mentioned about the presence at the same time here in Brussels of himself and President Abbas, but the EU is constantly working, daily with both parties with a sense of friendship.” Ah, no comment.

The EU is very free with its criticism of Israel but is usually mum when it comes to criticizing the Palestinians. Here was a clear opportunity to break that mold by criticizing Abbas’s refusal and reiterating values that the Europeans usually hold dear: dialogue, discourse, trust-building gestures. Such criticism was even more justified in this case since Abbas rebuffed the public efforts undertaken by European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

So, what is the EU waiting for? A suggestion: Don’t hold your breath.

About the Author
Lewis Rosen is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for more than 30 years. Born and educated in the US, he worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity for two years in Washington D.C. and was on the economics faculty of York University in Toronto, Canada for 13 years. In Israel he has been involved in a wide range of business planning and economic analysis projects.