French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Georges Papandreou, the president of the European Union's Council of Ministers, and Javier Solana, the High Representative of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, hold three of the most important and influential positions in Europe. Because of this, in Israel they are considered three of Europe's least desirable personages.
Recently, the three were subjected to a host of Israeli excuses that repeatedly postponed their visits to the region. Two of them were boycotted, albeit unofficially, by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and the third (Papandreou), who did get to see Sharon, was unable to provide his colleagues with proof of his achievement: Sharon is no sucker, and he does not permit his rare retreats to be documented. The photo-op was canceled, and the evidence remains in the Prime Minister's Office.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, who arrives in Israel this evening, can expect to receive very different treatment. This is not only because he represents a country that saved 50,000 Jews during the Holocaust, nor only because Passy himself is both a proud Jew and currently the most popular politician in his country. Primarily, it is because that is how one treats those whom Uncle Sam wishes to honor. The United States of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld has been engaged for several months in building a new Europe, a Europe that thinks like America and bows to its authority.
Bulgaria will join the EU only in 2007, but the Bush administration has already labeled it with the V-sign. This small, impoverished country proved its loyalty during the war with Iraq, and it has therefore earned a place of honor in the design of the new Euro-American continent.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem insists that the potential for Israel embodied in Europe's eastward enlargement was identified long before Rumsfeld divided Europe into good and evil. Senior ministry officials see the enlargement as a historic window of opportunity for turning the critical EU into a pro-Israel organization, or at least into a more "balanced" one: The eastern candidate states are currently characterized by a strong pro-American orientation and believe that strengthening their ties with Israel will improve their status in Washington.
The Eastern European countries want to rid themselves of the communist era and its legacy. Because of this, they are also distancing themselves from their traditional pro-Arab policies. And because these countries have no colonial past, they are also free of moral obligations to the Arab world. Therefore, they can be expected to refrain from typical Western "moralizing," which Jerusalem identifies with "the colonialist syndrome." The Eastern European countries are also free of the pressures of a large Muslim population, and therefore the "new anti-Semitism" is not expected to rear its head on their soil.
About two months ago, the Foreign Ministry, seeking to take advantage of these facts, launched what it terms "the diplomatic operation," which is meant to accelerate the rapprochement between Israel and Eastern Europe. Yet there are those who predict that in the end, despite the American efforts, the EU's enlargement will result in the new members being absorbed into "old Europe" and adopting its Eurocentric agenda. This theory could, for example, explain the confused statements that emerged from Sofia a few hours before Passy's visit, according to which the Bulgarian minister was liable to follow in the footsteps of his French counterpart and meet with the "monster of the Muqata."
Israeli officials yesterday promised not to submit to the "fatalism" that underlies "the disappointing scenario of new Europe's assimilation." But the realization of this scenario depends less on the flexing of American and Israeli muscle than on developments in the western part of the continent: the ability of the EU's members to overcome their differences and advance their federalist goals, their ability to add a common foreign and security policy to their common monetary policy.
Officially, the new candidate states will become EU members in 2004. But they will join the vision of the EU's founding fathers only when they discern a real alternative to the U.S. security umbrella on the horizon.
Thus, the "Arafat dilemma" of the "New Europe" is only a symptom of a much broader issue.
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