Between the Ox and the Frog

France and Holland "buried" the European constitution? Europe is experiencing an earthquake? The Americans couldn't care less.

France and Holland "buried" the European constitution? Europe is experiencing an earthquake? The Americans couldn't care less. In order to demonstrate the immensity of their apathy, The Economist weekly enlisted a modern version of one of Aesop's fables: A frog shares a field with a gigantic ox. The frog inflates itself in an effort to draw the ox's attention, but the horned beast is completely oblivious. The frog continues to inflate, the ox remains indifferent. The tiny animal increases the pace of inflation, and implodes. And the ox? It chomps grass with equanimity.

The truth is that this fable may serve to distort a far more complex American reality: It is true that, speaking very broadly, it is perhaps possible to say the public does not recognize any United States vision other than that of America; the media largely opted to focus on the Indy 500 car race and ignored the European referenda "yawn-fest."

However, within political circles, the Americans displayed a great deal of interest in events unfolding across the Atlantic. Officially, the administration's spokespeople were good enough to allow Europe "to decide for itself" where it is headed. In the "neocon" circles of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the diplomatic formality gave way to schadenfreude: Exultation at the expense of Jacques Chirac - the frog that imploded - but also exultation as an expression of the desire to fortify the United States' agenda as the sole superpower, concerned about the rising power of a rival superpower; exultation at preserving NATO's defense primacy in view of the blow the European foreign and defense policy was delivered by the constitution's rejection; and exultation at what was seen as an entrenchment of gaps within the EU between "rejected" Eastern Europeans and "suspicious and supercilious" Western Europeans - gaps that will permit Washington to maintain its divide-and-conquer policy on the old continent.

The "realists" surrounding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took the converse approach. Thus, for example, her assistant for European affairs, Daniel Fried, was dispatched to Europe last week to clarify that the United States is not happy about the constitution's rejection, and that it would like to find "a strong European partner" by its side. Or, as Rice herself put it, "We want to see the European project succeed, because a strong Europe is good for the forces of democracy."

Israel - How could it be otherwise? - thinks the same as America. Except that Israel's America, so it would seem, is one-dimensional. Neoconservative. The realists - to whom commentators ascribe increasing importance in Washington - are not really counted here. Jerusalem did prefer to withhold official comment on the referendum results, and our ambassadors in EU countries were asked to keep mum. However, off the record, diplomatic sources are prepared to say that "a weak Europe is good for the Jews," at least in the short run. "It will evince greater humility, and Solana won't be coming around to bug us anymore," they say, referring to the official in charge of EU foreign and security policy, Javier Solana. In other words, the weakness of the EU, whose Middle Eastern policy is seen as being closer to parties hostile to Israel than that of the U.S., is good news.

But that is a short-sighted attitude. First of all, the enemies of globalization on both the right and left, and those who hate America and Israel, were all in the "No" camp. By contrast, leadership in all of the countries considered outright friends of the Bush administration, and of Israel, worked for a "Yes," which they viewed as assurance for weakening nationalism and bolstering a pluralistic and multicultural continent.

The economic ramifications of the constitution's rejection cannot help but impact Israel, whose biggest trade partner is the EU.

The chances for rapidly implementing additional enlargements of the EU, particularly the addition of Turkey - a clearly designated Israeli interest - has been greatly reduced.

The EU has encountered major crises in the past. It will likely weather the current crisis and ultimately come out strengthened. Meanwhile, it may adopt central components of the constitution within the existing treaties. In another scenario, Europe splits up and a "hard core" is established, headed by the EU's founders and without Washington's lackeys, which works to realize on its own the vision of a political union.

In any event, the European integration project has no direct effect on the political attitude toward Israel. As British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told Haaretz last week: The constitution's rejection will not have any impact on the European consensus regarding the Middle East.

A weak and introverted Europe - and this even the Bush administration now concedes - is a threat to the international community, and even to the American world order.

And perhaps most important of all: Israel is captivated by the concept that holds that U.S. support for it is an eternal law of nature. But in the end, the dog (the U.S.) might stop the wagging of the tail (Israel). The sanctions threatening us over the arms deal with China are perhaps the warning light. Our reliance exclusively on the U.S. suddenly looks a little less self-explanatory.