How would you like your Europeans?
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told Haaretz that if the UNIFIL-plus model succeeds in the north, it could eventually by reproduced in the south, in the Gaza Strip. Statements made to him the next day by Marc Otte, the European Union's special representative for the Middle East Peace Process, including a stark hint that a European "axis of salvation" for Lebanon-Gaza has begun to take root.
Currently, there is no talk of sending a peacekeeping force to the Qassam launch sites in Gaza, but those who want an active Europe at the Israel-Lebanon border will have to start accepting that Europe will not agree to be passive in the Gaza Strip-Egypt border. With typical diplomatic caution, Otte mentioned that it was former prime minister Ariel Sharon who asked the European Union to assign observers to the Rafah border crossing, when he decided that it is best to remove the Israeli Defense Forces from the Philadelphi corridor. Otte warns that if Israel keeps running the Rafah crossing as it pleases and closing the crossing on most days (as it has been since Gilad Shalit's kidnapping), officials in European capitals will probably start wondering whether they are wasting their time.
The Europeans hope the new era of relations embarked with Israel in the north will have a good influence on relations in the south. As if to demonstrate the European connection between Lebanon and Gaza, General Pietro Pistolese, commander of the European observers in Rafah, was summoned to Rome to teach his comrades who are about to leave for Lebanon something of the art of dealing with security elements in Israel.
In the following weeks Pistolese will spend a considerable amount of his time negotiating with those very elements over the upgrade of the observers' mandate, which expires in November. According to the agreement, the mandate is supposed to be automatically renewed for six additional months, but the Europeans want to make use of the opportunity to upgrade it.
Europe wants the Gaza upgrade to include a looser Israeli grip on the border crossing locks. Israel wants a tighter European control of the same crossings, to minimize the danger of dubious elements entering the Strip, and the smuggling of funds for dubious organizations. This entails an intelligence cooperation between Israel and the observer force, and between both of them and Mahmoud Abbas' Presidential Guard.
Israeli security elements say that without a Hamas agreement, even a tacit one, the mission is virtually impossible. The American security coordinator, General Keith Dayton, left for Washington this week. He will have to work very hard convincing the members of Congress, three months before elections, to tone down their position toward Hamas.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni journeyed from one European capital to the next and spoke in their own language. For years she was test-runned on Israeli statesmen, "You have always spoken of the importance of European involvement in the Middle East, and complained that we are holding you back," said Livni. "Please, the door is wide open. Israel cannot cope alone with all the threats in the region. You are welcome."
The possibility that the Europeans will have one foot inside the door in the north, and the other wedged in the south was taken into account in Foreign Ministry internal discussions. No panic was reported. It was even agreed that success of an upgraded UNIFIL could pave the road to a substitute for the deceased unilateral convergence. Livni does not miss an opportunity to say that when Israel disappears from the territories it intends to leave, it cannot toss the key into the street. If Hezbollah drives the Italians away from Lebanon, its Hamas brothers will banish them from Rafah. If the international force manages to bring order to southern Lebanon - the keys to an international presence in Gaza are in the ignition. And who knows, maybe also for the West Bank.
If the second Lebanon war was the first military test for Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the ending of the war was Livni's initiation into the diplomatic arena. The Foreign Ministry officials that accompanied her on her long journey to validate Resolution 1701, and to recruit the European forces that will turn the resolution from paper to tiger, testify that the results so far are an almost exact replica of the plan prepared during the first stages of the war, before the Qana disaster.
The "stay of exit" Ehud Olmert imposed on Livni when she asked to participate in the resolution talks at the Security Council taught her that the prime minister does not tend to encourage his ministers. Since then she has tried to play down her diplomatic activity. Her subordinates tell all who would hear how their boss enchanted the Italians and also got the French to lead the force in Lebanon. Yet, they are clearly aware that Chirac finally agreed to lead the multinational force after he succeeded in sharpening the force's teeth, and not because of Livni's honed diplomatic skills.
Two months ago the Supreme Court published a particularly blatant verdict against the law enforcement authorities in the occupied territories. On June 26 three judges of the High Court of Justice, headed by Justice Dorit Beinish, stood in support of five villages that had made headlines after settlers uprooted their olive orchards, scared away their sheep, and hadn't even spared them of a share of violence.
The judges accepted the farmers' petition, which was submitted together with the Society for Civil Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights. "The state's efforts to address the issue have so far failed to show results," ruled the court. It ruled that the "insufferable situation" must not be accepted, and ordered the security bodies to act "with greater force against the law-breakers in order to uproot this phenomena."
Some of the judges who resided, and still reside, at the Supreme Court (among them outgoing president Aharon Barak and incoming president Dorit Beinish), have closely followed - from the offices of the attorney general and state prosecutor - the collapse of law enforcement in the occupied territories. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz also did not need the court's verdict to reveal that as far as many Palestinian farmers are concerned, the West Bank is the Wild West.
In a letter the attorney general addressed on July 16 to Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, he delivered the scorching verdict to their door step. The attorney general highlighted the following lines: "The verdict sets important principles as to the way the security establishment and the law enforcement establishment should deal with the issues raised by the petition. This decision obligates the security establishment and the police to make significant decisions aimed at changing the existing situation in accordance with the principles laid out by the High Court of Justice."
Mazuz also highlighted the lines: "Protection over the security and property of the local inhabitants constitutes one of the most basic duties resting on the military commander at the territory," and the respondents are ordered "to rectify the situation immediately."
The attorney general urged the two ministers to "order as soon as possible" the start of administrative work implementing the court's instructions, and to "particularly" consider how to implement the recommendation to reinforce law enforcement manpower in the territories. He asked them to update him regarding the measures they intend to take in the matter.
Three weeks ago, after reports of increasing hostilities against Palestinian farmers committed under the cover of the war were received from the occupied territories, Haaretz contacted the ministers and requested an update on the measures taken since the court verdict. The Defense Minister's Office responded that "Minister Peretz sees the enforcement of law and order in the West Bank as a mission of the highest priority for the security establishment and law enforcement agencies. Shortly after entering office the minister ordered the preparation of a plan to evacuate illegal outposts, starting with outposts where settlers take the law into their own hands and harass Palestinian inhabitants. The plan was about to be executed, but its implementation was postponed at this stage due to the events in the Gaza Strip and the northern border."
The offices of the defense minister and the public security minister reported that the principles of the verdict were presented to them, and they had instructed the relevant bodies to prepare the administrative work for a joint discussion. The discussion has yet to take place.