How could it be that Israel's defense minister warns about a tsunami, while the country's public is focused on cottage cheese?
BRUSSELS - Last week I met with more than a dozen European officials who closely follow Israel and its dispute with its neighbors. Some wondered how it could be that Israel's defense minister warns about a "tsunami," while the country's public os focused on cottage cheese. Some asked whether I had a clue as to what my prime minister wants. Are all statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu about negotiations, they asked, aimed at giving the settlers another year or two, and also at scuttling any prospect of dividing the country? Not a single official believed that Israel's current government is able/willing to engage in a serious diplomatic process. Each one, without exception, offered a grim forecast - reminiscent of Shimon Peres' dark prophecy - based on the feeling that the status quo will only spell the end of the State of Israel's character as a Jewish state.
The demographic threat, which Netanyahu himself alluded to at the last government meeting, does not cause the Europeans to lost sleep. The Middle East currently gives them more urgent reasons to reach for Valium (or any other medication they can find after the treatment they received for the Greek headache ). The threat that particularly concerns them is that the currents of the "Arab Spring" will alter politics in the region, possibly causing the next intifada to spill beyond the borders of Israel and the occupied territories.
In Brussels, officials reject Netanyahu's claim that negotiations ought to be suspended until the region's political skies clear up - in particular, until after elections are held in Egypt.
For her part, Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, suggested an opposite viewpoint, in a conversation with me. She is concerned that a bloody Israeli-Palestinian escalation will turn into a political asset for radical parties in the region.
Ashton would be delighted were the president of the United States to decide to send invitations to the sides to renew negotiations on the basis of Barack Obama's May 19th speech, involving June 4, 1967 borders with territorial exchanges. Yet for the time being, Obama is content to make pleasant statements to Jewish campaign donors and voters. Ashton has no problem with Jewish campaign donors and voters, but she is accountable to 27 member states, each of which has its own point of view.
The historian Prof. Eli Bar-Navi, who has lived in recent years in Brussels, was one of the founders of the peace organization JCall, the European version of JStreet. Last week, some 400 guests from the Continent took part in the organization's inaugural conference. As it turns out, there is little different between European Jewry's attitude toward Israel and that of the European states toward the country. Bar-Navi, who was Israel's ambassador to France (2000-2002 ). claims that a precondition to the forging of a united European position on international crises is the emergence of a consensus between the triumvirate of France, Germany and Britain.
This month marks the 31st anniversary of the European community's agreement on the Israel-Arab dispute, and the publication of its own independent position about resolving it. In the Venice Declaration of June 1980, the existing nine members of the community recognized the PLO eight years before the U.S. agreed to such recognition. The European states called on Israel to bring about an end to the occupation of territories it had held since 1967, and announced that the settlements constitute an obstacle to peace and are in violation of international law. The nine countries also announced that they would not accept a unilateral move aimed at changing Jerusalem's status.
The Venice statement stressed the right to security and existence of every state in the region, including Israel; it also addressed the need for justice for all peoples, including recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The Begin government dismissed the resolution as "appeasement akin to the Munich agreements," and upbraided the Europeans for recognizing the PLO, which it branded the "Arab SS." Opposition leader Shimon Peres backed the Begin government, and stated that the resolution "is nothing more than a piece of paper that does not influence reality." Thirteen years later Peres signed the Oslo Accord and today he warns that if Israel continues to drag its feet and avoids signing an agreement similar to the Venice resolution, "we will hit a wall."
Europe bears special responsibility toward the Jewish people. When the Jewish state bangs its head against the wall, France, Britain and particularly Germany do not discharge their obligation by making empty statements.