European Union leaders arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday and spoke enthusiastically about their even-handed policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They referred to their desire to serve as a "fair mediator" in moving the peace process ahead. Why do you accuse us of being one-sided, Javier Solana complained to the prime minister. You should be thanking us, he said.
The European even-handedness barely lasted five minutes. Once the joint press conference was over, the visitors from Europe sprang at the numerous reporters awaiting them in the lobby of the King David Hotel and wasted no time in thrashing their host. "Stupidity," Solana termed Sharon's insistence on a seven-day period of quiet. In the closed sessions, the Europeans had demanded that Israel begin immediate implementation of the Tenet and Mitchell plans, rescind the closure of Palestinian cities and restore the frozen taxes received to the Palestinians.
Yasser Arafat was treated differently. He was given high grades by the European delegation. The rotating president of the EU, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, noted with satisfaction the "decrease in violence over the past 12 days," and mentioned that Arafat had even arrested a terrorist, an Islamic Jihad activist from Jenin. We have asked him to continue, said the rotating president. The Europeans were so impressed with Arafat's seriousness that Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, said that the Palestinian Authority might be asking for funds for construction of a new prison to house the masses of terrorists that will be arrested. Arafat didn't ask.
Verhofstadt rejected the conventional representation, according to which the U.S. supports Israel and Europe sides with the Palestinians. He and his colleagues lauded their close coordination with the U.S. administration. They noted with pride that a copy of Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech last night has been in their pocket since last week, and said that once it was made public, everyone would be able to see that there is no real gap between the positions of Washington and Brussels.
The Europeans, however, are well aware that the diplomatic agenda in the Middle East is set in America, and with all due respect to their role in the Middle East, their proposals carry no real weight. From all the preliminary discussion and leaks about a European initiative, all that remains is a pale, and obvious, support for the Tenet understandings and the Mitchell report. Both were written in the United States. In retrospect, Prodi said that the European visit would have been more effective had they come after the Powell speech.
The European visit took place under impossible conditions, and was destined for failure. It is hard to speak about balance when the European Union is now headed by Belgium, in whose court the prime minister of Israel is being accused of war crimes. Verhofstadt made an attempt to act friendly with Sharon, and mentioned how they had met as junior ministers 15 years ago. But what about the trial, he was asked, to which he predictably responded that in his country there is a division of authority, and that he could not intervene. The mutual smiles did not blot out the heavy cloud that hovered over the meeting.
Even before the visit, the Prime Minister's Office clarified that it had no interest in the European proposals. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres tried, in his fashion, to conciliate, and told the visitors that he had no complaints with them, that their involvement was welcome. But even Peres had a hard time listening to the words of praise for Arafat, and said that the decrease in violence was the result of the Israeli preventive security measures, and not the outcome of any Palestinian achievement.
For their part, the content Europeans only seemed to notice the half-full glass: Sharon told us that he views the European role as significant, Prodi said. He and his colleagues turned a deaf ear to the sarcastic remarks made by Sharon, who called on them to establish economic projects in the territories, to stop funding the Palestinian Authority, and in general, to concentrate on their own domestic problems instead of dealing with ours.
The guests disregarded the chilly reception and promised to continue their "babysitter policy" of ever-more diplomatic visits to the region. This assures us of more rounds in the tense dialogue between Jerusalem and Brussels.
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