ANALYSIS / What Really Brought EU Leaders to the Middle East?

Parties involved in the Gaza crisis were absent from Sharm summit attended by six EU leaders.

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This is not the first time that important visitors from the West and local leaders have exposed their skin to the hot Middle Eastern sun for a major declaration accompanied by a group picture. Sharm el-Sheikh has turned into a recovery room from regional crises since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and every round of the fight between Israel and the Palestinians has its own Sharm summit.

The first Sharm summit of 2009 will be remembered as an exception. It was held without the direct participation of the parties involved in the latest crisis - those who have the ability to prevent the next crisis and save us from the next Sharm summit.

Israel has a transition government whose term will expire in a few more weeks; Hamas, the other side in the struggle and cease-fire, is not a party to agreements and summits; and the United States, which usually serves as the best man at such events, is busy preparing for a much more important and optimistic ceremony.

With all due respect, mostly to the civilians on both sides who are suffering, the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is not a reason for an international celebration or closure of the main highway from the capital to the center of Israel. The leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain are quite busy men and woman. Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel would not bother traveling to the ends of the earth just to praise a temporary cease-fire in the shadow of a drawn-out occupation. Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi do not usually participate in fundraisers for renovating buildings paid for by their own taxpayers and destroyed once again by their Israeli friends. It is not very likely that their pictures from the Sharm summit will gain them votes in their next elections.

So what really brought these important and busy people to Sharm el-Sheikh? The Europeans have always yearned for a central role in world diplomacy in general and the Middle East in particular. Two things stand in their way. First, American dominance, which forces the other international players onto the bench. The twilight hours in Washington, when one administration is packing its bags and the other has yet to move in - is a once in four or even eight-year opportunity for the Europeans to take center stage. In just two more days they will have to return to feeding on the crumbs from the table the Americans set up for them, known as the Quartet. And that is only on the condition that Barack Obama leaves that impotent institution in place.

Second, a simple and easy-to-digest initiative such as a cease-fire is one of those rare occasions when Europe can manage to formulate a coherent policy involving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such an opportunity must not be missed, even at the price of embracing Israeli politicians - the same ones who conducted the operation that killed hundreds of children, buried hundreds of millions of euros under the rubble and sparked protest demonstrations and floods of criticism in the European media.

The Sharm summit and the dinner with Ehud Olmert have shown the world that Israel always needs a responsible adult around to calm things down and stop the deterioration. Today the Europeans bothered to come here to launch the Gaza cease-fire. Tomorrow they will come to remove us from the West Bank.