EU's Solana at Center of the Storm

Israel had meant to roll out the red carpet for him and announce its wish to upgrade the strategic relations with the European Union. It even meant to tell him that it was considering giving the EU special treatment as part of the Quartet.

Israel had meant to roll out the red carpet for him and announce its wish to upgrade the strategic relations with the European Union. It even meant to tell him that it was considering giving the EU special treatment as part of the Quartet. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself wanted to welcome the visitor in a special way and serve him breakfast in his home. Sharon wanted to discuss Europe's role and "prominence" in the disengagement plan.

But then - in a frustrating coincidence - the UN vote on the security fence took place and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana became the lightning rod of Israel's reaction.

"What troubles us deeply," a senior government source says, "is that there is no one address in the EU. There is no one to close a deal with. Who runs Europe's foreign policy today? Solana, who took credit for the consensual European vote against the fence? The French, who traditionally support reactionary groups in the Palestinian Authority, and who wanted to punish Israel for refusing to convene the Quartet recently, and for Sharon's call to French Jews to immigrate? The Germans, who `erased themselves' in the name of the EU fraternity? Or perhaps the Dutch, who now hold the presidency?"

The Europeans may be proud of the consensus they achieved, but it represents the lowest possible denominator and was achieved completely randomly, the official adds. "No one in the EU can promise today that he is bringing others to the vote with him. The Dutch cannot promise the French vote, the French cannot promise the Germans, who cannot promise the British, and so on."

Jerusalem is deeply frustrated. It expected a blow, but certainly not a knock-out punch at the hands of a super-boxer who represents 25 players, among them some "friends." The bitter disappointment leads to gloomy thoughts of possible European sanctions. "The fence issue took Israel-Europe relations and perhaps the peace process itself hostage," says an official in Jerusalem. "In so doing, the Europeans acted against their own principles. It is not clear to us where they intend to lead the crisis."

In the midst of the storm raging around him, Solana appears very relaxed. Between one meeting and the next, he takes a few minutes to gaze at the sea from his window in the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv.

Last month, EU leaders decided to turn Solana's position into Europe's official "international face." The coordinator of the European foreign and security policy will become the first European foreign minister, it was decided, the moment the European constitution is ratified by the 25 members. Solana will have at his disposal a European diplomatic service that is expected to reflect the dramatic change the EU wishes to introduce.

While Jerusalem complained that there is no one in the EU with whom to talk, Solana sees the Europeans' vote in the UN as the complete opposite. As far as he is concerned, it is the victory of the coherence and efficiency of Europe's foreign and defense policy, whose foundations he wishes to strengthen.

"The vote proves that a joint, homogenous foreign policy is possible even after the EU's enlargement, with the addition in May of 10 states from east and central Europe," he says. "In our vote, we presented joint superior values and policy lines, which we intend to promote internationally."

Solana dismisses the arguments that the EU states were influenced in the vote by France's vindictiveness. "One could understand that the French were hurt by Sharon's call for French Jews to immigrate to Israel, but that had nothing to do with the vote in the UN. To say that shows a basic lack of understanding of the union's mechanism," he states.

"The fact that no European state abstained from the vote derives from the fact that the EU is a political union." To demonstrate, Solana - a physics professor - says, "the EU is not a rabble of states. It is a sort of molecule with joint electrons. These enable all of us to act together and make binding political decisions."

Solana notes that the states that hope to join the EU in the future - like Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkans - joined the European consensus in the UN vote as though it were self-evident. "The significance of the vote is in protecting the UN's multilateral values. We attribute supreme importance to the UN's three basic elements - the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Court - and believe the organization must play a more significant and important role."

Solana presents a European philosophy, which the United States and Israel find difficult to understand, since they tend to dismiss UN resolutions. Solana and his EU colleagues see multilateralism and internationality - their "new religion" - as a vital lesson from the world wars and from the holy, destructive nationalism that caused them. They are also a result of increased immigration and the demographic changes in Europe in recent decades, blurring the continent's national-tribal concept. Europe has abandoned the supreme national values in favor of the international society of law.

However, Solana repeatedly states that the UN vote does not deny Israel's right and duty to defend itself from terror, even with a fence. "We are committed to this defense. Our criticism focuses only on the wall's route, which passes in occupied territory."

Having served for 14 consecutive years as a minister in Spain's governments, he stresses that the struggle against terror is "engraved" in his heart. "Almost every week I had to go to a funeral of someone killed in (Basque) terror acts. This situation did not change later when I served as NATO secretary general, and culminated in the big attack in Madrid on March 11. The fight against terror was always at the top of our priorities, so it is not fair to argue that we don't understand the situation here," he says.

Asked whether Israel is on a course similar to South Africa, which will lead to international sanctions, Solana says, "the court's ruling is an opinion." He warns, however, of the influence this opinion might have, when added to the growing dissatisfaction with Israel's policy. "Although I don't want to give advice, it would be better for Israel not to put all its eggs in the American basket," he says.

Despite all that, behind the smoke screen of accusations and counter-accusations and behind the public arguments on world views and principles, the Israelis and Europeans are treating their immediate mutual interests seriously. While the commentators all debated the dialogue of the deaf and the "new wall" the EU built between itself and Israel, Solana emphasizes that "on the bilateral level, there has been a great improvement in the relations of Israel and the EU," citing the prestigious satellite project Galileo as an example.

The visit, which was planned long before the UN vote, was intended to examine ways of involving the Europeans in the disengagement plan. When Solana states "we will be involved, whether you like it or not," he apparently knows that Israel wants it.