The EU Is Showing Its First Cracks. Could the Arab League Be Next?

The EU has ignored the massacres in Syria, the fighting in Libya and Yemen and the rise of ISIS while repeatedly criticizing Israel, the region's sole democracy and only anchor of stability.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Mahmoud Abbas addresses an emergency Arab League session in Cairo, Egypt, May 28, 2016.
Mahmoud Abbas addresses an emergency Arab League session in Cairo, Egypt, May 28, 2016.Credit: Amr Nabil, AP

The European Union, once acclaimed as the triumph of reason over nationalist sentiment, is showing its first crack. Britain, its second most important member, is leaving. Will there be a domino effect, with others following? The inability of the EU to develop a common policy regarding the flood of Middle Eastern refugees to Europe seems to be an indication of weakness when it comes to dealing with really tough issues. The refugee problem may have given the edge in the referendum to those in Britain who advocated leaving the EU and will, no doubt, continue to open fissures in the EU in the months to come.

On balance the EU has been a success in dealing with economic problems, but when dealing with political problems its record is far from perfect. There is a feeling in Europe that the EU bureaucrats in Brussels have over the years assumed prerogatives on political matters that rightly belong to the democratically elected leaders of the EU member nations, and the results have not all been good. An example is the confrontation that has developed in recent years between the EU and Russia. Brussels kept pushing the EU eastward, with NATO following, without considering Russia’s sensibilities and fears. When they reached Ukraine, which Vladimir Putin considers Russia’s backyard, the Brussels bureaucrats had dragged the EU too far, and an inevitable Russian reaction ensued. The EU, rather than being a force that relieved tensions, created unprecedented tension in Europe by initiating economic warfare against Russia.

In dealing with the Middle East the EU’s record is even worse. The mass killings there these past few years have brought about the flood of refugees that is the cause of the current crisis in Europe. And yet the EU has simply ignored the massacres in Syria, the fighting in Libya and Yemen, the rise of the Islamic State organization and the human tragedy of the people living in the area. It has, on the other hand, repeatedly focused attention on Israel, the region’s sole democracy and only anchor of stability. Doing little to alleviate the Palestinian refugee problem, the EU obsessively criticizes Israel for not following its preferred “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest example of the EU’s approach to the Middle East was providing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with an opportunity to address the European Parliament. There he accused rabbis of calling for the poisoning of the Palestinians’ drinking water and insisted that worldwide terrorism would be eradicated if only Israel withdrew from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These statements were greeted by enthusiastic applause by European parliamentarians.

It looks like the European Union is going to be around for a while despite Britain’s decision to leave. Another international organization, the Arab League, which never achieved the same degree of coordination and integration among its member states as the EU did among its member states, is defunct, in practice existing almost in name only. The anarchy that has seized Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen has left little to coordinate, and the Sunni-Shi’ite divide might prevent the Arab League’s revival in the foreseeable future. And yet the opposition in Israel clings to the idea that this phantom organization actually exists and that the so-called Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 — a 10-sentence proposal calling for full withdrawal from the “occupied territories” (including the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194, in return for normalization between the Arab region and Israel — should be taken seriously by the Israeli government.

Of greater relevance at this time is Israel’s ongoing security coordination with Egypt and with Jordan, and presumably also with Saudi Arabia, based on the perceived assistance Israel can contribute to bolstering the ruling regimes in these countries. But these regimes care little for the Palestinians and have almost no influence on them. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hardly their first priority.

A British flag that was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union.Credit: Reinhard Krause / Reuters

Click the alert icon to follow topics: