Watching the Watchers

In 1980, the 9 members of the European Economic Community adopted the Venice Declaration, which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state as the basis for peace with Israel.

In part, this was an awkward European effort to compete with the US, which had recently gained diplomatic prestige as the mediator in the historic Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations. In addition, the declaration gave formal recognition to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, headed by Yassir Arafat, in exchange for ending deadly terror attacks in Europe, such as the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes.

For 35 years, Europe has pursued the Venice formula with great intensity. In this period, everything else has changed beyond recognition, including the EEC, which was replaced by the EU, and includes 28 member states. But the foreign policy establishment has clung tenaciously to the 1980s, including the Palestinian State mantra, repeated at every opportunity by successive EU foreign policy czars (until recently, Lady Ashton, and now High Representative Frederica Mogherini) and by other officials and committees.

Since Venice, the dictatorships that dominated the Middle East have largely been deposed, amidst wars and violent revolutions from North Africa to the edge of Iran. Syria, Libya and Iraq no longer exist as independent and coherent states, and the radical Sunni Islamic State controls large areas. Jordan is threatened by the spillover from these earthquakes, and Egypt has gone through two revolutions and is far from finished with internal conflict. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have their own issues and concerns, including the advancing Iranian Shiite force, and Lebanon has been divided by Hezbollah.

As a result, the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very low on the list of anyone’s priorities, in sharp contrast the rhetoric and conventional wisdom of 1980. Terrorism in Paris, Copenhagen, London, Madrid and Brussels is independent of the “Palestinian cause”. If Europe’s Venice formula were implemented tomorrow and a Palestinian state suddenly sprang into existence, the Jihadist movements and terror attacks in Europe would be unaffected.

Beyond being irrelevant in the current political and strategic environment of the Middle East, the terms of the Venice formula that EU officials continue to press are counterproductive. Treating Palestinians patronizingly as victims who cannot be held responsible for their actions (such as ongoing terror and the Hamas-Fatah confrontations), the EU places all of blame on Israel. While Europe is the largest source of aid for the Palestinians, this assistance is never conditioned on an end to the violence and incitement against Israel that are the real obstacles to peace. European concepts of “soft power” and efforts to advance norms such as human rights, democracy, mutual acceptance, and non-violent responses to conflict have all failed to make inroads among Palestinians.

In contrast, the EU constantly seeks to impose economic penalties targeting Israel. Officials have also sought to link joint research funds with Israeli universities and research institutions, which benefit Europeans as much as Israelis, to this political agenda, and to use labeling and import regulations as leverage to force Israel back to the 1949 armistice lines. In parallel, hundreds of millions of Euros from the budgets of the EU and its member states are funneled into fringe Israeli opposition political groups under the banner of human rights. The groups are leading the global campaigns of demonization against Israel.

Thus, in the 35 years since Venice, the main accomplishment has been to create distrust and anger between Israel and Western Europe. Israelis fear that the drive to force the creation of a Palestinian state will not end the conflict. Instead, given the terror, turmoil and instability in every direction, the most likely result would be a takeover by Hamas or other Islamist terror group, and the West Bank would quickly be turned into a basis for mounting terror attacks, like Gaza following the 2005 Israeli withdrawal.

Furthermore, beyond words and threats of sanctions, Europe has no credible security capabilities to offset Israeli concerns. Even the small force that the EU deployed as part of the 2005 agreement to monitor the crossing between Egypt and Gaza quickly disintegrated when Hamas gunmen entered the terminal, armed with Kalashnikov machine guns.

For all of these reasons, a full reconsideration of the 1980 Venice declaration is long overdue. Instead of trying (and failing) to impose its images and hopes on Israel and the tumultuous Middle East, the EU needs to start from the beginning with a serious and independent analysis of the reality on the ground.

In particular, it should be clear that Europe and the so-called “international community” cannot impose a resolution, such as a Palestinian state, that will magically bring peace. The simplistic one-sided approach that placed all pressure on Israel and repeated the Palestinian narrative of victimization must be replaced with an emphasis of ending the hatred, incitement and terrorism that drive the conflict. To repair Europe’s relations with Israel and regain public trust, funding for anti-Israel political NGOs that exploit human rights and accomplish nothing must end.

Most importantly, the myths and slogans that were the basis for the Venice declaration of 35 years ago need to be recognized and replaced with an honest understanding of Middle East complexities. Europe’s destructive obsession with Israel, while the entire region is self-destructing, is absurd. And to the degree that Israeli-Palestinian issues are part of the agenda, it is time to recognize that there are no short-cuts. For now, the best that can be achieved is partial stability in an otherwise very dangerous environment. The sooner that Europe accepts this reality, the better.

 

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