A certain amount of bilateral duplicity is expected in Israeli relations with European countries. British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Netanyahu and then called on Hamas to reject violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to join in negotiations. But this was immediately undercut by an “unnamed senior diplomatic source” who threatened that Britain would recognize a unilaterally declared Hamas-Fatah state if Israel did not make “substantive progress” – meaning major concessions – to the same Palestinian Authority that has refused to negotiate for more than a year.
Netanyahu claimed to have secured similar assurances from French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and similar threats were made by Foreign Ministry sources about French recognition of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence.
Both Cameron and Sarkozy need to pander to substantial Muslim electorates, as well as to non-Muslim voters who are, in the uniquely European fashion, dedicated to pacifism at all cost, particularly Israel’s. But there is another level altogether that should be addressed, the European Union and its foreign policy, as embodied by Catherine Ashton.
European foreign policy is a vast new institution. The “European External Action Service” is the diplomatic corps and foreign ministry of the EU, directed by former British Labor Party apparatchik Catherine Ashton. It has a proposed budget of almost $8.3 billion and will have a staff of 7,000 spread out in 137 missions around the world. European Union foreign policy is a mechanism in search of a problem.
Seeking easy targets
The EU strategy is to interject itself into easy targets regardless of the policies of its constituent nations. The EU decision to provide almost $100 million to the Palestinian Authority to make up for money collected by Israel, which will now be withheld from the new Hamas-Fatah government, is symptomatic of this approach. In contrast, EU sanctions on Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime have been limited and halting. Reports indicate that deeper sanctions were blocked by Estonia over the possibility that seven Estonian cyclists kidnapped in Lebanon might be held in Syria.
Filled with stern words, platitudes and gestures, and backed up by vast amounts of cash, the unelected “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” and her “European External Action Service” are designed to conduct foreign policy over the heads of citizens of individual countries. The issues chosen, like providing support to the Palestinian Authority, as well as lightweight sanctions on Syria, flatter the non-voting but tax-paying citizens as “Europeans,” and nominally reflect the “values” of Europe, loving peace, hating war, and eschewing conflict. But the independent foreign policy is a massive sales effort for the idea of Europe and, above all, the European Union itself.
There are few situations where the growing foreign policy apparatus under Ashton has had any impact. Even the ill-thought out and haphazardly executed Libyan intervention is being undertaken by NATO, with contributions from individual member states. But as a sales pitch for the idea that Europe matters, again, backed up by cash, European foreign policy has a unique passive influence especially on Europeans. This is what makes it so dangerous.
European states do not agree on much. But the EU, as manipulated by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, does agree on at least a few things, “peace,” oil, and eliminating pesky problems, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict. There is little domestic price to be paid for anti-Israel policies in European nations and none at all at the EU level. Quite the contrary, the conceit of “peace,” to be realized almost exclusively through Israeli concessions, is an unquestioned ideology.
Like the UN, EU foreign policy directorates are staffed with internationalist true believers who are paid to moralize and not consider the interests of member states, much less those of Israel. European states may be broke and the union in disarray about virtually everything, but pressure on Israel and the “peace process” is a convenient source of reconciliation. Foreign policy is a drug that fixes feelings of impotence and disunity.
Creative bilateral diplomacy
Dealing with this growing foreign policy behemoth is a problem for all smaller states whose sovereignty is at risk of being compromised by Europe at its most intrusive and paternalistic. The Palestinian Authority’s foreign policy points to one approach, simply talk out of all sides of the mouth at once with a seamless combination of soothing lies and petulant threats. Generating fear and uncertainty is an old and estimable strategy for rogues. But it is unlikely to work for Israel, which is vulnerable to economic pressure and genuinely stung by the negative perceptions of others.
A better strategy would be to play to the tensions between individual states and the unelected EU. The EU ultimately aims to usurp the sovereignty of its own states, including their foreign policy. But one size does not fit all in terms of interests, culture or history. Britain, France, Germany and Italy in particular have different economic and concerns and their own vulnerabilities.
Europe’s slow motion financial collapse is also bringing the continent’s demographic challenges into the open, and the threats from unassimilated Muslim populations and terrorism are ever-present. One result is that European national elections are bringing Center-Right governments to power. Helping European nations address the theft of their rights by Brussels may not win new friends for Israel, but creative bilateral diplomacy may help undercut the continent’s worst collective instincts that are being channeled through the “High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”
Alex Joffe is a New York-based writer on history and international affairs. His web site is www.alexanderjoffe.net .
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