Taking Responsibility

Europe's Role in Obama's Mideast Negotiations

The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that began in what amounted to a miniature state dinner last Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.—with as guests Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and King Abdullah of Jordan—bear a fair chance of ending in just four weeks, after September 26, when Mr. Netanyahu’s moratorium on continued colonization of Palestinian land and Arab Jerusalem is to be lifted. President Abbas has said that he will not negotiate if colony construction does resume, and President Barack Obama has not said what he might do.

Otherwise, to judge from experience, it is probable that the talks, for all practical purposes, will end when the American midterm elections have concluded at the beginning of November.

There is no serious reason to consider this other than a political pantomime, although believers—if such remain—may pray for a miracle. Launching the talks is of minor electoral advantage to Obama and the Democrats, and if they fail, the president cannot be blamed for other than wasting people’s time and money.

The meeting honors President Abbas, who has little other opportunity to seek that will-o’-the-wisp, justification. King Abdullah and President Mubarak presumably had the evenings open, although the latter does have an interest in favorable international publicity as well as royal associations as he seemingly attempts to transform his office into an hereditary post.

Benjamin Netanyahu first became Israel’s prime minister in 1996. The following winter he attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He gave a press conference that was packed with journalists and officials who wanted a look at him, and he did what seemed to me a very strange thing. The conference was open—no constraints on who could attend—and he spoke with what seemed utter confidence and candor about what should be done about the Palestinians. The following is what I heard.

He said the Palestinian territories should be broken up into individual units that would lack the territorial integrity that would make them potentially a single reunited state. He said this would be accomplished by imposing security measures, which military occupiers were entitled to do; building roads to which the Palestinians, for security reasons, would not have access; controlling the Palestinian economy and its exports and imports; and implanting supposedly temporary Jewish colonies controlling water resources and other strategic sites, which would enjoy military protection and would effectively dominate the territories.

The territories, per international law, were under military occupation since being seized in the 1967 war. Israel bore legal responsibility for what happened to them. Their eventual fate would be determined by international negotiations. In the circumstances, the prime minister had no need to spell out that these negotiations would never end in the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel would negotiate about the establishment of an independent Palestine, but at the same time would make one a practical impossibility.

This is exactly what has been done, Israel being greatly assisted by Palestinian violence and a series of Palestinian errors and wasted opportunities, while the United States unfailingly supported Israel and the European nations looked on in indifference or cowardice.

The Europeans rationalized this passivity with the fact that the Nazis had been Europeans, after all—even if Britain, other Europeans and their armies, and the Russian and American armies had fought and defeated the Nazis and liberated those Jews the Nazis had not murdered.

Since then, Europeans in general have acted as if they had all been Nazis, all of them responsible for the Shoah—and none with any responsibility for what happened after the war to the Jews, and to the Palestinians, whose land was awarded to the victims of the Holocaust by the United Nations.

The negotiations now begun supposedly have a year in which to succeed—unless they immediately fail, as they well might. If sooner or later they fail, what will happen? The United States will do nothing. Israel will have what it wants. God only knows what will happen to the Palestinians. Further death and suffering seem the probable outcome, possibly with inflammatory consequences throughout the region.

I can see only one positive and wholly remote possibility. It would be for the European Union at last to affirm Europe’s human, moral, and historical responsibility to Jews, Palestinians, and world peace by recognizing Palestine as a nation living within its borders as they exist in international law, and by establishing normal political, economic and commercial relations with this Palestine. This presumably would meet defiance from Israel and the United States. If so, it would be necessary to seek redress at the United Nations against interference with the determination of (some or all) of the European (and other) nations to reestablish respect for international law by recognizing Palestine as an independent nation liberated from abusive foreign occupation.

© Copyright 2010 by Tribune Media Services International

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About the Author

William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).