Europe's fruitless search for peace

BEIRUT - Poor Robin Cook. Abused as an anti-Semite by a Jewish demonstrator at the illegal Jewish settlement at Har Homa - in Arabic, Jebel abu Ghoneim - he claimed that the slur hurt. Apparently unaware that anyone who questions Israel's policies towards the Arabs will be slandered as a racist, he took it personally. At least President Chirac understood its real meaning when he endured a similar barrage during a visit to Israel in 1996. Any European leader who contradicts the Israeli government should expect the same treatment.

Europe's policy towards the Middle East is both eminently reasonable and invariably rejected. Long before the Americans accepted Yasser Arafat's transformation from "super-terrorist" to super-statesman, the Europeans were talking to the PLO. It is said Britain's ambassador to Tunis was helping Arafat to draft his speeches between 1988 and 1992. After all, it was the Venice declaration of 1980 which stated that the PLO should be "associated" with peace negotiations.

Four years later, European foreign ministers supported "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, with all that this implies." In 1987 EC declarations deplored Israel's "repressive measures ... which are in violation of international law and human rights." Long before the Oslo agreement Europe had been seeking a just peace in the Middle East. But once Oslo had been signed - worthless signatures, it now appears - Europe's impotence was made apparent.

The EU could finance the new Middle East peace, the US said, but could have no voice in it. They could pay - but would not be allowed to talk. And so, lulled by the self-indulgence of the Norwegians who brokered a treaty without international guarantees, we went along with this arrangement. And whenever a European minister suggested mildly that America was no longer an unbiased peace broker, that Washington was refusing to force the Israelis to comply with the peace, he or she was told to shut up.

For the problem is that Europe does not have the courage to formulate a common foreign policy - and thus has no common policy on the Middle East. In frustration, the Arabs now call on the Europeans to save them; and they forget that it was European powers who betrayed their demand for independence after the 1914-18 war. In their anger, the Israelis ask the Europeans what right they have to intervene; and they remember that the slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust was a uniquely European crime.

So what role can Europe have? Little at present, it seems. Ex-foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, presumably forgetting his own lamentable Middle East performance, has criticised Mr Cook for shaking hands with a Palestinian at Har Homa. For daring to shake hands with an occupant of the occupied lands Mr Cook has been turned down as a dinner guest in London by at least one Jewish group. Similar remarks were made by French Jews when France allowed Mr Arafat to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg a decade ago. The French government responded that their citizens must be mature if they wished to act on the world stage and host the EU parliament.

But maturity is not the hallmark of EU member-states. Their attempt to bring peace to Algeria has been pathetic. Their ability to calm tempers between Greece and Muslim Turkey has been equally abject. True, they see the explosion coming in the Middle East, and have good reason to be fearful. The Muslim and Jewish worlds will for ever be our territorial neighbours and they will never be neighbours of the US, however much power the latter has in the Middle East.

Maybe the EU should make its financial generosity contingent on political involvement in the region's future. But this would be a tough policy for a continent so weak it needs Washington to help sort out its squabbles in Ireland and Bosnia. So when it comes to Europe 50 years after Israel's creation, don't hold your breath.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; Mayfair; up to £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; May...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?