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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine