Europe and Israel's Day After

The Times of Israel

David Harris

October 22, 2012

For many years, the EU has pressed for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, European officials have said such an accord is a key strategic objective. Here is a thought from one who spends time in European capitals, shares the goal of an enduring two-state deal, and values Europe’s potential role.

It is not enough to think about how to get from here to the day of an agreement. More focus must be given in Europe to “day after” scenarios, especially regarding Israel’s security. Otherwise, potential progress only becomes more difficult.

In any conceivable deal, Israel would be asked to yield territory, making the small nation still harder to find on a world map. That creates additional risks. There are no two ways about it.

Israel is in a part of the world where violence remains endemic, regimes are fragile, and political Islam is ascending.

But sometimes I get the impression in Europe that invocations about Israel’s security are little more than rhetorical flourishes, part of the expected language when discussing the region, but not always thought through sufficiently.

In a telling display of cognitive dissonance, there can be anguished expressions of horror about what is taking place in Syria, but little thought given to the fact that Syria actually shares a border with Israel. Now imagine for a moment if Assad’s targets were Jews, not Arabs!

Meanwhile, Hezbollah controls Lebanon, a second neighbor of Israel, while maintaining a separate militia and arsenal. It is active in Syria and remains a client of Iran. Yet, Europe, undermining the credibility of its own voice, is still incapable of declaring Hezbollah what it has been from the start – a terrorist group. That it may (or may not) also help “widows and orphans,” or be a “legitimate” political party, is quite irrelevant, given its genocidal world view and documented record of terror.

Hamas is entrenched in Gaza, a third neighbor of Israel, and, like Hezbollah, aspires to a world without Israel.

The picture is quite bleak wherever one looks, all the more so with the looming threat of a nuclear Iran.

Yet it is precisely into this vortex that the EU would wish to press Israel, as the "stronger" party, to make one more, and then one more, "gesture" for a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians.

The EU needs to obsess less about the next Israeli concessions, and devote more thought to what security for Israel would mean in a post-deal environment. No, under no imaginable circumstance would any Israeli government subcontract its national security to the EU, but that does not mean there is no role.

It does suggest, though, less lip service to, or solemn pledges about, Israel’s security, which might ring a bit hollow in Israeli ears.

After all, the European record on this score is spotty.

To be sure, certain countries have been extremely helpful at key moments, but not always and not all countries.

France was critical to Israel’s national defense until 1967, at which time Paris imposed a crippling arms embargo at a crucial moment in Israel’s life.

When the US decided to provide vital equipment to Israel during the protracted 1973 Yom Kippur War, no European country gave American transport planes permission to land and refuel, until the US managed to use one of the Azores Islands.

In 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles were landing in Israel, only two European countries offered direct assistance – Germany and the Netherlands.

The experience of EU monitors at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza was not an encouraging one, however well-intentioned.

And the participation of European forces in UNIFIL in Lebanon is admirable, but has not resulted in any containment of Hezbollah, which today boasts a missile and drone arsenal reportedly capable of reaching all of Israel.

For its own stature in urging the peace process forward, Europe needs to do a better job of showing Israel, the party that will take the most tangible risks for a deal, that it truly understands the dangers.

It should also remember that if the Jewish people can at times be skeptical about promises, it may be because history casts a long shadow and memories of the consequences of abandonment are still fresh.

And, importantly, the EU should draw on its own remarkable experience in ending the prospect of war among member states. Notwithstanding the obvious differences between Europe and the Middle East, steps can be taken by the EU to help create a new security environment by focusing, among other things, on integrated development.

If Europe wants to help move Israelis and Palestinians to the “day of,” then thinking more systematically about the “day after” might well accelerate the process.