Thursday, December 6, 2012

Europe and Israel: Will It Get Worse?

Europe and Israel: Will It Get Worse?

Seth Mandel

European foreign ministries are still reacting furiously to the Israeli government’s preliminary zoning steps in what is known as the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to move the project, initiated by Yitzhak Rabin, any closer than that to actually putting a shovel in the ground. In all likelihood, Netanyahu was simply sending a signal in the ongoing tussle over symbolic declarations of sovereignty.

European governments profoundly misunderstand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Mideast in general, and they may have misinterpreted a signal for a plan of action. But their overreaction was followed by even more overreaction, and threats of more to come. Haaretz reports:

“I don’t think there is enthusiasm around the European Union…about economic sanctions in Europe on Israel. I don’t believe there would be anywhere near a consensus nor is that our approach. We continue to try to bring both sides back to negotiations,” [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague said.

“Nevertheless, if there is no reversal of the decision that has been announced, we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take,” he said.

I don’t know what Hague would officially consider a “reversal,” and I don’t think he does either. But it’s interesting to know that the Ehud Olmert peace plan crosses the EU’s red line. As Jonathan wrote, Olmert’s peace plan also called for Israel to keep E-1 and Ma’ale Adumim (plus some area around it) and to connect Ma’ale Adumim securely to Jerusalem. But just as the EU probably doesn’t know what it means by a “reversal” of the zoning decision, perhaps it doesn’t know that every Israeli government supports Israeli sovereignty over E-1.

Does the E-1 controversy mean Israel’s red lines and Europe’s red lines are incompatible? It seems that way, and that’s a larger problem than a spat over settlements. Some clarity on the part of European leaders would probably help, rather than summoning Israeli ambassadors for a tongue lashing every time Netanyahu does something that his predecessors did too. The Guardian’s Ian Black agrees. He took to the pages of his newspaper to whack Israel over the issue and encourage European leaders to outline their own vision for peace.

What would such a plan look like? Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose), Black doesn’t say. He seems to hint at support for sanctions, but the result of his column is a demand for more vague threats. You’ll notice that the common denominator between Black and the eurocrats he criticizes is that they both equate “peace” with punishing Israel.

But, contra Ian Black, the EU may have offered all the clarity Israel needed here. No peace plan that would be acceptable to the Israeli people would be acceptable to the EU. That’s something for Netanyahu to keep in mind (though he probably doesn’t have to be reminded to) as he is told repeatedly by those looking to save Israel from itself to mollify the Europeans. He cannot. The question going forward is how hard he’ll try.