Analysis: Clinton speech, EU letter, explain J'lem policy

The reason Israel trusts the US, is wary of the European Union was shown by public statements of the past week.

December 12, 2010 01:45
4 minute read.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gestu

Hillary Clinton 311 187. (photo credit: AP)

Anyone still wondering why Jerusalem welcomes US involvement in the diplomatic process, but would rather keep the EU far off on the sidelines, need only to have listened to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech Friday night, and then read a letter sent earlier last week by former EU officials, to understand the reason.

Clinton’s speech was by no means a paean of praise to the policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or his government. Indeed, while she praised the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for their efforts, she had not one favorable word for anything Netanyahu has done.

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“Prime Minister Fayyad has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time under very difficult circumstances,” she said. “Along with President Abbas, he has brought strong leadership to the Palestinian Authority and he has helped advance the cause of a two-state solution by making a real difference in the lives of the Palestinian people.”

The speech also at times reflected the often maddening American tendency of “holy balance,” if praising Israel for something, in parallel having to praise the Palestinians in the next sentence; or when faulting the Palestinians, then in the very next clause faulting Israel.

For instance, Clinton said that the sides needing to demonstrate their commitment to peace – “should avoid actions that prejudge the outcome of negotiations or undermine good faith efforts to resolve final-status issues. Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust. Provocative announcements on east Jerusalem are counterproductive. And the United States will not shy away from saying so.”

Israel, obviously, would have just preferred the first clause nixing Palestinian threats to go to the UN looking for recognition of statehood, without the second sentence having to do with provocative announcements – apparently a reference to recent Israeli plans to build more housing units in Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line in the city.

But so be it. This was a speech by Clinton, the US secretary of state, not the head of AIPAC – it’s not all going to be completely to Israel’s liking.

But still, there was an understanding in that speech of Israel’s concerns, of where it is coming from. There was an appreciation of Israel’s rather difficult security situation, mention of Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah. There was talk of a need for secure borders.

Although this was not a speech that in any way could be read as an adoption of Israel’s narrative, it was also definitely not an espousal of the Palestinian one. It was the secretary of state of a country interested in giving off the appearance of a fair and honest broker.

The same cannot be said of the letter signed last week by 26 EU elders, some of whom – such as former EU commissioner Chris Patten, former EU commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, former foreign policy chief Javier Solana and former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi – who have up until very recently held extremely prominent positions in the EU and influenced its polices on the Middle East.

In the seven-page letter sent to Catherine Ashton, the current foreign policy chief of the EU, in advance of a meeting of EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday, they urge – among other steps – sanctions against Israel on settlements, and setting a deadline for diplomatic progress that, if not met, would mean that the entire problem would be sent to the international community for it to come up with a solution.

They also predetermine the result of negotiations, saying that the EU should declare that a future state should be on territory “equivalent to 100 percent of the territory occupied in 1967, including its capital in east Jerusalem.”

Don’t bother looking for the word “Hamas” in this letter, or “Hizbullah,” or “Iran,” because those words don’t appear. Also don’t waste time looking for any reference to Palestinian terrorism or Israel’s security needs. You’ll come up empty.

Read this letter and, essentially, you see that 26 influential EU voices – though now out of office – have essentially said the Palestinians are right, the Israelis are wrong, let’s all admit that, impose a solution, and move on.

The current EU leadership has not signed onto this letter, and is unlikely to do so when the block’s foreign ministers meet Monday.

But the voices of the 26 are anything but voices in the wilderness, and their calls are what makes Jerusalem so skeptical of the EU, and – by comparison – so pleased with Clinton, even if her comments were also not a ringing endorsement of Israel’s policies.

What Clinton’s speech did do, however, was at least take into account Israel’s argument, something completely absent in the recommendations made by the former EU leaders.

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