It’s starting to get very difficult to work out exactly who are the partners for peace in the Middle East. The borders and alliances are continuously shifting, international support is at sixes and sevens, and the traditional indicators have seemingly become useless.
Let’s take the EU acceptance of the unity pact between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas for years has been labeled by both the EU and US state department as a terrorist movement, and has committed violent acts of terrorism against Israel.
Yet, what has been called terrorism since 2003 by the EU has now suddenly changed into a welcome part of Palestinian unity. Now let’s be clear, Palestinian reconciliation is not a surprise and has always been something everyone involved in the peace process has understood would one day need to happen. But what everyone expected to happen, but that never did, was that the EU and the rest of the international community would demand that Hamas cease all of its terror related activities and fully embrace the principle of nonviolence.
Without this Hamas remains exactly what it is: a terror organization.
The move to guarantee a nonviolent Hamas movement is not a political one, it was meant to ensure the security and stability of the civilian populations in the Middle East. There was no urgency to support a new Palestinian government despite its lack of acceptance of these principles.
Now that the unity government has been signed off on and largely accepted by the international community, we no longer have the leverage or authority to demand Hamas reform. The EU has missed this golden opportunity, with deadly consequences for Israel, the Palestinians and for the wider region.
Yet it seems that with this blurring of boundaries we have started to see a lessening in standards of what we expect from the new government and who we count as those advocating peace. Israel is often given a difficult time by the EU for actions that are deemed unhelpful to the peace process.
But we have not seen the same stern words applied as directly or uniformly to the Palestinian leadership, never mind their new Hamas partners.
In the past few days we have witnessed a widespread search and international mobilization to try free the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. From Hamas, we know what to expect, even if they turn out not to be responsible for it. But from Fatah, the EU and the wider world should not only expect but demand better. It took days for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come out against the kidnapping. What came much quicker than his condemnation was the official Facebook page of Fatah releasing a picture with three rats, with Star of David’s on their sides, dangling at the end of a fishing rod. An unambiguous message: three Israeli teenagers, three rats. This from our more “moderate” partners.
Nobody said peace was easy. But let’s be clear: when the EU turns a blind eye, opportunities are missed.
Hamas has not reformed, but it could have been pressured to do so.
The Fatah leadership may not be expected to embrace Israel with love and affection, but it at the very least it could be pressured not to produce dehumanizing images of Israel and Israelis, images straight out of the Nazi playbook.
What we are witnessing is that our traditional markers, usually found in the EU and US, are now risking becoming less relevant and less accurate than ever. In the topsy- turvy world of the Middle East, former pariahs such as Iran are now being seen as potential allies as EU and US policy wonks try to get their heads around how drastically the sands are shifting.
It is in the context of this vacuum that we witness this duality, this dangerous tolerance. The EU’s policy on the region has many strengths to it, but in light of what we are currently witnessing it must be revised, updated and above all applied fairly and with balance.
The author has been the executive director of the European Friends of Israel since June 2012, having served as the organization’s director of political affairs from 2010-2012. Prior to his work in EFI, he worked as a policy adviser on foreign affairs at the European Parliament and as a senior consultant in the T.A.R.A strategic consultancy group in Israel. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science from the Hebrew University.