Two senior European Union appointments were announced this week. And some optimism seems in order that they will be good for Israel.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk was tapped to be president of the European Council and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini was named to be the European high representative for foreign affairs.
As prime minister, Tusk has done much to foster stronger military and commercial ties with Israel. “Tusk is a friend. His appointment could be good for Israeli-European relations,” an unnamed Israeli official told Herb Keinon, The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent. Mogherini’s name will be heard here in Israel more than Tusk’s, as she replaces Catherine Ashton. Mogherini, 41, is somewhat of an enigma. As one Israeli official put it, she is a “tabula rasa.”
Posts on her blog, “Blogmog,” dealing with the conflict in the Gaza Strip, for instance, are in generalized diplomatic lingo. After the cease-fire agreement with Hamas was reached under Egyptian mediation, for instance, she wrote that Israelis and Palestinians would start negotiations as soon as possible “that will eventually lead to a stable solution to the conflict.”
In July, while Operation Protective Edge was in full swing, Mogherini visited Israel. During a tour of Ashdod she said that “as a mother I understand very well the pressure and the tension there, and at the same time the number of civilian victims in Gaza is extremely worrying. I think it’s in the interest of the Israeli and Palestinian people, especially in Gaza, to stop this.”
But the question remains how Mogherini will lead EU policy decisions regarding the threat from Islamic extremists.
Will she continue the limp-wristed policies of her predecessor Ashton vis-à-vis terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah or will she break with Ashton and take a more principled position? Mogherini could use the EU’s clout to weaken Hamas while strengthening the more moderate Fatah, on condition the latter stops its incitement against Israel. She could draw parallels between Hamas and Hezbollah on one hand and organizations such as Islamic State and the Nusra Front on the other, all of which pursue nearly identical agendas.
Mogherini enters office at a propitious time. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are acutely aware of the dangers presented by Islamic State and have already reached the conclusion that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas present similar threats. She should take advantage of this sea change in the Arab world.
Italy’s and Germany’s decisions to arm the Kurds in Iraq to aid them in fighting Islamic State marks an important development in European thinking about the use of military might to combat radical Islam. The Europeans are beginning to realize that Islamic-inspired aggression have nothing to do with Western imperialism. Organizations such as Islamic State cannot be appeased through concessions and negotiations. They must be fought.
Similarly, it is not the “occupation” that led Hamas to send suicide bombers to Israel’s malls, restaurants and buses in the previous decade or to shoot Kassam and Grad rockets at residential neighborhoods in the present decade.
Hamas’s violent, uncompromising campaign to destroy Israel no matter what its borders is the source of the conflict.
Fatah’s incessant vilification of and incitement against the Jewish state also must stop. Indeed, Palestinians’ refusal to reconcile themselves to a Jewish state has been perpetuating the conflict for a century.
Putting pressure on Israel by labeling or boycotting goods produced beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines will not bring peace. Such moves only encourage Palestinian political leaders to remain intransigent. The EU’s demand to label dairy products and poultry coming from areas in Israel beyond the Green Line, which went into effect on September 1, is the latest example. Unsurprisingly, Hamas heartily welcomed the EU sanction, which sees it as a reaffirmation of its own position against Israel.
The EU can play a central role in bringing peace to the region. But to do so Europeans must open their eyes to the real causes of the conflict. In Gaza, the only way to bring about peace is through the gradual demilitarization of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating there. In parallel, Fatah must be urged to stop its incitement against Israel.
That Mogherini is a tabula rasa might be an advantage.
Unencumbered by misconceptions and entering the position of EU foreign policy chief at a time when moderate Muslim states and Europeans are waking up to the threat posed by radical Islam, she is in a unique position to reformulate EU relations with Israel. We welcome her and hope she rises to the occasion.