Amid unemployment, riots, and bank bailouts, with its economy limping into the sixth quarter of recession, the European Union has decided to act – against Israel’s presence over the Green Line. The mostly symbolic move exposes the EU’s impotence regarding its core mission. This fauxcott – this boycott based on faulty reasoning – is like an unprofitable business facing furious stockholders responding by playing politics overseas. Rather than doing what Europeans need it to do, the EU meddles in the Middle East – with a counter-productive, ill-timed intervention only welcomed by Palestinian rejectionists and Israeli leftists hoping outside arm-twisting will secure what they cannot achieve by democratic debate.
As so often happens with Israel, the EU’s self-righteous indignation about “the settlements” seems disproportionate and selective. French law bans “conspicuous religious symbols in schools” including the Muslim hijab and the Sikh turban, without meriting a boycott. Kosovo Serb hardliners harass opponents at roadblocks in Northern Serbia without serious EU punishment. China continues oppressing Tibet and destroying its culture, Saudi Arabia remains hostile to women, gays, Christians, and Jews, the Iranian regime continues targeting its own people, while more than 100,000 Syrians have died in their civil war, but Israel somehow is the international outlaw.
Under American law, tests for selective prosecution include illustrating a discriminatory effect and the prosecutor’s discriminatory intent. Despite the EU’s subsequent, grudging, half-way, casuistic, designation of Hezbollah’s “military wing” as terrorist, the selective outrage suggests this is a case of vindictive prosecution. The settlement fauxcott lacks any such subtleties.
This is not an Israel-is-no-better-than Iran, China or Saudi Arabia argument. Instead, it is a why-are-you-so-obsessed-with-Israel challenge. Recently, in Esquire, Stephen Marche opposed the Western obsession with Israel, saying: “It’s not doing any good.” Recalling “the Werther effect,” that journalistic coverage of suicides encourages them, Marche argued that the world’s excessive focus goads Israelis and Palestinians to try winning a do-or-die “war of global symbolism.” That “war, because it is ethereal, ghostly, can never be won, and because it can never be won, it will never end.”
The stormy Arab Spring proves that solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the keystone to world peace or even regional stability. Whenever peace breaks out in Israel – and I hope that day comes soon – Iran will remain a dangerous theocracy, Iraq will remain chaotic, Egypt will still be imploding, Syria will still be exploding, and most Arab countries will remain disproportionately undemocratic, illiterate, poor, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist.
By contrast, the aggressive, creative, Israeli counterattack which defeated Yasir Arafat’s war of terror has produced a constructive calm in Israel and the Palestinian territories conducive to peacemaking. The trendy laments that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is closing, and that Israel is “too comfortable” to make peace, reflect topsy-turvy logic preferring Arafat’s bloody suicide bombings to the relative quiet both Israelis and Palestinians now enjoy. Anyone who remembers the anger and anguish of 2001 to 2004 should appreciate that possibilities of peace are growing today in ways that were impossible when the acrid smell of exploded ordinance and burnt flesh mingled with cries of mourning and for revenge, on both sides, during those nightmare years. Israel blundered by not celebrating its victory over Palestinian terror, instead quietly backing into this quieter time.
The sobering lesson from then, which all the false comparing ignores, is that the Palestinians rejected the peace; most remain far less ready for peace than the Israelis, with a warrior culture reinforcing their autocratic political culture. A democratic Palestine would be a peace partner. The psychological and ideological transformation that occurred among most – admittedly not all – Israelis during the 1990s was dramatic – and not matched by a similar mass Palestinian adjustment. Far more Israelis began accepting the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism than Palestinians accepted Zionism. And Oslo’s sobering lesson remains: until most Palestinians recognize the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in Israel, and control Palestinian extremists, peace will remain elusive, no matter how many times America’s secretary of state visits, and no matter how many sanctions European hypocrites slap on Israel.
Finally, the EU targeting of “the settlements” reflects an appalling historical ignorance that is misleading and dangerous. Talk of “the settlements,” “the Green Line,” and “the 1967 borders” is ahistorical and amoral. There is a spectrum of settlements, meaning Jewish communities in territory Palestinians have convinced the world is absolutely theirs and must be Jew-free. “Settlements” range from the historic Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, to new neighborhoods in Jerusalem’s New City, to the restored Jewish villages in Jerusalem’s suburbs of Gush Etzion, to the restored Jewish community surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Hebron, to new Jewish cities like Ariel, to some provocative hilltop settlements which even Israel’s current government considers illegal, to kibbutzim in the Golan.
Similarly, the Green Line was an improvised armistice line, hastily drawn with a green marker in 1949, which then became the status quo until 1967. Those nineteen years, barely 20 percent of a century when borders changed and populations shifted, in a region with thousands of years of counter-claims and border shifts, are insignificant. They should not be made sacred despite the insistence of Palestinians and their global enablers – especially because under the British Mandate Jews could settle anywhere west of the Jordan River and even the UN did not recognize Jordan’s control of the West Bank from 1949 to1967.
If Europeans today do not wish to be defined by their grandparents’ anti-Semitism – then they should be more sensitive to the dynamics of history, avoiding this selective fauxcott . But I know I am making trouble, injecting facts and historical context into a discussion distorted by sloppy history which has been manipulated into becoming a popular prejudice.
Gil Troy is a Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, just published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!