A View From Israel: Lieberman’s rebuke

Was it really so audacious for the foreign minister to advise the Europeans to solve their own conflicts first?

Lieberman holding hands with Kouchner & Moratinos 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Lieberman holding hands with Kouchner & Moratinos 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
This was a busy week for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos arrived at the Foreign Ministry Sunday to promote an initiative under which the European Union would recognize a Palestinian state even before Israel and the Palestinian Authority reach a final settlement through negotiations. Lieberman responded by telling his counterparts that before coming to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they should concentrate on the problems in their own backyards.
One must wonder why it has become the diplomatic norm for Europeans to come here for meetings that are disproportionately devoted to telling Israeli officials what this country should or should not be doing. If the opposite were true and Israeli officials were to arrive at the Elysee Palace to lecture the French on their policies, it is easy to see why they would be met with scorn.
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“I don’t expect you to solve the problems of the world,” Lieberman said, “but I certainly expect that before you come here to teach us how to solve conflicts, you will deal with the problems in Europe and solve those conflicts.”
Lieberman suggested that after solving the conflicts in the Caucasus and Cyprus, and after making peace between Serbia and Kosovo, the Europeans can come here and “we will listen to your advice.”
“What about the struggle in Somalia, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Sudan?” he asked.
After his remarks were leaked to the media, which irked the European ministers, Lieberman later toned them down.
“I tried to explain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from being central to the world and surely not the most ancient in the world, and I have not seen any universal formula that has solved all the conflicts on the face of the planet,” he said. “Our stance is that we must stop stuttering and apologizing.”
Little pleased with Lieberman’s approach, the Europeans fought back.
Kouchner admitted that they, too, had problems, but their experience in conflict resolution and in peacefully bringing together 27 nations gave them credibility.
Contrary to his rebuttal, however, Kouchner must be well aware that conflicts such as those in Ireland and former Yugoslavia were not resolved by the Europeans themselves but rather required outside help to reach a resolution. Additionally, the 27 EU nations were not at war with each other immediately prior to their unification and thus cannot be considered as having come together under a European peacemaking umbrella.
If Kouchner insists on focusing on Israel, then why not, as Lieberman suggested, review Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus as well?
In 1974, the Republic of Cyprus was invaded by the Turks, resulting in continued occupation and considerable violations of internationally guaranteed human rights. During and after this period, Turkey committed ethnic cleansing in occupied Cyprus, according to human rights groups, deliberately violating the European Convention and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
And yet, even with its ongoing occupation of Northern Cyprus, Turkey is currently considered a candidate for full membership in the EU. This lies in sharp contrast to the EU decision to suspend the upgrade process for Israel in April 2009 after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a reassessment of the peace process and suspended peace negotiations.
But Kouchner has taken his meddling even further. He said on Sunday in an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam, “One cannot rule out in principle the Security Council option.”
This echoes Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said that the possibility was raised of eventually going to the UN Security Council to create a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last Friday also told leaders at the Arab League meeting in Libya that if peace talks remain stalled, he may consider asking the US to recognize a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders.
While he is repeating Erekat’s comments, if nothing else Kouchner’s remarks appear to be blatant European meddling in the peace process, the resolution of which must be found through bilateral negotiations between the two sides.
Kouchner appears to be informing the Palestinians of European support for a Palestinian state regardless of whether or not the negotiations are successful.
The Europeans were not always so divided with Israel ideologically. In 1956, Great Britain and France conspired with Israel to launch the Sinai Campaign against Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Before 1967, France was Israel’s main military supplier, providing nuclear technology as well.
Today, Europe’s worldview is seen through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and has placed it at the center of the world’s problems. They appear, unfortunately, to have created a link between the resolution of the conflict and world peace, completely ignoring rampant human rights abuses elsewhere around the globe.
Thus, while Lieberman’s message in public is harsher than the official government line, it better reflects reality, and although Defense Minister Ehud Barak quickly declared that Lieberman does not represent government policy, one would hope these views are being transmitted by other members of the government as well – even if behind closed doors.