Unusual condemnations

The usual post-bombing flurry of condemnations poured in - but as important is what they didn't say.

In defending disengagement, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has liked to claim it has had diplomatic dividends. While Israel might not have been given the thumbs-up to retain the Ariel settlement block this week, Sharon did rack up a small diplomatic payoff as the EU and UN gave a subtle nod to Israel in the wake of Monday's bombing. In the hours after an Islamic Jihad suicide bomber killed five Israelis outside a Netanya mall, the usual flurry of condemnations poured in - except they were a bit unusual. For starters, the Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia singled out the Syrian government and urged it to take "immediate action" to close Islamic Jihad's offices, restating more explicitly EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's own request for "the countries in the region to use their influence to cease all support to armed Palestinian opposition groups." But as important is what they didn't say. The individual EU and UN-prepared statements and the comments of the US State Department deputy spokesman about the attack contained no call for Israel to exercise restraint in its response, at one time a reflexive mantra following suicide bombings. The notable exception was the Quartet umbrella itself, which did use the phrase, but the various EU reactions made no demands of the Israelis, and the closest the UN came was in UN special Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto's statement that "whoever ordered and carried out this attack wants to undermine efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I hope that all concerned will not play into their hands." The new US Ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, affirmed Tuesday that Israel "has every right to defend its people." "One does see a more balanced tone in some statements," said Hillel Neuer, who has watched the UN's declarations on Israel closely as the executive director of UN Watch. "That's generally because of disengagement and Israel's clear commitment to taking strong moves in the peace process." Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have also noted the shift. Now when it comes to condemnations of attacks, one official said, there are no "funny words," only outright condemnation of "terrorism." "There are less excuses for terrorism; there's less acceptance of the terror agenda; there's more unanimity in condemnations," said one official, who indicated that adds up to more understanding of Israel's situation and its responses. He attributed the "incremental" adjustment in thinking in part to disengagement, but also to growing world - and particularly European - vexation with terror after being personally victimized by it. He pointed to the importance the EU placed on getting Arab states to sign onto a statement against terrorism at the recent Euro-Med conference in Barcelona. But also, the official pointed out, Europe has policy objectives in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - a two-state solution; a democratic Palestinian Authority; peace and quiet - which groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas oppose. Still, he noted, Israel isn't rushing to lavish praise on the Europeans for the modest move toward "balance" in its view of Israel. And Neuer stressed that whatever message has been coming out of the UN secretary-general's office, the General Assembly seemed to have missed it. The assembly this past week waved through their customary slew of anti-Israel resolutions. Some condemnations never change.