Can Europe provide security?

The EU's new, enhanced role creates risks for Israel and for European credibility.

rafah sign 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
rafah sign 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
If there is something surprising about the emerging post-disengagement arrangements, it is the degree of European involvement. The EU is forming a Border Assistance Mission to secure the Rafah Crossing, while the UK and others are training Palestinian "security forces." The EU and its member countries are also set for a central role in operating a transportation corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, and in planning for a naval port and perhaps also an airport in Gaza. Israel's decision to allow Europe to fulfill these responsibilities was not an easy one after the failed Oslo process, and given the tense history of relations. In the 1990s the Europeans turned a blind eye while the massive aid they gave Yasser Arafat for "peace and development" was lost to corruption and invested in preparing for mass terror. After a bitter fight the European Parliament belatedly demanded an investigation, but while preaching transparency to others the EU keeps this report a carefully guarded secret. On this basis it is difficult to know if any lessons have been learned. To a substantial degree European officials, journalists, academics and NGOs still view the conflict through a simplistic and morally distorted filter in which Palestinians are helpless "victims" and Israel is all-powerful. Many continue to pursue a na ve, instant peace based on weakening Israel and empowering the Palestinians. Some Germans associated with the previous government arrogantly demanded that Israel pay for rebuilding the Gaza airport, destroyed by the IDF after it was exploited to import weapons used in terrorism. And a leaked report attacking Israeli policy in east Jerusalem, written by British officials, ignores and distorts the historical record beyond recognition. This is not a Europe that can be expected to take Israeli security seriously. AT THE same time, key European officials responsible for the failed policies have left. Chris Patten, the former External Relations commissioner, is now chancellor of Oxford University. Patten's frequent and shrill condemnations of Israeli counter-terror policies helped propel the Palestinian propaganda campaign. Miguel Moratinos, the EU's "special peace envoy" during this period, has also left the EU, although he is now Spain's foreign minister. In 2002, when the US government recognized the need to isolate Arafat, Moratinos and the Europeans continued the parade of photo-ops in Ramallah. In contrast, the new envoy, Marc Otte, seems to have a better grasp on reality, recognizing the dangers of a failed Palestinian state and a counterfeit peace. Similarly, diplomats recently posted in Tel Aviv for the EU and in other embassies, are more professional and knowledgeable than their predecessors. Government leaders in the UK, Germany, Eastern Europe and elsewhere are voicing understanding of Israel's concerns, and the Barcelona Euro-Med project, introduced with great fanfare and a huge budget 10 years ago, is increasingly recognized as a failure. In addition, the fact that EU policy in the region is constrained by the "Quartet" structure has positive elements. During the Oslo period the European (particularly French) obsession with competing with the United States for "credit" allowed Arafat to play one power off against the other. The Quartet framework was created to stop this destructive diplomacy, including the UN and the Russians as damage limitation measures. Initially, the American adoption of Europe's "road map" to peace seemed like another catastrophe in the making, but there are signs of realism, even in Brussels. Palestinian efforts to gain support for skipping the first stage of disarming terrorists before going further have not been adopted, yet. FURTHERMORE, after the attacks in Madrid and London some Europeans are beginning understand the nature of terrorism and to question the simplistic framework based on Arab "victimization." Some are also aware of the successes of Israeli anti-terror policies, reflected in the decline in condemnations of "extra-legal assassinations," the "wall," and biased allegations of human rights violations from official European bodies. There is at least limited recognition of the fact that EU funding of Palestinian textbooks was used for incitement. And the EU's policies on Iran's nuclear program are also more realistic than in the past. But this is only a partial picture, and many damaging policies remain in place, particularly in the political sphere. The EU transfers millions of euros to support radical anti-Israel non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that exploit the rhetoric of human rights to promote boycotts and divestment campaigns. The list of recipients is also secret. In addition, Europe's taxpayers pay for "development assistance" diverted to radical NGOs responsible for the 2001 Durban conference and the political war against Israel. And the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (part of the Barcelona program) continues to serve as an outlet for the NGO propaganda attacks. Last Shabbat a group of Euro-MPs held a "civil society" meeting with these anti-Israel NGOs, further reinforcing European distortions. Putting these pieces together, Israel is taking great risks in agreeing to a major European role. And Europe is also taking a risk: Failure to deliver on security commitments and to end the anti-Israel bias will close the door on any future European role. The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University and the editor of NGO Monitor.