By Shimon Stein
The arrest order issued in Britain against Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni is nothing but one of many symptoms of a deep and long-running problem that is unlikely to be solved as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues.
The apology by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (whose own government would be well advised to deal with the issue, of which it has long been aware) and his government’s plan to tackle the problem through legislation, will not solve our troubles with the European Union.
The root of the problems lies in the fundamental disagreements between Israel and the EU regarding the manner in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved and our conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The conclusions of the EU council of foreign ministers on the peace process, adopted last month in Brussels, and the harsh criticism of Israel voiced by the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, are only the most recent examples of the deep gap that has existed for years between us and Europe.
The disagreements do not stem mainly from economic considerations and interests, although their role in shaping the positions of certain EU members should not be discounted. The reasons are deeper and are linked to the lesson taken by European states from the profound trauma of World War II. The preference for multilateral frameworks, the adherence to the principles of international law, the rejection of the use of force to change political realities, the sanctification of human rights as an absolute value (that is sometimes applied in a manner that leaves behind a sense of double standards) and empathy toward those who are perceived as being weak – all these are part of the principles by which the EU states conduct themselves.
The conduct of Israel, as a state that calls itself democratic, is not perceived by the EU countries as conforming to those principles. European politicians (if we permit ourselves to speak in generalities), not to mention the public, are generally unwilling to walk in the shoes of Israel, which operates as a democracy under threat, and to demonstrate understanding for the motivations behind its conduct. And any small understanding is not reflected in the media.
The threat of terror, which has become an inseparable part of Israel’s quotidian reality, and Israel’s responses – which are covered obsessively – bumps up against a European reality that with the exception of a few instance has not experienced the horrors of terror.
It follows from this that Israel’s responses to terror, which result in unintended harm to civilians, are not only met by a lack of understanding but represent a focus of harsh criticism.
One of the by-products of this criticism is the beginning of an open discussion among some European elites of the nature of Israel’s democracy as well as the extent of its legitimacy as a Jewish state, which is of great concern.
For years the EU has expressed its dissatisfaction with Israel’s political and military conduct with a policy of reward and punishment. When there are unilateral withdrawals and an active peace process, Israel receives a prize; the absence of a peace process and disproportionate military actions lead to punishments.
This pattern, which changes in accordance with the existence of the peace process or lack thereof, is based on a fundamental and mutual lack of trust.
After observing the situation for many years it is hard to escape the conclusion that Israel and the Europeans are conducting not a dialogue, but rather two monologues. A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could lay the foundations for a new stage in our relations with Europe. Until that happens we must get used to reality, the expressions of which we have been witness to in recent weeks.
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.