Rami Khouri
The Daily Star (Opinion)
June 22, 2011 - 12:00am

After spending a few days this week in European cities with American and European diplomats and experts on Middle Eastern issues, I sense that the confusion and convolution levels among Western powers vis-à-vis Arab-Israeli issues is at an all-time high.

To reverse the “threat level” analysis that Western powers use to describe the dangers they face from Middle Eastern or Asian-based terrorists, the Arab world right now faces an “extremely high” threat level of being at the receiving end of some really irrelevant and even dangerous American and European diplomacy.

The proof is out there in plain sight for all to see: Dennis Ross and David Hale from the U.S., and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, have been in the region during the past week talking with top officials.

In my 40 years of following regional diplomacy, I have learned a few important lessons, two of which are these: When American envoys, especially those with the Israel-first ideological leanings of Ross, visit the region, the best thing to do is to duck, so as to minimize the damage; and when European envoys visit, the best thing to do is meet with them because you are sure to get a really fine meal, but nothing else of real substance in all likelihood.

I say this because we have not had anything approaching meaningful diplomacy from the Americans or Europeans since the early and late 1970s, when U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger orchestrated some Israeli-Egyptian-Syrian troop disengagement agreements, and the Europeans mustered the rare courage to issued the Venice Declaration that supported Palestinian self-determination.

Ever since then, the Americans have been leaning toward or actively advocating Israeli perspectives, and the Europeans have tagged along in self-imposed diplomatic irrelevance.

The idea that the U.S. or EU can now prod Israelis and Arabs to resume serious negotiations is romantic at best, and delusional at worst.

So it is troubling to hear Ashton say as she did a few days ago, “I look forward to meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders and encouraging them to seize the opportunity and engage in negotiations.

With the momentous events going on in North Africa and following President [Barack] Obama’s speech last month, it is more urgent than ever that we kick start the Middle East Peace Process. I have proposed a meeting of the Quartet to help re-launch negotiations and will be looking for positive signs from all sides.”

It is troubling because it is hard to think of a more chronic political failure in recent decades than the dead horse she calls “the Middle East Peace Process.” A main reason is the sheer diplomatic and moral delinquency of the Quartet she still has faith in; and a central reason for that is the EU’s proven lack of ability and will to use its influence within the Quartet to make things otherwise. So what in the world is she talking about? If this is not sad enough, it gets even worse.

A new focus of American and European diplomacy these days is the hasty desire to prevent the Palestinians from asking the U.N. General Assembly next September to vote on recognizing a Palestinian state in the lands occupied by Israel in 1967. This frenzy to thwart the UN vote is very much an Israeli-driven exercise, with the American president and occasional Europeans buying into the Israeli argument that this would “delegitimize” Israel.

So if we assume that Washington will do whatever Israel demands, what then should the Europeans do? Does Europe as a whole, or do some European states individually, have the strength of character and the political will to regain the spirit of their Venice Declaration and take a stand on diplomatic issues that affirms both the rule of law and the power of ethics-based foreign policy-making?

One way the Europeans might do this is to finally admit the approaches of the past several decades have failed repeatedly, and strike out on a new path whose central political aim is simple but powerful. Europe should make it abundantly clear that it is firmly and irrevocably committed to the security and wellbeing of Israel within its 1967 borders, but that it simultaneously strongly opposes and will politically admonish the illegal acts of colonization, siege, collective punishment, murder, disproportionate use of force and other crimes that Israel regularly commits in its actions against Palestinians.

How refreshing it would be for Europe to lead a global movement that affirms the legitimacy of Israel, but punishes any illegitimacy of Israel’s criminality beyond its 1967 borders. That’s asking a lot, I know, but when we were young, many years ago, we always knew that we could expect a lot from Europe, where respect for law and effective diplomacy were once hallmarks of its policy-making.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017