Merav Michaeli
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 23, 2012 - 12:00am

"It would be best for the European Union to concentrate now on the problems arising between the various peoples and nationalities on European soil," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in response to the EU's condemnation of Israel's plan to build 800 new housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. "When those problems are satisfactorily solved, we will be happy to hear proposals from the EU on how to solve the problems with the Palestinians."

Lieberman's statement may qualify as the world's most impudent joke. That's not only because a week earlier, Lieberman had actually welcomed the intervention of the EU in matters concerning Israel - when the EU foreign ministers decided to intensify sanctions against Iran, that is. His contemptuous statement was made a week after the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

"The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe," the prize committee said in its announcement. "The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace."

The committee also noted the stark contrast between the Europe of the World War II era and that of today. "The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe," the announcement said. "Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners."

If Lieberman were receptive to suggestions based on the experience of the EU, there are many other European successes he could have learned from as well. Lieberman is not the only person who scorned the awarding of the peace prize to the EU, though. In fact, that was the trend around the world. Remarks like "It's good they didn't get the prize for economics" and statements that the decision cheapens the peace prize or is an example of black humor could be heard from critics in Greece, England, Ireland and elsewhere. However, the contempt is not really for the prize; it is for peace.

It is truly astounding to see the unbearable lightness with which people are dismissing the amazing historic achievements of nations and peoples who had been parties to seemingly endless wars that killed millions of people, and have since achieved real peace. They treat wars and bombs with such gravity, but trivialize peace so readily.

"There is a war here," the head of the opposition in Greece was quoted as saying. A war? With all due respect to the difficulties created by the current economic crisis, is it really a war? "Young people in Europe don't have the slightest idea of what it is like to be at war," said Charles Barthel, the director of the Luxembourg-based Robert Schuman Center for European Studies and Research in Luxembourg, named for one of the founding fathers of the European bloc. In Europe, perhaps that is the point.

But here in Israel, we do have an idea of what being at war is like, yet we still have the deepest contempt for peace. We scorn any idea of agreements or cooperation; we disdain all solutions that are proposed. We show no respect for the peace treaty with Egypt or the one with Jordan, or for the Saudi peace initiative or the opportunities for peace with Syria that once existed. And we certainly show none for the possibility of peace with the Palestinians.

The EU is indeed undergoing a difficult crisis at the moment. But especially in view of that, the timing of the peace prize committee should not be scorned. Moreover, the Europeans are continuing with their efforts. Last month the Future of Europe Group, comprised of 11 European foreign ministers, published a report demonstrating that the European dream is thriving. In the report, the ministers recommend that the ties of the member states be further strengthened by establishing communal institutions like a European border police, a European visa and even a joint army.

In this country, we are embarking on an election period in which hardly anyone is mentioning peace. No one is talking about a vision of mutual security, a joint army or anything resembling a Middle Eastern union. Here we don't take a chance on peace if there is an associated risk of a crisis. To judge by the disdainful statements of Lieberman, it is clear he is contemptuous of European peace itself. After all, he has told them that when they solve their own problems, then they can come to us.


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