Piling on is exactly what the European Union appears to be doing to Israel. Lars Faaborg-Anderson, the EU’s ambassador in Israel told a TV interviewer that should there be a breakdown in the negotiations now underway with the Palestinians, “the blame will be put on Israel,” and that Israel will encounter “increasing isolation.” Faaborg-Anderson warned that Israel would face immense economic consequences if it continued its settlement policies.
The EU is a member of the Quartet, that group which also includes the United States., the Russians and the United Nations, which was established to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Any pretension to objectivity by all the members of this group lasted less time than it took for them to get up from their seats at the table. The United Nations, especially some of its specialized agencies, makes no bones about being a cheerleader for the Palestinian side. But rather than approach the process objectively, the EU has now joined that cheering section. It began in earnest last summer when it issued directives against awarding EU grants or funding to Israeli enterprises beyond the Green Line.
There is a history here: Since the 1980 Venice Declaration by the then-EEC (the EU’s predecessor), which was promulgated after consultations with the PLO, the EU has often posited itself as a friend in court of the Palestinian side.
Taking a cue from Brussels late last year, the Dutch company Vitens, pulled out of a working agreement with Mekorot, Israel’s national water company. And recently, the Dutch pension fund manager PGGM announced that it will sever ties with Israeli banks, citing Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank. Earlier this month, Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, also severed ties with Israel’s Bank Hapoalim.
While all of this has been happening, a global international campaign—BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions)—by non-governmental agencies (NGOs), academic associations and religious organizations has been underway, often under the banner of seeking to do to Israel what was done with apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
The statements and actions of the EU and its representatives would be objectionable enough if it were only because there is nary a word said by them about the 20 years of incitement against Israel and Jews coming from the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993—an agreement in which they specifically pledged to end the flow of hatred in schoolbooks, the official media and mosques. A Palestinian baby born on the day Oslo was signed is now almost 21 years old, and he or she has been raised on nothing but hatred of the other side. One would have thought that somewhere along the way, European leaders would have been as vocal about educating for peace as they have been about raging at settlements.
But it’s worse than that: The gratuitous interviews and statements of Faaborg-Anderson and others are occurring while negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are actually in place. Let the negotiators and their interlocutors do their jobs. Why engage in self-fulfilling prophesies that say to the Palestinians, “if the talks fail, it is Israel’s fault and you’re off the hook for any responsibility?” From there it’s a short distance to rationalizing violent responses to talks that may not produce results. Why so drastically raise the temperature in the middle of all of this?
If the negotiations should fail at the end of April, and the Palestinians move their "marketing"campaign to the welcoming environs of the United Nations, will Europe be tempted to join them? Or will it produce a cascade of abstentions, signaling that it is sympathetic to Palestinian objectives, particularly on the question of a boycott of, or the labeling of Israeli products made over the Green Line?
The EU, Vitens, PGGM, Danske Bank and others who engage in this kind of talk-show rhetoric are not advancing the peace process. They know that, at least since 2004 in an earlier round of negotiations, maps have been circulating about what an Israeli-Palestinian agreement might look like. Many settlements would remain in place, and land swaps would occur. If there are objections to settlement policy, there are any number of ways, through face-to-face diplomacy or sending messages through direct or back channels, to make the point. Public finger-wagging at the Israelis, which is presumptuous enough, will not bring an agreement any closer. But it could sour a deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has used similar language in at least two public pronouncements, which have been at the center of intense debate and discussion both here in the U.S. and in Israel. Here, too, so many opportunities have presented themselves for him to convey his views directly to Israel’s policy makers. Indeed, it was Secretary Kerry who, at least for the first several months of the talks, imposed a “no leaks” regimen. Unfortunately, such publicly-stated language is seen as encouragement to many who have made a career of demonizing Israel. Yes, words do matter. And they have consequences.
When the Israelis have been prepared to accept a two-state solution—in 1947, 1967, 2000 and 2008—the Palestinians have said no every time. But one never hears talk from the international community about the Palestinians paying a price for their rejectionism and for their ongoing incitement; rather, there is threatening language about how “the blame will be put on Israel.” The latter phrase is a passive way of saying “We blame Israel, not the Palestinians,” regardless of what the historical facts say.
In the on-going negotiations, all issues—including boundaries, security, incitement, settlements, future governing structures—will have been put on the table, turned upside down and inside out. The task of the three other Quartet members, including the EU, should be to encourage the process, not to weigh in, real time, with loose talk that can only worsen the atmosphere at a crucial juncture in the process.
Many a football game has been lost when a piling on penalty has been assessed late in the fourth quarter. Let’s hope, in this case, life does not imitate sports.