Friday, June 24, 2011

Legitimacy Vs. Criminality

By Rami G. Khouri
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 East- 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 United States, and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton have been in the region during the past week, talking with top officials.
In my 40 years of following Middle Eastern diplomacy, I have learned a few important lessons, two of which are: when American envoys, especially those of the Israel-first ideological leaning like Dennis Ross, visit the region, the best thing to do is to duck, so as to minimise the damage that is about to be done; and when European envoys visit the region, if you meet with them, 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 Henry Kissinger orchestrated some Israeli-Egyptian-Syrian troop disengagement agreements, and the Europeans mustered the rare courage to make the Venice Declaration that supported Palestinian self- determination. Ever since then, the Americans have been leaning towards or actively advocating Israeli perspectives, and the Europeans have tagged along in self-imposed diplomatic irrelevance.
The idea that the United States or the 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 kickstart the Middle East peace process. I have proposed a meeting of the Quartet to help relaunch 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 for this is the utter 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 UN General Assembly in September to vote on recognising 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 “delegitimise” Israel.
So if we assume that Washington will do whatever Israel demands, then what 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 that 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 well-being of Israel within its 1967 borders, but that it simultaneously strongly opposes and will politically admonish the illegal acts of colonisation, 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 the 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.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 24/06/2011

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