Kudos to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government for finally breaking a European taboo. At a press conference in Madrid last week, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe publicly declared that “there will be no solution to the conflict in the Middle East without recognition of two nation-states for two peoples. The nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people, and the nation-state of Palestine for the Palestinian people.” Then, lest anyone overlook the statement’s significance or think it a mere slip of the tongue, his ministry yesterday circulated copies of it.
This is truly groundbreaking. Until now, no EU country has been willing to state publicly that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement must recognize Israel as the Jews’ nation-state, though the EU routinely details the concessions it expects Israel to make.
Partly, this stems from the EU’s desire to maintain a facade of European consensus. And on this issue, no consensus exists. According to Israeli officials, EU foreign policy czar Catherine Ashton adamantly opposes any mention of Israel as a Jewish state, as do Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, Austria and Luxembourg. In contrast, such language is favored by Germany, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Interestingly, the officials who gave the Jerusalem Post this assessment, just days before Juppe’s Madrid press conference, listed France as on the fence, but leaning toward the Ashton camp.
The second reason, as an Israeli diplomat serving at the UN told Haaretz this week, is that even countries sympathetic to Israel’s position in private are reluctant to say so publicly, because they perceive the Palestinian Authority as the weaker side in the conflict, and are therefore “uncomfortable” making demands of it: They feel demands should be directed at the stronger side. And since the PA adamantly opposes recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, supporting such recognition means demanding a Palestinian concession.
So what made Sarkozy get off the fence and approve Juppe’s public declaration of support for a Jewish state? It’s not that he suddenly joined the Zionist movement; neither have most of the countries favoring such language. Rather, they have finally grasped that no agreement is possible without satisfying Israel’s minimum requirements. No Israeli government will ever sign a deal that mandates full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, lacks adequate security provisions or doesn’t acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. The major Israeli parties differ on precisely where the border should run and precisely what security arrangements are required, but they all agree on these basics.
Sarkozy, however, has now gone one step further: He’s realized since Israel won’t sign a deal without such provisions, Europe does need to start publicly demanding these concessions of the Palestinians. Otherwise, they will keep deluding themselves the world will eventually force a complete Israeli capitulation.
In so doing, he’s thrown down a gauntlet to his fellow European realists: Will they, too, finally support a Jewish state publicly? For if they cravenly sit on the sidelines, allowing the PA to dismiss him as an isolated voice it can safely ignore, his bold effort to advance the cause of peace will die aborning.