During Bill Clinton’s attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the underestimated element that kept throwing the administration off course was the competition the peace process created among Arab states and entities. Clinton wanted to strike a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which was logical because Israel already had a peace deal with Egypt, a de facto peace with Jordan, and as much peace with Lebanon as it could achieve without striking a deal with Syria.
But the Arab states didn’t get along with each other, and tried repeatedly to interfere in parallel peace tracks to compete for Clinton’s attention. In a bizarro-world reflection of the Middle East’s “me-too” competition for negotiations and a sad indication of the devaluation of the European Union’s relationship with Israel, there is a new parallel track to the latest talks: the Israel-EU peace process.
The background is the EU’s decision to institute new rules restricting its cooperation with Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank. I wrote about the latest in the controversy here. The EU’s new rules are not a full trade boycott of Jewish goods but rather intended to preclude access to EU grants. The difference is that an economic boycott would hurt the EU as well; the new rules are designed only to hurt Israel–more specifically, Jews living in Israel’s capital and those living over the green line, unless those Jews are deemed sufficiently opposed to their own Israeli government, in which case the EU will consider waiving the discriminatory regulations.
I also pointed to a Times of Israel article that made clear the new EU rules were not based in international law, but rather were simply a manifestation of the EU’s increasingly hostile foreign policy toward Israel. Today, Reuters reports the evolving response from the Israeli government:
The rightist Israeli government responded on July 26 by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians. On Thursday it accused the Europeans of harming Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and said it would not sign new deals with the 28-nation bloc given the planned sanctions.
But Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin took a more diplomatic tack on Friday, offering to negotiate with the European Union over the guidelines, which he described as a challenge to the Jewish state’s sovereignty.
“We are ready to hold a creative dialogue with the Europeans. We understand their position. We reject it, we don’t like it, but it’s their right when it comes to using their money,” Elkin told Israel Radio.
So that is where EU-Israel relations currently stand. It is necessary for the two sides to have their own bilateral talks to defuse tensions between them. The EU also seems determined to distract Israeli leaders from the renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership moderated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The EU’s timing all along has had a distinctive narcissistic flourish to it. While Kerry was trying to finalize an agreement to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the EU released word of its new rules, which would give the Palestinians yet another reason to believe they didn’t need to negotiate to get what they wanted from the world.
The EU’s interference has not abated since it is asking Israel to justify its own sovereignty to the West at the risk of undermining its negotiating position with regard to the Palestinians. And it’s important to note that Israeli sovereignty is precisely what is at stake in the EU machinations. Not only will the EU continue approving grants for those Israelis willing to renounce their own government’s claim to land on which their fellow countrymen live, but the other side of that coin is the EU’s attempt to get the Israeli government to abandon its own citizens.
Elkin made it clear that Israel understands this aspect of the policy. Reuters notes that he downplayed the financial damage the new rules might do to Israel in favor of highlighting the much more consequential issues of sovereignty:
Elkin said the EU guidelines required Israel to take action against its own institutes with facilities in East Jerusalem.
“The dispute here is about Jerusalem and the dispute is over the question over whether the sovereign border that we laid down is in force or not,” he said. “If you begin to discriminate among various bodies located within your sovereign territory, it means you are effectively denying the sovereignty you declared.”
That is well said. Elkin is willing to negotiate with the EU over its new rules, but he wants to be crystal clear on what is at stake. The EU ignores the entire history of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. To the EU, the Oslo process didn’t go far enough. But now that’s irrelevant anyway to the lawless Eurocrats. Forget final-status negotiations; the EU wants Israel to deny its own legitimacy.
It’s not really about economics or even diplomatic isolation. No doubt the Palestinians are watching closely to see if their negotiations with Israel are really as irrelevant as the EU makes them out to be by suggesting that the Jewish state can be tricked into unilateral surrender.