Commentary Magazine


Topic: European Union

Losing Ukraine

The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.

So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.

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The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.

So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.

And where is the West in all this? While all this was going on in Kiev, two opposition leaders, Arseny P. Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, were meeting in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The reception they received is nice, but it’s no substitute for an economic aid package to convince Ukrainians that they can get a better deal out of the EU than out of Russia. Both the EU and the U.S. are said to have been working on such a package but behind-the scenes negotiations have produced scant results–which is perhaps why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was heard cursing on an illicitly taped conversation, “F— the EU.”

But it is not just the EU that is failing to show leadership. So too with the U.S., with a president distracted by numerous crises at home and abroad, ranging from the birthing pangs of his health-care plan to the latest slaughter in Syria. Amid all these other problems, it is hard for Ukraine to get the attention it deserves. But don’t forget, this is a country of almost 45 million people, which was once the second-largest republic in the Soviet Union and today remains the biggest prize on the borderland between Russia and the West–between Putinism and freedom. The U.S. and its European allies have a major stake in making sure that Ukraine does not once again revert to de facto Russian control, but to avert that fate will require more political leadership starting in Washington.

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Answering Casual Anti-Israel Libels

Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

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Amid the avalanche of anti-Israel incitement from European sources on a daily basis, Martin Schulz’s comments about Israeli water usage and Gaza might not have drawn much attention if he had not uttered them in German when speaking before a session of the Knesset. Schulz, the president of the European Union parliament, was in Israel for a goodwill visit and most of his address to Israel’s lawmakers yesterday was fairly innocuous. He praised Israel’s democracy, decried terrorism, opposed Iran’s attempt to gain nuclear weapons and called for a two-state solution that would end the conflict with the Palestinians. So far, so good. But then, almost as a throwaway line, the German politician, who is a candidate for president of the far more powerful European Commission that runs the EU, claimed that Israel was not only stealing Palestinian water but restricting the supply used by Arabs. He also lamented what he said was Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza, an implicit accusation that it was causing a humanitarian crisis there.

As it turns out, Schultz’s accusation that Israelis use 70 liters of water a day and the Palestinians only 17 was not fact-checked before he uttered it. While there are various estimates of water use, even the lowest figures for the Palestinians are more than four times that number and others as high as six times. Talk about a blockade of Gaza, which is supplied with electricity by Israel as well as daily shipments of food and medicine, is similarly misleading. Why would a high-ranking EU official casually toss of such phrases and then express surprise and anger when some of the Knesset members present responded by angrily walking out? The answer goes deeper than a discussion of the admittedly difficult subject of water allocation or the facts about Gaza. What Schulz’s speech shows is how pervasive anti-Israel invective has become. If even a politician looking to mend fences thinks there’s nothing offensive about saying such things, this should serve as a wake-up call to Israel’s friends that they must redouble their efforts to tell the truth about the Jewish state and the Middle East conflict.

As the Times of Israel reported today, Schulz’s comments about water allocation were completely false. While Palestinians have access to far more water than he claimed, it’s true that Israeli consumers are served better because of the country’s vast desalinization efforts. Palestinians are also handicapped by the corruption and incompetence of governments in the West Bank and Gaza that prize confrontation with Israel over development. The situation would be rectified by peace, but this aspect of life in the region, like so many others, has been held hostage by Palestinian intransigence that makes a solution to the conflict impossible.

Nevertheless, many Israelis were embarrassed by the Knesset walkout as well as by the intemperate response of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who didn’t hesitate to invoke Germany’s past when be blasted Schulz:

I will not accept a false moralizing narrative against Israel in our parliament, in our Knesset. Certainly not in German.

Bennett’s words probably didn’t win the Jewish state any new friends in Germany. But rather than focus on his lack of diplomatic finesse, the lesson here has to do with a failure of information rather than of good manners.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad have focused in recent years on efforts to “rebrand” their country as an attractive tourist destination or a source of high-tech innovation. Others have insisted that Israel’s image will never be improved until peace with the Palestinians has been reached. These strategies have helped instill a certain degree of complacency, if not apathy in a pro-Israel community that has come to accept slanders and false information about the Jewish state as something that is bad but about which nothing can be done.

It is true that much of the anti-Israeli invective coming out of Europe has its roots in anti-Semitism, whether imported from the Middle East by immigrants or the product of anti-Zionist incitement from intellectual and academic elites. But the offhand nature of Schulz’s utterances should tell us that there is no substitute for an energetic effort on the part of Israelis and their foreign friends to answer any and all such libels. By assuming that intelligent people won’t believe slanders, they let lies like the water statistics become a form of conventional wisdom that is difficult to correct once accepted by the public.

It is not enough to get mad about speeches such as the one given by Schulz. The lies must be actively refuted. That won’t stop the deluge of hate speech directed at the Jewish state but it will make it harder for politicians like Schulz to create diplomatic incidents by passing along widely-held beliefs that are not true. 

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EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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Eavesdropping and Troublemaking

The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

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The European political class seems to have interrupted their bout of indignation at NSA eavesdropping to express indignation over a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt in which Nuland is heard saying: “[It] would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it, and you know f*** the EU!”

And how is it that we have come to listen to Nuland’s private phone call on YouTube? No one is exactly sure but all the signs point to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, since the audio was first highlighted in public by a Russian official and posted with Russian subtitles. As Nuland herself noted, “It was pretty impressive tradecraft. [The] audio quality was very good.”

The supposition of Russian responsibility was heightened by the fact that another telephone call has also surfaced on YouTube, this one featuring an EU foreign-policy official named Helga Schmid complaining about the U.S. to the EU ambassador to Kiev, Jan Tombinski. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty notes: “The recording appears to show Schmid expressing annoyance at the United States for criticizing the EU for being ‘too soft’ to impose sanctions and other pressure tactics against Ukraine. ‘It’s very annoying,’ she adds.”

This is the kind of harmless expression of frustration which is common in private conversations–and which is very different from the way anyone, much less a diplomat, speaks in public. Which is why there is widespread speculation the FSB leaked the calls so as to embarrass both Americans and Europeans and to drive a wedge between them, making it more difficult for them to counter the Russian power play in Ukraine.

Yet somehow much of the European outrage over the Nuland call has focused on the content of her conversation rather than the violation of her privacy. Europeans seem to be ignoring the obvious lesson here that the NSA is hardly alone in intercepting communications–and indeed other countries use such capabilities far more obnoxiously than the NSA does. But then it’s so much more fun to beat up on the big bad Americans rather than on the Russian, Chinese, or European intelligence services, all of which are very much in the eavesdropping business too. Don’t expect to hear a peep, of course, from that noted privacy champion Edward Snowden who happens to be living in Russia thanks to the hospitality of the Putin regime.

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Boycotts Driven By Hate, Not Settlements

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Rumors floated by the Palestinians about such coordination between the U.S. and the EU are already making their way through the Middle East. But what Kerry left out of his warning is the plain fact that the impetus for such threats and the growing support for the boycott movement aren’t based on anything the Israelis are doing. While those warning Israel of the consequences of its settlement policy claim they are only responding to popular sentiment, the recent explosion of European anger over the settlements is, as it happens, strangely timed. Since Israel has just agreed to Kerry’s framework for negotiations—the ultimate goal of which is a peace deal with the Palestinians that will grant them a state in much of the West Bank—the existence of the settlements can’t logically be represented as an obstacle to peace. That’s a point that should have been made clear to the Europeans when the Palestinians rejected offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Nor need one support the existence of all the settlements to understand that most of them—located in blocs near the 1967 lines—will remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty.

So if the existence of the settlements doesn’t explain the recent upsurge in support for boycotting Israel, what does? The simple answer was supplied by the State Department when it described in its report on religious persecution a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” that was sweeping the continent. Since the publication of that report in 2012, evidence of even more violence against European Jews, widespread support in Europe for new laws that restrict Jewish religious practices, as well as efforts to smear Israel and its supporters have all increased and have grown ever more virulent. While Israel’s detractors have falsely attempted to blame Israel for the spread of Jew-hatred, that is a familiar tactic to anyone who knows the long and horrific history of European anti-Semitism, which has always found an aspect of alleged Jewish misbehavior to justify their own bigotry and crimes.

European anti-Semitism is currently being promoted by a noxious combination of traditional Jew-hatred at both ends of the social spectrum—from Muslim immigrant communities to elites, academics, and intellectuals who similarly delegitimize all Jews who speak up for Israel. That ought to make it all the more important that those who purport to oppose such hatred and profess friendship for Israel denounce the BDS movement. That Kerry missed an opportunity to do so and instead fed the simmering hatred on the continent was shameful. Whether his failure to speak out was deliberate or a negligent lost chance to put the U.S. clearly on record as adamantly against the BDS movement is not important. As long as the U.S. and the EU are working in tandem to taunt and threaten Israel in this fashion, they are both serving as the enablers of a highly dangerous and hate-driven movement.

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Holocaust Day Isn’t What it Used to Be

Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

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Across Europe, Holocaust Memorial Day just isn’t what it used to be. There are still the same sobering gatherings and television broadcasts reflecting on the horrors of a historical event, taking the opportunity to reaffirm the mantra of “Never Again.” Yet, at the same time there is a growing sense of a counter-movement to Holocaust Memorial Day. At times this takes the form of outright displays of Jew-hatred intentionally scheduled to coincide with the commemorations, as if in protest that murdered Jews should be mourned. More subtly there have also been concerted efforts to hijack and manipulate the message of the day.

Most sickening of all were the scenes from France. On the day prior to Holocaust Memorial Day Paris witnessed shocking scenes of open anti-Semitism during anti-government protests which police estimate to have been attended by some 17,000 people. The protest, titled by organizers the Day of Rage, witnessed crowds chanting “Jews out of France” and “The story of the gas chambers is bull****.” At around the same time social media sites were being flooded with pictures of individuals performing the quenelle, the modified Nazi salute, in front of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites. The quenelle was even performed in the Belgium Parliament, shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day, by MP Laurent Louis who also took the opportunity to state that the Holocaust had been setup and financed by Zionists.

Other efforts to challenge Holocaust Memorial Day have at least attempted to pass themselves off under the seemingly legitimate guise of political correctness. One of the most concerted campaigns has been that of Muslim groups to have Holocaust Memorial Day replaced with Genocide Memorial Day, which uncannily falls just days before Holocaust commemorations. Mehdi Hasan has written about his shame at his own community’s efforts to belittle the Holocaust, highlighting how in past years the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted the memorial day. This year the Islamic Human Rights Commission has held Genocide Day events in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. But as became apparent at one such previous event organized by the IHRC, the focus was not other genocides, but primarily the crimes of Zionism. During the Q&A it was asserted that the “real” Holocaust had been the wartime bombing of German cities and that Anne Frank had not been murdered, but had merely died of typhus.

Another increasingly popular Holocaust Memorial Day activity is using the day to highlight the cause of the Palestinians and lambast Jews and Israel. Days before commemorations, British MP David Ward was once again doing just that. Last year he accused “the Jews” of not having learned “the lessons of the Holocaust.” This year, speaking in Parliament, Ward asked if we should not use the day to remember “the millions of displaced Palestinians, still denied their right, to return to their homes.” This effort to sublimate the memory of murdered Jews beneath the political cause of the Palestinians was most overtly manifested in 2009 when a Swedish city canceled its Holocaust commemorations, with one organizer explaining, “We have been preoccupied and grief-stricken by the war in Gaza.”

There has also been the bizarre phenomenon of selecting what would seem to be the most unsuitable people for participation in the commemorations. At this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day it was announced that Prime Minister Cameron has established a new Holocaust Commission, but on that commission will sit Labour’s Ed Balls, who was exposed for dressing as a Nazi in his spare time. Meanwhile, London’s 2013 Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, attended by Mayor Boris Johnson and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, featured as a speaker Muslim activist Hassan Farooq–a curious choice given that Farooq is on record praising Hitler and calling for the murder and gassing of Jews.

This year, however, the person who perhaps did the most for subtly perverting the meaning and spirit of Holocaust Memorial Day was the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton. Ashton’s Holocaust Memorial Day statement took the opportunity to condemn racism, to praise those who had protected “their fellow citizens” and to declare that “respect of human rights and diversity lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for.” Yet, Jews and anti-Semitism were not mentioned once. Chilling to see the Jews erased from a statement that supposedly commemorates the event that attempted to erase them altogether.

Perhaps many Europeans have gotten tired of feeling guilty about the Holocaust, being reminded of their own societies’ participation, collaboration, or indifferent inaction to the murder of not just any people, but specifically the Jews. And remembering the Jews of World War Two only serves to remind them of the Jews still around today, and to remind them that they don’t much like these Jews either.  

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The EU’s Double Threat to Israel

Speaking to reporters yesterday, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, issued a remarkable statement about the EU’s position on the current peace negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That statement, and indeed the EU’s position, amounts to little more than an open threat, one that is ostensibly directed at both parties, but which would in practice hurt Israel first and foremost, even while purporting to punish the Palestinians. 

The EU ambassador explained that should the current round of peace talks fail to yield results, “there will be a price to pay.” Specifically, that price for Israel would come in the form of a pulling back on trade relations between Europe and Israel, with the additional implication that the EU would move ahead with plans to label or boycott those products produced by Jewish businesses and communities in the disputed territories. For the Palestinians, the repercussions would amount to a cutback in EU funding for the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly, this is no empty threat given the PA’s dire financial predicament and the fact that the Europeans, not the Arab states, act as the Palestinians’ primary funders. Yet with even President Obama (in a break from his usual unworldly optimism) having said that he believes the current peace talks have less than a 50 percent chance of success, the Europeans are putting both sides in an incredibly unenviable, and indeed inadvisable, position.

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Speaking to reporters yesterday, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, issued a remarkable statement about the EU’s position on the current peace negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That statement, and indeed the EU’s position, amounts to little more than an open threat, one that is ostensibly directed at both parties, but which would in practice hurt Israel first and foremost, even while purporting to punish the Palestinians. 

The EU ambassador explained that should the current round of peace talks fail to yield results, “there will be a price to pay.” Specifically, that price for Israel would come in the form of a pulling back on trade relations between Europe and Israel, with the additional implication that the EU would move ahead with plans to label or boycott those products produced by Jewish businesses and communities in the disputed territories. For the Palestinians, the repercussions would amount to a cutback in EU funding for the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly, this is no empty threat given the PA’s dire financial predicament and the fact that the Europeans, not the Arab states, act as the Palestinians’ primary funders. Yet with even President Obama (in a break from his usual unworldly optimism) having said that he believes the current peace talks have less than a 50 percent chance of success, the Europeans are putting both sides in an incredibly unenviable, and indeed inadvisable, position.

There is a legitimate question to be asked here about whether this stance is really reasonable or fair to either side. If we for a moment assume the most charitable possible view of both parties, working on the basis that both Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating in good faith, is it so inconceivable that these talks, given their narrow time frame, might not be successful this time around? As has often been suggested, it may be the case that right now the most that Israel is able to offer is less than the Palestinians are willing to accept. Then, if we take the less charitable, although probably more realistic view, that sees PA head Mahmoud Abbas as not being interested in reaching an agreement, it becomes apparent that the EU threat seeks to still punish Israel even if Abbas walks away from a deal.

In any case, on closer inspection, the threat to the Palestinians actually turns out to be just another way of punishing Israel. In the event that the EU withdraws significant amounts of funding from Abbas, thus destabilizing the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and allowing for a strengthening of Hamas and Islamic Jihad there, the price from the growing terror threat would be paid by Israel. It would be paid in the currency of lost Israeli lives. It may be true that there are serious problems with the way the EU funds the PA; as Douglas Murray has written about recently, much of the funding goes toward supporting Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel. Yet, the threatened funding cuts would most likely harm Israel even more, and the Europeans know it. For as Faasborg-Andersen remarked, “I think it is realized in Israel that this money is key to the stability of the West Bank and in Gaza.”

This attitude, which seeks to make life unpleasant for Israelis even while claiming to be evenhanded in also punishing the Palestinians, stems from a perspective that really views Israel as uniquely responsible for the impasse and as such is frankly disinterested in Israel’s requirements. The ambassador betrayed as much in his remarks. With the EU having failed to support Israel’s basic request to be recognized as a Jewish state, Faasborg-Andersen dismissed, “I don’t think we have any clear position on that because we’re not 100% sure what is meant by this concept of a Jewish state.”

When it came to Palestinian demands about settlements, however, then the European ambassador adopted quite another tone. “If the talks are wrecked as a result of an Israeli settlement announcement, then the blame will be put squarely on Israel’s doorstep,” the ambassador declared, “naturally and logically [Israel] will be to blame.” And when he was then asked about the European Union’s double standards in its approach to the settlement issue, Faasborg-Andersen responded, “I don’t see any basis for the allegation that we’re being one-sided and not being even-handed on this issue,” claiming that the EU had also criticized rocket fire from Gaza.

In making this parallel, the ambassador expressed a common yet unfathomable notion that draws a moral equivalence between rockets fired by terrorists with the objective of murdering Israeli civilians and the building of homes for Jewish families in Jerusalem and its suburbs. This itself exposes the very one-sidedness that the ambassador sought to deny by mentioning the rockets. The EU position on settlements is hypocritical for several reasons, not least because of the way in which Brussels has openly adopted one policy on disputed settlements in cases such as Morocco and western Sahara, and quite another on Jewish communities in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

The European Union’s stance on Israel has become so one-sided that European diplomats expose themselves even while attempting to demonstrate how evenhanded they are. So hypocritical are they that the EU devises measures to punish Israel even while claiming to be punishing the Palestinians.

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Europe Should Say No to Turkey for Good

Not only does Turkey dream about being a member of the European Union, but the future of Europe depends on it. At least that is the narrative put forward by both American officials and many European diplomats for quite some time. In 2009, for example, President Obama said that European Union membership would “firmly anchor” Turkey in Europe.

Whether out of conviction or a desire for access, some U.S.-based Turkey analysts also push the line, and suggest that EU membership will further Turkey’s reform and bolster Europe’s economy.

Such sentiments may be politically correct, but they are nonsense. Rather than become more democratic or truly reform, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed Turkey into a banana republic. In recent days, he has not only fired police chiefs across the country to ensure that his own personal cronies take their place, but has moved to punish Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor once embraced for targeting Turkey’s generals, but who now is a pariah for questioning those in the prime minister’s inner circle. On Tuesday, Öz released a statement detailing the threats he received. “Soon after the first wave of warrants,” he wrote, “I was called to a meeting by two people from the high judiciary. We met in a hotel in Bursa. They told me that Erdoğan was very angry with me. They asked me to write an apology letter to Erdoğan and stop the investigations. Otherwise I would have to suffer the consequences ….” Despite the constant threats he now receives, Erdoğan has stripped him of security. He is, effectively, a dead man walking.

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Not only does Turkey dream about being a member of the European Union, but the future of Europe depends on it. At least that is the narrative put forward by both American officials and many European diplomats for quite some time. In 2009, for example, President Obama said that European Union membership would “firmly anchor” Turkey in Europe.

Whether out of conviction or a desire for access, some U.S.-based Turkey analysts also push the line, and suggest that EU membership will further Turkey’s reform and bolster Europe’s economy.

Such sentiments may be politically correct, but they are nonsense. Rather than become more democratic or truly reform, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has transformed Turkey into a banana republic. In recent days, he has not only fired police chiefs across the country to ensure that his own personal cronies take their place, but has moved to punish Zekeriya Öz, the prosecutor once embraced for targeting Turkey’s generals, but who now is a pariah for questioning those in the prime minister’s inner circle. On Tuesday, Öz released a statement detailing the threats he received. “Soon after the first wave of warrants,” he wrote, “I was called to a meeting by two people from the high judiciary. We met in a hotel in Bursa. They told me that Erdoğan was very angry with me. They asked me to write an apology letter to Erdoğan and stop the investigations. Otherwise I would have to suffer the consequences ….” Despite the constant threats he now receives, Erdoğan has stripped him of security. He is, effectively, a dead man walking.

At its root, the reason for the corruption scandal targeting Erdoğan’s inner circle was the prime minister’s targeting of a network of lucrative test-prep centers run by adherent of Fethullah Gülen. That many Western-leaning Turks, diplomats, and journalists now place their hopes in Gülen, a shadowy religious cult leader whose about-face has been motivated not by democratic enlightenment but personal spite and greed, reinforces the notion that not only is Turkey not ready for Europe, but it never will be. Within Turkey, demography favors the conservative, Islamist-leaning followers of Erdoğan. Both Erdoğan and Gülen’s recent behavior show that real democratic culture has not accompanied the much-heralded reforms implemented by Erdoğan.

No matter who comes out in Turkey’s political struggle, it is time once and for all to put to rest the idea that Turkey will ever join Europe, nor should it. Enabling Turkish membership into the European Union would at this point be little different in effect than allowing Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, or Libyan accession. Policy must be based on reality, not wishful thinking. Erdoğan should go down in history as the man that ruined Turkey’s decade-long dream.

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Did Putin Outsmart Ukraine’s Protesters?

Der Spiegel opens its piece on how Vladimir Putin “outfoxed” Western powers in 2013 with a seemingly curious but in fact quite revealing scene. Putin and Patriarch Kirill are at a ceremony celebrating Russian nationalism when the country’s religious leader honors Putin with a certificate and the following praise: “We know that you, more than anyone else since the end of the 20th century, are helping Russia become more powerful and regain its old positions, as a country that respects itself and enjoys the respect of all others.”

National self-respect may or may not be as important to the Russian people as the patriarch suggested, but he certainly knew just what Putin wanted to hear. Yet because of the role Putin’s ego plays in formulating policy, it’s just as important at times to know what he doesn’t want to hear. It may have come across as petty when President Obama added insult to injury by avoiding a conference in Russia and dismissing Putin as having “that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But the president was speaking Putin’s language. Case in point: the New York Times reported on Putin’s reaction to the comment, which he seemed to take far more personally than Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to St. Petersburg.

The more Russia struggles domestically the more effort Putin appears to expend to burnish Russia’s image as a great power. The bored schoolboy taunt threatened to turn Putin’s carefully crafted image against him: the stoic, detached leader with a casual air of superiority and boredom suddenly looks like the lonely misfit. And Obama has now done it again. Following the French and German presidents’ announcements that they will not attend the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Obama was widely expected to abstain from joining the American delegation as well. But the president’s choice for the delegation’s roster is somewhat inspired:

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Der Spiegel opens its piece on how Vladimir Putin “outfoxed” Western powers in 2013 with a seemingly curious but in fact quite revealing scene. Putin and Patriarch Kirill are at a ceremony celebrating Russian nationalism when the country’s religious leader honors Putin with a certificate and the following praise: “We know that you, more than anyone else since the end of the 20th century, are helping Russia become more powerful and regain its old positions, as a country that respects itself and enjoys the respect of all others.”

National self-respect may or may not be as important to the Russian people as the patriarch suggested, but he certainly knew just what Putin wanted to hear. Yet because of the role Putin’s ego plays in formulating policy, it’s just as important at times to know what he doesn’t want to hear. It may have come across as petty when President Obama added insult to injury by avoiding a conference in Russia and dismissing Putin as having “that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” But the president was speaking Putin’s language. Case in point: the New York Times reported on Putin’s reaction to the comment, which he seemed to take far more personally than Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to St. Petersburg.

The more Russia struggles domestically the more effort Putin appears to expend to burnish Russia’s image as a great power. The bored schoolboy taunt threatened to turn Putin’s carefully crafted image against him: the stoic, detached leader with a casual air of superiority and boredom suddenly looks like the lonely misfit. And Obama has now done it again. Following the French and German presidents’ announcements that they will not attend the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, Obama was widely expected to abstain from joining the American delegation as well. But the president’s choice for the delegation’s roster is somewhat inspired:

The United States’ delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia won’t include a member of President Barack Obama’s family or an active cabinet secretary, but it will include openly gay athletes – a clear jab at Russia’s recent anti-gay laws.

Billie Jean King, the tennis legend, will join figure skater Brian Boitano at the games’ opening ceremonies on February 7, the White House said Tuesday.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House aide Rob Nabors and the U.S. ambassador to Russia will round out the delegation to the Sochi games.

King was one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay in the 1980s.

Two weeks later, a group led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will attend the closing ceremony. Speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, as well as openly gay hockey player Caitlin Cahow, will also attend.

Of course, it shouldn’t be insulting to send gay athletes to the Olympics, but Putin has created a situation in which it makes a statement. Not only has the Russian government made it dangerous to be openly gay in Russia, but the Duma’s anti-gay-propaganda law was explicitly designed to equate homosexuality with pedophilia in spirit and, to a certain extent, in law.

Yet Putin seems to have outmaneuvered the pro-Western elements in his neighborhood once again. Kiev has been swamped with a vigorous protest movement ever since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with the European Union a week before the two sides were expected to seal the deal. It was widely understood that Yanukovych had buckled to pressure from Moscow.

Yanukovych appeared to have misplayed his hand, because the EU deal gave Ukrainians an opening to protest against the government itself. Yanukovych was backed into a corner, caught between East and West and with the protesters demanding far more than a trade deal; they wanted resignations and they wanted justice for police violence against them. Putin, however, saw this as an instance in which the protesters themselves overreached. And he may be right:

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said that Russia would come to the rescue of its financially troubled neighbor, providing $15 billion in loans and a steep discount on natural gas prices.

The announcement seemed to have a deflating effect on the protesters, a tired and haggard group after spending more than three weeks encamped on Independence Square. A church choir sang. Protest leaders asked for patience as they scrambled to devise a new strategy.

The protests were ignited by the government’s last-minute failure to sign political and free trade accords with Europe, which had been seen as an alternative to the Russian deal. Their demands, though, had expanded to seeking punishment for the police, accused of violently attacking demonstrators, and the resignation of Mr. Azarov, the prime minister.

It’s easy to see why Putin saw the expansion of the protesters’ demands as an opportunity. What Putin wants is for Ukraine to stick with Russia and keep itself separate from the West. When the protesters brought Ukrainian politics to a standstill over the EU deal, it revealed that Putin and Yanukovych’s interests had diverged. Yanukovych could, possibly, keep his job by shifting back in Europe’s direction.

But once the protesters moved beyond the trade deal, Putin understood that the issue–which was all he really cared about–had lost its resonance as a rallying cry for the public. The protesters made it clear that they hated Yanukovych, not that they were dedicated to the free flow of commerce in a globalized trading system. That is a more fundamentally troubling situation for Yanukovych, but it means Putin could bail Ukraine out without sparking any wider outrage.

He may have also been betting that if Ukraine actually inked a deal with Russia, it would weaken the protesters somewhat since the original issue would be off the table and thus they might lose their center of gravity, if not their dissatisfaction with Yanukovych. That appears to be the case. If it is, Putin will indeed have “outfoxed” the West again, and the American Olympic delegation will seem a futile consolation prize for Washington.

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The EU Offers Israel a Raw Deal

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

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“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney’s CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren’t saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

And so it is with the EU’s latest fit of magnanimity, at least with regard to Israel. That’s because the EU has been slowly, but unmistakably, seeking to punish Israel financially for the EU’s policy disagreements with the Israeli government. I wrote about this over the summer, when the EU released new guidelines intended to restrict grant access to Jews who lived in the West Bank or a large part of Jerusalem, the Jews’ eternal capital. The EU had not instituted a full-fledged trade boycott, to be sure. But it’s not clear if that was because EU officials oppose such a morally repugnant policy or because the denial of grants was a way to hurt Jewish Israelis without also damaging European economies. It was no less discriminatory, in other words; just unprincipled.

The EU’s behavior also gives tacit approval to more bigoted forms of boycotts on a continent with rising anti-Semitism. So when the EU says it can offer a major infusion of financial aid to Israel if it signs on the dotted line, it is not only proclaiming its belief that Israel can be bought but also to some degree offsetting the damage it is already trying to do to Israel’s economy. Perhaps in Brussels an offer of unprecedented financial aid is indistinguishable from a shakedown, but Israeli officials can tell the difference.

With regard to aid to the Palestinians, it might end up being more expensive for the EU than officials expect. The Oslo era saw Yitzhak Rabin sign a deal with Yasser Arafat, followed by Benjamin Netanyahu doing the same, followed by Ehud Barak making a generous offer to Arafat, followed by Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, followed by Ehud Olmert offering Mahmoud Abbas the store, followed by Netanyahu accepting in principle the two-state solution and suggesting even that dividing Jerusalem would be on the table, and then willing to release terrorist murderers just to begin negotiations.

In other words, if you want a peace deal, talk to Ramallah; Jerusalem’s door is always open. So financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is a start–or, rather, a continuation, since they already receive such aid (which Israel fully supports). But all those years of rejection and/or violence in return for Israeli offers of peace should tell the Eurocrats something about the ability to induce the Palestinians to make peace. Each Palestinian rejection was followed by an eventual Israeli offer more generous than the last. The Palestinians have learned that all they have to do is keep saying no and eventually they’ll get whatever they want.

So the EU can offer generous financial aid. The Palestinians in all likelihood will reject the terms, but they won’t forget the EU offered them in the first place. The next time the EU wants to get involved, the offer will be sweeter, and after the Palestinians reject that one the next offer will be sweeter still. By that time, the EU’s financial action against Israel will have increased as well. The EU has begun rolling a snowball downhill. Good luck stopping it.

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Did Yanukovych Relent? Does it Matter?

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

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EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton made news today by declaring that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to finally sign a free-trade agreement with the European Union after weeks of protests. It’s unclear, however, if Yanukovych can end the standoff.

If the message was intended to get the protesters to back off, it might not be nearly enough. As the Washington Post reports, “protesters weren’t buying it and spent the day bolstering the five formidable snow and ice barricades that protect their long-running encampment.” No surprise there: Yanukovych has been too fickle to be trusted, having spent years gesturing toward Europe and working toward an agreement only to bail at the eleventh hour. Yet that’s exactly what his government is asking for: trust. As the Post reports:

“This is real, this is absolutely real,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, told the Interfax news agency Thursday, adding that Ukraine might sign on with Europe as early as next spring.

That suggests a long winter ahead for the opposition, which has shown no signs of flagging. “Both sides are playing on time and trying to wear the other side down,” Jan Techau, an analyst with the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, said during a conference call Thursday.

In fact, the climb-down from Yanukovych shows just how much trouble he found himself in when he spurned Europe seemingly for Putin’s Eurasian customs union. To wit: if his agreement to sign with the EU some time next year was intended for Putin as a hardball negotiating tactic, he’s probably not scaring anyone in the Kremlin. Ukraine is heading into the winter now without a deal with either side and in debt, still dependent on Russian gas. Where’s Yanukovych’s leverage with Russia?

If, on the other hand, the pronouncement that he’s ready to deal with Europe was intended for the West in general and the United States in particular to ward off American sanctions, it won’t matter much either. The U.S. raised the issue of sanctions (with the State Department’s Victoria Nuland conspicuously on the ground in Kiev) in response to Yanukovych’s heavyhanded deployment of riot police to attempt to clear the protests. If he wants to avoid sanctions, he should resist the use of force against the opposition. If he doesn’t, vague promises to one day sign a deal with the EU won’t change anybody’s mind.

Similarly, if he was trying to get Ukraine a better deal from the EU, his sudden determination to reopen negotiations reeks of desperation and will most likely be greeted with the reminder that beggars cannot be choosers. One suspects that Yanukovych knows all this, and that the prevailing explanations for Yanukovych’s behavior are just a bit too pat. Maybe it’s not really about Russia, or Europe, or the U.S., or even Ukraine; maybe it’s about Viktor Yanukovych.

Now you’re getting somewhere, says the Kiev-based Andrey Slivka:

With Yanukovych, it’s always best to assume the worst. Ukraine has always been a kleptocracy, but “the family,” as it is known, has raised the thievery to new heights. The President’s older son, Oleksandr, a dentist, has become one of Ukraine’s richest men since the start of his father’s Presidency. Yanukovych himself—an actual ex-con, who did jail time in his youth for robbery and assault—has built himself an estate the size of Monaco on the outskirts of Kiev; access to the area is now restricted. “Raider” attacks, in which regime-connected businessmen deploy extortion to literally steal other people’s businesses, are notorious. Leery of mixing with the population, Yanukovych has taken to helicoptering into work from his estate, landing at a helipad he built in one of Kiev’s lovely riverside parks.

None of independent Ukraine’s earlier Presidents were prizewinners, but Yanukovych has been particularly brazen in his provocations. In addition to the theft, he’s centralized power according to a system that one political scientist has termed “sultanism,” and he has harassed the media. So when the beatings on the Maidan gave Ukrainians an excuse to come out on the streets, the protests turned from a cry against the loss of the “European choice” into something far more visceral: an expression of hatred for Yanukovych and everything he represents—basically, the mean reality of life in a post-Soviet strongman state.

Yanukovych’s decision to spurn Europe wasn’t a betrayal so much as a confirmation. Ukrainians did not think they were being governed by European-style democrat. Yanukovych’s reversal was simply a product of what Ukrainians who didn’t like him already didn’t like about him.

In that light, a new turn back to the EU won’t change much. It may help the country–though if a deal doesn’t happen until mid-2014 at the earliest it will first come at great cost. Yanukovych has misread his country’s mood–as Slivka notes, Kiev’s statue of Lenin survived the Orange Revolution, but didn’t survive this populist outburst. Perhaps Yanukovych will have better luck, but he increasingly can’t count on being thrown a lifeline from abroad.

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Ukraine Between East and West

Thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets over the weekend to protest Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s decision to turn his back on a European Union Association Agreement and instead consider a Russian-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians have struggled for years to win a European Union Association Agreement which, if signed, would eliminate most trade barriers between Ukraine and Europe and provide a big boost to Ukraine’s economy. The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) outlined Russia’s strategic objectives for CNN ahead of last month’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius:

Of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine is perhaps most significant to Russia. Historically, Russia draws its very creation as a state to Ukraine. The two countries share deep historic and cultural ties. For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who once famously declared that Ukraine is not even a state – losing Ukraine would be akin to losing a crucial part of Russia. And Ukraine may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Moldova could also initial an association agreement this month. During a trip to Moldova in September, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that it would be “a grave mistake” for Moldova to seek European integration. Upon concluding his visit, Rogozin threatened to cut Moldova’s gas, on which the landlocked country is entirely dependent. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he reportedly said. The same month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, and for good measure suspended Lithuania’s dairy imports in October, even though Lithuania is already a European Union member. One country has already fallen victim to Putin’s bullying. Armenia, which appeared set to be on a European integration course after concluding in comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union in July, made an abrupt reversal in September and instead joined the Customs Union after a meeting between Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan.

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Thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets over the weekend to protest Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s decision to turn his back on a European Union Association Agreement and instead consider a Russian-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainians have struggled for years to win a European Union Association Agreement which, if signed, would eliminate most trade barriers between Ukraine and Europe and provide a big boost to Ukraine’s economy. The European Foundation for Democracy’s Anna Borshchevskaya (full disclosure: my wife) outlined Russia’s strategic objectives for CNN ahead of last month’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius:

Of all post-Soviet countries, Ukraine is perhaps most significant to Russia. Historically, Russia draws its very creation as a state to Ukraine. The two countries share deep historic and cultural ties. For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who once famously declared that Ukraine is not even a state – losing Ukraine would be akin to losing a crucial part of Russia. And Ukraine may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Moldova could also initial an association agreement this month. During a trip to Moldova in September, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, warned that it would be “a grave mistake” for Moldova to seek European integration. Upon concluding his visit, Rogozin threatened to cut Moldova’s gas, on which the landlocked country is entirely dependent. “We hope that you will not freeze,” he reportedly said. The same month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, and for good measure suspended Lithuania’s dairy imports in October, even though Lithuania is already a European Union member. One country has already fallen victim to Putin’s bullying. Armenia, which appeared set to be on a European integration course after concluding in comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union in July, made an abrupt reversal in September and instead joined the Customs Union after a meeting between Putin and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan.

What did Yanukovich get for his unpopular about-face? About $10 billion, although such funds are more of an accounting issue and a legacy of Ukraine’s decision to allow the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimea.

It’s been a holiday weekend in Washington, but the White House and State Department’s relative silence on Ukraine’s ultimate direction matters. Whether the Obama administration recognizes it or not, the Kremlin is playing a zero-sum game for influence. Putin sees the borders of the former Soviet Union (if not Eastern Europe) as Russia’s “near abroad” and is willing to do anything—political threats, economic leverage or, in the case of Georgia, military force—to ensure that Moscow remains the paramount influence.

In the case of the Ukraine, however, the people clearly see their future more with Europe than tied solely to Russia. It is in the United States’s interests to see European-style liberalism triumph over retrograde Russian-led rejectionism. When the United States does not stand up rhetorically for liberal principles, it only strengthens Russia’s hand and demoralizes those who want something more. There is nothing sophisticated about dictatorships, and the last thing Ukrainians need is the continuance of Chicken Kiev attitudes among our senior statesmen. Ukraine has a choice between East and West. Under tremendous pressure from Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich has chosen East. Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand West. It’s time to stand up for the rightful demands of the Ukrainian people.

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The Proliferating Spheres of Influence

American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

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American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

“I have turned out for revolution because I have understood that the promises of Yanukovich to go into Europe were just pure comedy,” said Anatoly Gurkalyuk, 33, a builder.

That the Putin regime thinks the West has more or less left the playing field on these geopolitical tussles is no secret. In fact, the Russian government likes to emphasize the competition they’ve just “won” to maximize the propaganda value. And so after the major powers signed the accord with Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that as the U.S. recedes from the Middle East, it should take its European missile defense system with it: “If the Iran deal is put into practice, the stated reason for the construction of the defense shield will no longer apply,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov was clearly enjoying the moment, but he actually raises a point of which the Obama administration, as it contemplates America’s new role in the world, would do well to be reminded: the illogic and foolhardy nature of the Obama administration’s compartmentalization of world affairs. It’s this mindset that has convinced the administration they can leave the Middle East behind and “pivot” to Asia. But on the day the deal with Iran was struck, China sent its own message on that score:

China established the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday, and its Defense Ministry said it would take “defensive emergency measures” against unidentified aircraft that enter the zone.

A map and coordinates published Saturday showed the zone covers most of the East China Sea and includes a group of uninhabited islets whose ownership is disputed by China and Japan.

Secretary of State Kerry raised immediate objections to China following Russia’s lead in marking off its own sphere of influence. The Chinese response to Kerry involved a long walk and a short pier:

But Chinese officials dismissed the U.S. comments as unjustified interference.

American criticism of the air zone announcement is “completely unreasonable,” Col. Yang Yujun, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, said Sunday.

The United States should stop taking sides on the issue, cease making “inappropriate remarks” and not send any more “wrong signals” that could lead to a “risky move by Japan,” he said.

The “pivot” to Asia always rested on a shaky foundation. As the Economist explained in 2011 when the pivot was gearing up, Obama saw the Pacific as a refuge from “inherited” troubles (mainly in the Middle East) and a way to chart his own path. He could never fully own the twin fates of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he couldn’t bank on striking an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

So the turn to Asia was perfect. He wouldn’t have to accomplish anything outstanding, just be able to take credit for a new strategic posture. His successors would undoubtedly visit the region often enough, but few would have been pompous enough to pretend that this was some sort of innovation. Obama and his foreign-policy team learned early on that all they had to do was come up with a bumper-sticker phrase or slogan and the media would credulously repeat it as if he had just discovered electricity. (This didn’t always work to the administration’s advantage, as it found out with the “leading from behind” debacle.)

The problem is that Obama looked at the pivot as an escape from conflicts that, in the age of the Internet and transnational political and terrorist networks, don’t stay in their box. More importantly, retreat from the major issues of the day sends the wrong message for any power looking to be respected in the far corners of the globe. So as the U.S. starts backing away from the Middle East, Lavrov reminds them to take their presence in Europe with them, and China practically laughs at the idea that they aren’t entitled to their own sphere of influence, as Russia and Iran seem to be. And then where will the president pivot?

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Euros Don’t Care PA Steals Their Money

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

Merkel, who in many ways functions as the financier of the continent, is not as hostile to Israel as many of her European colleagues. But like everyone else in the EU, she thinks nothing of pouring her people’s money down the rat hole of the PA. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out.

The primary reason is the bigotry of low expectations. Like many of those who form the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders, the Europeans tend to act as if the PA and its people are not capable of responsible behavior. They believe, perhaps not entirely wrongly, that the only way to persuade the Palestinian people to keep Abbas and the corrupt Fatah in power rather than choosing the Islamists of Hamas is to bribe them. They seem to think them incapable of choosing democracy and good government over violence and terrorism.

It may well be that Abbas and Fatah are better than Hamas but the only way to force them to start using the billions that come into their hands from foreign donors on the Palestinian people is to make them accountable. Abbas, who is in the ninth year of the four-year-term as president to which the Palestinians elected him, depends on the European Union for the money that keeps the PA afloat via no show and no work jobs that spread that portion of the wealth that isn’t pocketed by the Fatah elite around the territories. While former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to reform the Ramallah government, he never stood a chance against Fatah.

But instead of trying to stop the PA from abusing their people, Germany and the rest of the EU continues to enable them to go on stealing. That’s something they’d never do the Greeks, who were driven hard to cut back on their profligate government in order to be bailed out of bankruptcy by the Germans.

The Palestinian government will never act in a responsible manner until they are forced to. That’s something that probably most ordinary Palestinians would like to see. But because pressure on the PA would be seen as somehow betraying the Palestinian cause or favorable to Israel (which also needs the PA to function), it never happens in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, Germans who care very much how the Greeks spend their money, continue to act as if the Palestinians can do what they like with it. Blaming the Israelis for all of the Palestinians’ woes is popular but it doesn’t come close to diagnosing the real problem. Until that changes, the PA will continue to be not only corrupt, but also a hotbed of potential violence ready to bubble over.

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EU: What’s Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

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Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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An Israel-EU Peace Process?

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.

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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.

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Hezbollah Feels Unappreciated

Last month, I wrote about one misguided response to the European Union’s decision to blacklist the “military wing” of Hezbollah: the concern by a Mideast analyst that Hezbollah would cease being a “stabilizing” force in Lebanon in a fit of pique. I objected that, first, Hezbollah was not actually a stabilizing force in Lebanon because the article concerned spillover into Lebanon from the war in Syria, a conflagration Hezbollah was actively feeding by fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces and thus Lebanon was absorbing retribution, not provocation.

Second, I criticized the flawed logic that held that appeasing Hezbollah could keep the group from carrying out attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere when that is exactly what Hezbollah has already been doing for decades, because that is the group’s raison d’être. But apparently, though not entirely unsurprisingly, the belief in the power of appeasement is present among media covering the international force tasked with trying to keep the peace (and Hezbollah in check) in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The Financial Times reports that the decision has left “some observers even fearing for the peacekeepers’ safety.” Those “observers” are mostly absent from the report, and UNIFIL commanders deny there’s an issue. So do Hezbollah representatives, but the Financial Times isn’t so sure:

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Last month, I wrote about one misguided response to the European Union’s decision to blacklist the “military wing” of Hezbollah: the concern by a Mideast analyst that Hezbollah would cease being a “stabilizing” force in Lebanon in a fit of pique. I objected that, first, Hezbollah was not actually a stabilizing force in Lebanon because the article concerned spillover into Lebanon from the war in Syria, a conflagration Hezbollah was actively feeding by fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s forces and thus Lebanon was absorbing retribution, not provocation.

Second, I criticized the flawed logic that held that appeasing Hezbollah could keep the group from carrying out attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere when that is exactly what Hezbollah has already been doing for decades, because that is the group’s raison d’être. But apparently, though not entirely unsurprisingly, the belief in the power of appeasement is present among media covering the international force tasked with trying to keep the peace (and Hezbollah in check) in southern Lebanon, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The Financial Times reports that the decision has left “some observers even fearing for the peacekeepers’ safety.” Those “observers” are mostly absent from the report, and UNIFIL commanders deny there’s an issue. So do Hezbollah representatives, but the Financial Times isn’t so sure:

However, even if Hizbollah as an organisation has decided not to turn up the heat on European peacekeepers, villagers angered by the decision might confront a Unifil convoy, Mr Goksel said. And extremist groups known to operate in the south might take advantage of the situation to launch an attack on Unifil, a Lebanese security official said.

The security environment in the south is murky, and two years ago, unknown assailants targeted French and Italian peacekeepers. More than a dozen were wounded by three roadside bombs.

Yes, the security situation there is “murky”–if only there were an international force on the ground to keep things in order! Perhaps there’s money in the UN budget for a peacekeeping force to protect the peacekeeping force from threats the Financial Times says lurk in shadows. Of course, UNIFIL has a history of watching Hezbollah rearm for another potential conflict with Israel, so it well knows who Hezbollah’s weapons are aimed at anyway.

Sitting on the sidelines, however, might be better than what UNIFIL tends to do in times of war. In 2006, UNIFIL posted Israeli troop movements on its website, a helpful guide for Hezbollah to follow if it wanted to know where Israeli reinforcements might turn up. (After the war in 2006, I called a UNIFIL official on the ground in south Lebanon to ask him what they were thinking. He claimed they were only copying what the IDF was doing, but a simple comparison of the two websites debunked the excuse.)

Those who claim that UNIFIL might as well formally take sides against Israel instead of feigning neutrality are usually dismissed as cranks. But actually, that’s how Hezbollah sees it. The Financial Times explains why Hezbollah’s supporters were so disappointed in the EU’s terror designation:

In Hizbollah’s eyes, the foreign troops in the country’s south that were bulked up after the 2006 war are under their protection. Though the peacekeepers are supposed to help the Lebanese army curb Hizbollah’s military activities in the south, their mandate to enforce this is limited. The force, meanwhile, and particularly the Europeans in it, provides Hizbollah with a buffer against future Israeli attacks.

The EU designation has tested Hizbollah’s relationship with Unifil. “We as locals in the south treated the Unifil like sacred guests – we protected them,” says Ali Ahmed Zawi, the pro-Hizbollah mayor of one south Lebanon village. “What do they do in return? Put us on the terrorist list.”

That is an actual quote, though the whole thing reads like a parody. Hezbollah thinks UNIFIL is like a litter of strays taken in by the magnanimous Hassan Nasrallah. In Nasrallah’s mind, the roles are inverted: Hezbollah is the humanitarian relief agency keeping the peace. And this is the thanks he gets!

It’s worth pointing out here that some observers saw all this coming a mile away. As Benny Avni wrote in the New York Sun in October 2006, it took only a couple months for the pessimists’ fears to be confirmed. Here is how he described the concerns of the naysayers who were soon vindicated:

Back then, pessimists said an international force would need to maintain close ties and avoid confrontation with Shiite supporters of Hezbollah if it were to succeed. Consequently, the beefed-up U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon would hinder Israel’s ability to carry pinpoint operations across the border. Hezbollah would gain an ally, while the Israeli army would face a new obstacle.

This was one of what Avni called “worst-case scenarios.” But notice how this went from worst-case scenario to reality to Hezbollah’s revisionist history of the intent and mission of the force. Hezbollah thinks they took UNIFIL under their wing and developed a rapport based on mutual cooperation and appreciation. The problem is not that the EU’s terror designation disrupted that fantasy, but that UNIFIL ever let that fantasy take root in the first place.

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The Gratuitous Nature of EU’s Israel Policy

When the European Union announced new restrictions on its dealings with Israeli entities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, there was some confusion, thanks to the initial reporting by Haaretz, of what the new rules meant in practice. But clearing up the confusion does not seem to have done the EU and its regulations any favors. Yair Rosenberg read through the document and explained that the EU rules did not amount to a full-blown economic boycott of Jews living where the EU doesn’t want Jews to live. That is true enough; I wrote about the new rules and preferred to call them a “move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem,” which it plainly was.

And Wednesday at the Times of Israel, American law professor Eugene Kontorovich made the sensible point that because the new rules don’t restrict trade but rather apply to grants and the like, the regulations won’t harm EU economies the way a trade boycott would. Kontorovich was not writing in defense of the morality of the EU’s discriminatory action; he was simply noting that withholding grants and barring trade are two very different things. Nonetheless, the newfound clarity on the rules should not inspire a sense of relief. If anything, Kontorovich’s explanation of the regulations shows the EU’s policymakers to be not just intent on discriminating against Jews in their current and historic capital but also ignorant of international law even while using their interpretation of such law as the basis for their collective actions:

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When the European Union announced new restrictions on its dealings with Israeli entities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, there was some confusion, thanks to the initial reporting by Haaretz, of what the new rules meant in practice. But clearing up the confusion does not seem to have done the EU and its regulations any favors. Yair Rosenberg read through the document and explained that the EU rules did not amount to a full-blown economic boycott of Jews living where the EU doesn’t want Jews to live. That is true enough; I wrote about the new rules and preferred to call them a “move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem,” which it plainly was.

And Wednesday at the Times of Israel, American law professor Eugene Kontorovich made the sensible point that because the new rules don’t restrict trade but rather apply to grants and the like, the regulations won’t harm EU economies the way a trade boycott would. Kontorovich was not writing in defense of the morality of the EU’s discriminatory action; he was simply noting that withholding grants and barring trade are two very different things. Nonetheless, the newfound clarity on the rules should not inspire a sense of relief. If anything, Kontorovich’s explanation of the regulations shows the EU’s policymakers to be not just intent on discriminating against Jews in their current and historic capital but also ignorant of international law even while using their interpretation of such law as the basis for their collective actions:

The Europeans regard Israel as an occupier in the West Bank, despite the illegitimacy of the previous Jordanian presence there. They also see Jewish communities there as violating the Geneva Conventions prohibition on the “occupying power… transferring its civilian population” into the occupied territory, despite the fact that Jews living in the West Bank there were not “transferred” by Israel in any meaning of the word; they just moved themselves.

Set such quibbles aside. Let’s assume the European position on settlements is correct. Even so, international law does not forbid or restrict the operations of private groups based in or operating in the West Bank. International law prohibits governments from “transferring” settlers to occupied territory; it does not make the settlers themselves illegal, international lepers, or legitimate objects of discrimination. It does not prohibit business from operating in occupied territory, or require the denial of services to “transferees” and their descendants. Such a broad reading of international rules finds absolutely no support in the treatment of any other occupation. Indeed, in an important recent decision concerning a company involved in building the Jerusalem light rail, a high-level French court held that international law does not restrict companies from doing business across the Green Line, or even working on Israeli government-funded projects.

The EU, Kontorovich notes, doesn’t apply this standard even to territorial disputes involving European countries. So it can’t really be about international law, since the EU only wants to apply this standard to Israel. What else could it be? Kontorovich provides a clue when he writes of another aspect of the EU rules that undercuts the argument it is about enforcing international law. The EU rules apparently contain a carve-out for those groups determined to be consistent with EU peace process policy:

Moreover, the guidelines contain a massive exception that undermines the notion that this is about international law rather than EU foreign policy. Article 15 exempts groups that “promot[e] the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy.” Either the Geneva Conventions and related rules prevent Israelis from having anything to do with the West Bank or they do not – but they certainly do not contain a “things the EU likes” exception. The exemption reveals the true purpose of the rules: to promote European foreign policy, not to vindicate international law. Indeed, the essence of the rule of law is about applying general rules to similar cases, regardless of one’s sympathies. The application of unique rules to Jewish State is the opposite of lawful.

This is about EU foreign policy, not international law. And that is what makes it so distressing. The EU’s exclusionary and discriminatory actions against Jews in the Middle East are not an unfortunate step compelled by laws and norms; they simply want to do it. From time to time the EU will attempt to portray its actions as upholding justice and the law. But that is manifestly untrue, as is any claim the EU is acting in its own self-interest. EU leaders are following their hearts, and their hearts are telling them to take a swing at Israelis from time to time, just to remind them who their true friends are–and who they aren’t.

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No, Hezbollah Isn’t a “Stabilizing” Force

Although last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria against Jewish tourists served to renew the pressure on the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the civil war in Syria seemed all along to be a more significant catalyst for EU action. European countries had been pressing the U.S. for more assistance to the Syrian rebels while the U.S. had been pressing European officials to blacklist Hezbollah. Both efforts had some success: the EU blacklisted Hezbollah’s “military wing,” while the Obama administration has signaled it will increase help to the rebels.

Hezbollah has been fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad, and the West’s desire to see the fall of the house of Assad convinced both the EU and the U.S. to take steps toward that end. But in an essay at Foreign Policy’s website, RAND analyst Julie Taylor makes an unconventional–and, in the end, terribly unconvincing–argument: leave Hezbollah alone, because you won’t like them when they’re angry. Taylor’s case rests on the idea that Hezbollah is showing restraint and maintaining a precarious, mostly nonviolent, state of affairs within Lebanon. Push them too far, and they’ll be tempted to show their strength, Hezbollah-style:

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Although last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria against Jewish tourists served to renew the pressure on the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the civil war in Syria seemed all along to be a more significant catalyst for EU action. European countries had been pressing the U.S. for more assistance to the Syrian rebels while the U.S. had been pressing European officials to blacklist Hezbollah. Both efforts had some success: the EU blacklisted Hezbollah’s “military wing,” while the Obama administration has signaled it will increase help to the rebels.

Hezbollah has been fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad, and the West’s desire to see the fall of the house of Assad convinced both the EU and the U.S. to take steps toward that end. But in an essay at Foreign Policy’s website, RAND analyst Julie Taylor makes an unconventional–and, in the end, terribly unconvincing–argument: leave Hezbollah alone, because you won’t like them when they’re angry. Taylor’s case rests on the idea that Hezbollah is showing restraint and maintaining a precarious, mostly nonviolent, state of affairs within Lebanon. Push them too far, and they’ll be tempted to show their strength, Hezbollah-style:

Between the continued bloodshed in Syria and the military takeover in Egypt, it might be easy to overlook recent events in Lebanon. But Middle East watchers need to keep a sharp eye on the current turmoil in Lebanon because spillover from Syria could cause the security situation to flame up quickly into a full-scale sectarian civil war. Several stabilizing factors have kept the situation in Lebanon from escalating out of control, one of these being Hezbollah’s resistance to being drawn into conflict with other Lebanese. However, recent attacks on Hezbollah interests, coupled with the EU’s decision this week to blacklist the organization, are backing Hezbollah into a corner. Feeling its position in Lebanon to be under threat, the organization may change course, and decide to take up the fight against its domestic rivals. 

It should be clear why Taylor’s argument is at a disadvantage right off the bat. Taylor’s line of reasoning is based on speculation of what Hezbollah might do, while the U.S. and EU have based their actions against Hezbollah on what the terror group has already done. It doesn’t make much sense to fret that Hezbollah might get violent when this entire scenario is plausible because of the violence Hezbollah has recently been engaged in.

It’s not like Hezbollah is the victim of a witch hunt in Europe. The group has been implicated in terrorist attacks on the continent, and the EU is simply attempting to take modest steps to defend its soil. Of course, Taylor is specifically concerned with Hezbollah lashing out in Lebanon if pushed out of Europe. But the Europeans can hardly be expected to defenselessly accept and absorb Hezbollah’s murderous pursuits in the hopes that the terror group gets it out of their system by killing Europeans and feels no need to kill (more) Lebanese.

And Hezbollah, as Taylor concedes in the article, is not exactly a bystander to violence in the region right now. Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Assad’s forces is widely credited with helping Assad’s forces turn the tide and gain back the momentum by winning crucial battles. Hezbollah is therefore doing its part to keep the war in Syria going and to help Assad believe he doesn’t need to surrender or accept a negotiated exit. It is that violence that is spilling over the border into Lebanon, and it is violence that is fueled by Hezbollah itself.

As Taylor writes:

Lebanese territory is increasingly becoming an extension of the Syrian battle zone: the Syrian army is firing on villages along the border and the FSA is firing rockets into Shiite areas, including Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut. There are inter-communal kidnappings both for profit and revenge for actions occurring in Syria. Assassinations, especially of Hezbollah members and Assad supporters, have become commonplace.

Need it even be said that the EU’s watered-down blacklisting is not to blame for this? Elsewhere, Taylor says that the war could provoke renewed fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. But Israel has already blacklisted Hezbollah, and that certainly didn’t stop the terror group from touching off the Second Lebanon War against Israel in 2006. The plain fact is, Hezbollah commits terrorism because it is a terrorist group. It will always attempt to justify its actions, and Western countries should not fall into the easy trap of pretending Hezbollah won’t find a casus belli if it decides it needs one.

Finally, there is another benefit of the EU’s decision to restrict Hezbollah’s operations in Europe. As Herb Keinon reports in the Jerusalem Post, in order to enforce its blacklisting of Hezbollah, European countries are now receiving the necessary intelligence briefings from Israel. That means countries such as Germany, France, and Spain are now improving their antiterrorism capabilities. Though Britain already worked with Israel in that capacity, any weak link in the EU would threaten the rest of the continent. They are now better prepared to protect their citizens thanks to “backing Hezbollah into a corner,” where they belong.

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EU’s Moral Confusion on Terrorism

Today, the European Union decided to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terror list. This is a welcome, if belated, step, given that it took the EU a whole year after Hezbollah conducted a murderous operation on European soil to take action.

It is also a sign of the moral confusion reigning over EU Middle East foreign policy.

You will be shocked to know that a Google search for “red brigades” and “armed wing” will not yield much. Same for “IRA” and “armed wing.” Or Baader-Mainhof group and the same. Can you imagine, for example, a 1979 headline from an Italian daily announcing that the European Economic Community (the precursor to the European Union) had finally deliberated, a year after the Italian Red Brigades had kidnapped and murdered a former prime minister, that only their armed wing deserved to be called a terrorist group?

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Today, the European Union decided to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terror list. This is a welcome, if belated, step, given that it took the EU a whole year after Hezbollah conducted a murderous operation on European soil to take action.

It is also a sign of the moral confusion reigning over EU Middle East foreign policy.

You will be shocked to know that a Google search for “red brigades” and “armed wing” will not yield much. Same for “IRA” and “armed wing.” Or Baader-Mainhof group and the same. Can you imagine, for example, a 1979 headline from an Italian daily announcing that the European Economic Community (the precursor to the European Union) had finally deliberated, a year after the Italian Red Brigades had kidnapped and murdered a former prime minister, that only their armed wing deserved to be called a terrorist group?

Granted, the EEC powers were more limited back then. But Europeans never found it as difficult to look at terror organizations and call them by their name. They did not waste time in intellectual contortionism and rhetorical hair splitting about what these organizations were–or what their members engaged in. The IRA, ETA, the Red Brigades, and the entire array of murderous groups from the extreme left and the extreme right of the European political spectrum became terrorists the minute they impugned a weapon and sought to achieve their political goals by murdering their adversaries and occasionally killing civilians indiscriminately. That those who gave the orders may have sat in an elected body, worked as members of a respectable profession, or served as the heads of a charitable foundation mattered little.

It took no great wisdom to see that the hand that held the gun and the mind that guided it were one and the same thing–that there was an inseparable, organic link between the ideologues who provided moral, intellectual, and political justification for violence, which in turn guided the violent executioners’ actions.

Similarly, there is no trace in newspaper clips or court proceedings for an “armed wing” of the mob or an “armed wing” of the drug cartels, which are somehow distinct, in terms of “command responsibility” from the rest of the organization. Mob hit man Giovanni Brusca, one of the Corleone clan’s most ruthless killers, did not somehow belong to the “armed wing” of the mafia, where he killed people unbeknownst to the otherwise charitable dons. The Mexican Zetas certainly have a military wing–more like an army of gruesome murderers–and it is certainly integral to the entire organization and its aims. Whether the Zetas or the mob provide a pension to their family members or send them to good doctors is immaterial to the way we understand these groups, their aims, and their methods. Nor are their business interests somehow classified into “legitimate” and “illegitimate.” Whether it’s drug trafficking or money laundering through art and real estate, we call it criminal, because … well, it is criminal.

But the EU sticks to its own imagined distinction when it comes to radical Islamic groups engaged in terrorist activities. Though you will be hard pressed to find reference to an armed wing of Hezbollah within Hezbollah, such references abound in the Western press. It is a convenient way to avoid having to tackle the problem of Hezbollah–a proxy of the Iranian regime whose ideology justifies the use of violence for political ends and whose entire structure thus serves the purpose of carrying out such violence.

All this, of course, is not to make the perfect the enemy of the good–better sanctions against a legal fiction than no sanctions at all, if the former have more real consequences than the latter.

But longer term, the EU will prove itself yet again ineffectual in the Middle East unless it is prepared to exercise moral clarity and recognize that the “armed wing” of Hezbollah is not a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand does–more like a case of a division of labor within an organization where the military wing executes the vision of its political leadership.

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