Does Europe Really Want Peace Between Israel and the Palestinians?

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the European Council in Brussels on December 11, 2017. Eric Vidal/AFP/Getty

Does Europe really want peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

It is a provocative question but one which must be asked in light of the European Union's policies toward the conflict, which consistently find fault with Israeli actions while ignoring Palestinian incitement to terror, refusal to rejoin negotiations, and statements against Jews and even against Europe. The EU seems intent on rewarding the Palestinians for every act of intransigence and aggression.

This asymmetry has created a situation in which the vast bulk of Israelis no longer trust the EU to play any diplomatic role, much less that of an honest broker. And the Palestinians feel no compulsion to enter into talks in which they will have to make concessions to gain what they are getting free from Europe.

The reasons for this imbalance are many but difficult to quantify. An often-cited explanation is the rapid growth of Muslim populations in Europe which exert a powerful influence on its foreign policy. More abstract is European guilt over the colonial period in the Middle East and its carving up into artificial states such as Syria. Finally there is the disturbing tendency of some European sectors to subscribe to the Palestinian narrative.

This denies the 3,000-year-long connection of the Jewish people to our homeland—indeed denies that a Jewish people even exist—and instead claims that Europe killed some Jews during the Holocaust and dumped the survivors into Palestine. "Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Jews," Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas recently declared. "Europeans brought the Jews here to preserve their interests in the region."

When asked to denounce these hateful statements, The EU responded by saying that it did not comment on comments but only on measures that change the situation on the ground. This didn't, however, prevent the EU from deploring repeatedly and stridently President Donald Trump's announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, even though the U.S. embassy remains in Tel Aviv. Tellingly, the Europeans refrained from criticizing Abbas's attempts to sidestep the peace process, impose economic sanctions on Israel, and to achieve recognition of Palestinian statehood unilaterally outside of negotiations.

Instead, following Sweden's lead, several European countries announced their intention to recognize the State of Palestine. The purpose, they say, is to jump start the negotiations, but how can talks resume if the Palestinians achieve their outcome without cost? How, with the Palestinians exploiting their state status to sanction Israel in international courts, do these countries expect Israel to react?

Israelis justifiably conclude that Europe has learned nothing from its anti-Semitic past. They note that, out of the 200 territorial disputes in the world, Europe has focused obsessively on one conflict and singled out one party—the Jewish—for censure. The EU is labeling Jewish products from any areas over the 1967 lines, including from the Golan Heights though there are no Palestinians there or a Syria with which to trade territories for peace. The suggestion that the EU could ever mediate fairly between them and the Palestinians is automatically dismissed by almost all Israelis.

This is a tragedy for the Palestinians but also a missed opportunity for Europe. In place of adopting one-sided positions, the EU could strive to be unbiased. Rather than condemning Israel and overlooking Palestinian rejectionism, the EU could assist the Palestinians to build the transparent and stable institutions which are the foundation of any sustainable state. There is definitely a role for Europe in the peace process but only if Europe rises above domestic politics and the imagined obligations of its past and restores its credibility with Israelis.

Unfortunately, the EU shows no signs of making such revisions. After warmly hosting Mahmoud Abbas, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini totally overlooked his recent anti-Semitic and anti-Europe remarks and expressed unequivocal support for a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.

Mogherini further stated the EU's goal of breaking the American monopoly on peace negotiations and entering them as an equal partner. Such an approach is guaranteed to keep Europe permanently and—from Israel's perspective—deservedly irrelevant. Europe undoubtedly does want peace, but why, then, does it do the utmost to delay it?

Michael B. Oren, Israel's former ambassador to the United States, is a Member of Knesset and the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office