The Israel Report
The EC and the Middle EastBy Ovadia Sofer
(March 18) - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat regards the continuation and intensification of the intifada as a means of internationalizing the conflict with Israel and deploying foreign forces in buffer areas between Israel and the Palestinians. In this way Arafat is attempting to cut off the territories from Israel even without reaching agreements with it.
In order to achieve this aim he is taking steps to get the Arab countries on his side, using such well-tried methods as convening Arab summits, in which he is sure of support, at least at the propaganda level, even if such vocal support is not always accompanied by actual deeds.
The promises of material aid that he received in earlier Arab conferences have, until now, been realized to only a negligible extent. In the Arab summit planned to be held in Jordan in two weeks' time, Arafat is making an effort to ensure the support and direct personal involvement of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
However, Arafat knows that it is not enough to achieve pan-Arab support, particularly in light of US opposition to sending international forces to the territories. Arafat is pinning his hopes on the Europeans, whom he regards, if not as certain allies, at least as friends more responsive to the desires of the Palestinians, and who are ready at all times to demand that Israel make concessions of one kind or another to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian propagandists, who perform quite successfully in the European media, are not afraid of reminding the Europeans of the possible damage that could be caused to their economic interests in Arab countries if they ignore Palestinian demands. Arafat is also depending on the European aspiration to fill a more significant role in the peace process.
He makes numerous trips to Europe, during which he makes declarations that the Europeans want to hear, with the intention of taking away from the US the sole handling of the ongoing peace process in the Middle East.
To what extent is Europe ready to realize the objectives set for them by the Palestinians? Examination of the European position, following the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks, indicates a European disillusionment that will make it difficult for Arafat to achieve all the objectives he has set for the Europeans in his overall strategy.
Against the background of the rise of Moslem fundamentalism and fanaticism that has recently become evident in Europe, and the destruction of international cultural values in Afghanistan, there is now increasing awareness in Europe that Palestinian terrorism, joined by the evil forces of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Iranian-controlled Hizbullah, is liable not only to undermine the stability of the Middle East, but also to overflow into Europe and harm it.
The Europeans are not encouraged by the developments in the Balkans, where the European policing forces deployed there have failed to prevent dangerous attacks and penetration by members of the Albanian Moslem militias of the territories of Serbia and Macedonia, that are liable to cause new bloody wars in the southern part of the European continent. The usual assumption is that Europe will not now wish to deploy its own forces in the territories, as demanded by Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
In several countries of the European Community, criticism of and disappointment with the Palestinians is being increasingly heard. It is maintained that they did not know how to exploit the opportunities offered them by former prime minister Ehud Barak's government. Several foreign ministries are rethinking the role of the European Community in the Middle East, and the current thinking is that European support of the Palestinian cause will no longer be automatic.
The Europeans are disappointed by the way in which the financial aid given to the PA is being exploited. Allegations and grave doubts are being aired about the corruption and lack of efficiency regarding the distribution and utilization.
European leaders generally understand and identify with the Israeli demand that Arafat must demonstrate a real desire to put an end to the violence before conditions will be established for renewing negotiations. In this context, doubt is expressed as to whether the PA controls or is capable of halting the violence. However, it is accepted by the Europeans that the PA will be judged by its readiness to renew security cooperation with Israel with the intention of, as in the past, preventing terrorism against Israel from the territories it controls.
European leaders find it difficult to interpret Arafat's personality and to understand his objectives. In the meantime, they are united in their demand that Israel alleviate the poor economic condition of the Palestinians and discontinue the policy of sealing off the territories. However, they hold conflicting views about the political steps to be taken, which are influenced not a little by their own interests in the region.
The European Community is attempting to formulate a unified foreign policy that has recently acquired momentum following the appointment of the foreign minister of the community, Javier Solana, a former general-secretary of NATO and former Spanish foreign minister; and of the official responsible for the European Community's foreign policy, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.
Apart from joint declarations unrelated to questions of substance, national considerations have currently prevented the formulation of a unified European Community foreign policy, particularly regarding substantive issues related to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Israel has vital diplomatic and economic interests in Europe that necessitate upgrading our relations with Europe and its leaders. This is imperative, especially in light of the intense Arab and Palestinian propaganda offensives directed toward the European leadership and public opinion.
(The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to France.)
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