Israel Look Out

Europe's Moving In

Great Britain assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union in January. The country's leaders have made it clear that during England's six-months at the helm, it will endeavour to exercise authority on as many national fronts as it can, in line with the consortium of European states' continuing efforts to become a single, unified world power comparable in influence to the US.

In 1991, following the US-led alliance's victory against Saddam Hussein, and while newly independent members of the former USSR were still struggling to assert themselves on the world stage, America moved quickly to consolidate its global supremacy and capitalise on the unprecedented show of multinational unity it had forged.

A "new world order" had come into being, President George Bush declared, which had opened a window of opportunity to, among other things, bring an end to the Arab-Israeli wars. Enormous pressure was brought to bear on the parties to the conflict to meet in Madrid for the Middle East Peace Conference. Purportedly under the auspices of the US and Russia, it has in reality been only America that has played an active role in the subsequent six years of negotiations - a position it has guarded jealously against European efforts to command a greater say.

Today things have changed. If the 1991 Gulf War opened a window for peace-making that almost immediately began to close, the 1997-98 crisis with Iraq is being used to try and push Israel through before it slams shut.

The crisis this time, which has so far failed to erupt into a violent confrontation, has nonetheless introduced a number of factors that appear likely to give the long-stalled process a strong push forward:

It is this last factor that interests us here.

On February 5, the Gulf crisis took Blair to Washington for a solidarity visit with the American leader, whose expressed determination to use force against Saddam if necessary had, until then, virtually isolated him in the world.

"Blair's visit put US-British relations on a new high, both personal and political, and drew praise from the embattled US president," reported The Jerusalem Post.

At a joint news conference with Blair before the Briton left for home, Clinton told a news conference: "We share a common view of the changes that are occurring in the world".

Two days later, Blair's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, began exhibiting a hitherto unseen display of asserted British and EU authority (Cook himself stressed both roles at a news conference on March 9), focusing specifically on the stalled Oslo process.

Responding to the Arab charge of UN double standards, Cook told the House of Commons on February 10 that his country would from now on be "more robust" in ensuring that Israel complied with its commitments under the Oslo Accords. And he made it clear that it was unacceptable for the Israeli government to give in to domestic demands that contradicted the expectations of the international community.

"The Israeli government should be under no illusion that whatever they gain in domestic opinion they lose in international opinion by jeopardising the peace process," he said.

Reuters reported that, in a magazine article published on March 4, "Cook called for increased pressure on Israel, accusing the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of endangering the peace process".

The following day, during his address to the Anglo-Arab Association on the occasion of its 50th anniversary - which means it was founded in the year Israel became independent - Cook, in the words of a Foreign Office official, "re-launched the relationship between Britain and the Arab world".

The foreign secretary reportedly hinted that the EU "was poised to take a more active and interventionist approach" towards dealing with Israel and the PLO, and stated his belief that the parties are incapable of working things out alone.

We go to press as the Briton busies himself with a series of meetings with other European foreign ministers in readiness for his first trip to the Middle East later this month. Between March 15 and 18 he will visit Egypt, Jordan, the PA-controlled areas in Israel, Israel itself, Syria, and Lebanon. Cook will be followed in early April by Prime Minister Blair.

Seemingly oblivious to Britain's disastrous 20th Century foreign policy in this region, and undaunted by the long list of politicians who have seen in the Arab-Israeli conflict the chance to make their mark - and have failed - Blair and Cook are setting their sights determinedly on the Middle East.

Israelis aware of British duplicity towards their country have, undoubtedly, taken note.

For a history of Anglo-Israel relations, see the Digest's June 1997
Backgrounder: The Great British Betrayal

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