Friday, October 1. 2010
EU/ Meet the European Arab Lobby (Part Two)
The Arab road to Washington runs through Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin.
(See Part One first) Israel's Security Fence Is "Illegal"
(See Part One first)
Israel's Security Fence Is "Illegal"
A third continuing theme of the Europeans is that many of the measures that Israel employs to assure its security are excessive and disproportionate if not actual violations of international law. This is how Europe sees Israel's security barrier, its targeted killings of known terrorists, its blockade of Gaza, its campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its settlements in the West Bank. Europeans are constantly urging Washington to restrain Israel.
Israel's security fence against terrorist infiltration, under construction since 2003, has strong support among the Israeli public because the barrier has been effective in preventing suicide attacks. A recent public opinion poll finds that "it is hard to find any issue in Israel about which there is so wide a consensus." When there was no fence, during the first three years after the launch of Arafat's al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, Israel suffered ninety-three suicide attacks that left 447 Israelis dead and 4,343 Israeli civilians wounded. In the most recent four years, since most of the fence has been completed, the number of attacks has declined to fewer than five a year, and the number of Israelis killed by terrorists has averaged fewer than ten per year.
Washington has acknowledged the importance of the barrier for Israel's security but expressed concern about its route wherever it deviates from the pre-1967 line. In the words of President George W. Bush:
The barrier being erected by Israel as a part of its security effort must be a security, rather than political, barrier. And its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities ... It should be temporary rather than permanent, and, therefore, not prejudice any final status issues, including final borders.
The Europeans, on the other hand, have been unanimous and firm in opposing the construction of the fence since its inception. On November 18, 2003, the European Council urged Israel "to stop and reverse the construction of the so-called security fence inside the occupied Palestinian territories, including in and around East Jerusalem, which is in departure of the armistice line of 1949," adding that the fence was not only unacceptable but also "in contradiction to the relevant provisions of international law." On July 20, 2004, all twenty-five members of the European Union voted for a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly, opposed by the United States, demanding the barrier's removal. The European Council reiterated in its "Conclusions" of December 8, 2009, that the "separation barrier where built on occupied land [is] illegal under international law."
Europe affected U.S. policy on the fence by funding a sophisticated PLO diplomatic team, the elite Palestinian unit known as the Negotiation Support Unit of the PLO (NSU), headed by Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat. The NSU is funded by Britain's Department for International Development and has also received financial support from the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. It consists of more than twenty professionals who periodically lobby Washington policymakers on behalf of the PLO with the participation of Palestinian advisers including Diana Buttu (Canadian-Palestinian), Michael Tarazi (American-Palestinian), Omar Dajani, and Amjad Atallah. A high point in the work of the NSU was a dramatic PowerPoint presentation on Israel's security fence given to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice by the NSU's Stephanie Koury (a Lebanese American from Texas) during a visit to the West Bank on June 28, 2003. Hours later, Rice shocked and angered members of the Israeli cabinet when she asked them to "reconsider" the fence. Koury's presentation caused the Bush administration to become much more critical of the security fence. A few days after the Koury briefing, an AIPAC colleague and I met with Rice privately and heard an unfiltered expression of her reaction to Koury. Three weeks later, the NSU team flew to Washington to make the presentation to other U.S. officials and members of Congress. Rice's anger over the fence was the low point of relations between Washington and Jerusalem during the George W. Bush years, and Palestinian lobbying funded by the Europeans achieved it.
Israel's Targeted Killing of Terrorists Is "Illegal"
Israel follows a policy of targeted killings of terrorists who are preparing specific acts of violence or operationally engaged in organizing, planning, financing, and arming such operations. The purpose is to prevent imminent attacks when Israel does not have the means to make an arrest or foil the attacks by other methods. Israeli security officials believe that this policy keeps potential bomb makers on the run and serves as a deterrent to militant terrorist operations. Israelis also believe that targeted killings have less impact on Palestinian non-combatants than would a military incursion into a Palestinian population center aimed at their capture. On December 13, 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that targeted killing was a legitimate form of self-defense against terrorists within specified rules of conduct. The Israeli public strongly supports the policy of targeted killing: 90 percent in one poll, 75 percent in another.
U.S. State Department spokespersons have at times expressed disagreement with the Israeli policy of targeted killings, for example, on August 8, 2001, November 5, 2002, and April 17, 2004. In reality, Washington accepts the Israeli policy as long as it seeks to neutralize imminent threats. The United States itself has become the world's leading practitioner of targeted killings according to a recent report by the U.N.'s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. The George W. Bush administration used drones to attack militant targets forty-five times. The Obama administration has increased the attacks to fifty-three in 2009 and to thirty-nine in the first half of 2010 in Pakistan alone, according to the New America Foundation, which also found that drone strikes since Obama took office had accounted for approximately 450 deaths, about one-quarter of them civilians. Michael E. Leiter, head of Obama's National Counterterrorism Center, defended the policy on July 1, 2010, saying that it would be "wholly irresponsible" not to stop those plotting to harm Americans. Like the Israeli public, majorities of Americans support targeted killings of terrorists.
But the Europeans have shown less tolerance than do Americans for the Israeli policy. On December 13, 2002, the European Council called upon Israel "to stop excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings, which do not bring security to the Israeli population." On November 18, 2003, the council said targeted killings were unlawful and urged Israel "to abstain from any punitive measures which are not in accordance with international law, including extrajudicial killings and destruction of houses." On January 17, 2004, EU spokesman Diego Ojeda said that the "European Union has spoken on several occasions against [Israel's] so-called extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists." In February 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy declared France's "irrevocable condemnation of what is nothing less than an assassination" by Israeli agents of a Hamas commander in Dubai. In December 2007, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights produced a harshly critical paper on the illegality of "extrajudicial execution" by Israel, a publication "produced with the assistance of the European Union."
There is an element of hypocrisy in the European claim that Israel's use of targeted killings is unlawful because some of the European governments that approve these statements engage in the practice themselves. In July 2010, a British official revealed that a U.K. spy agency pinpoints the hiding places of al-Qaeda and Taliban chiefs in Afghanistan and Pakistan for targeted killings by U.S. drones. British agents attempted to kill German field marshal Irwin Rommel during the North African campaignand did kill SS Obergurppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. In May 1987, in Loughgall, Northern Ireland, a British special operations unit killed eight Irish Republican Army (IRA) militants who were preparing to attack a police station. A year later, on March 7, 1988, British security forces killed three IRA militants in Gibraltar as they walked toward the border with Spain. In July 2010, the French government acknowledged that its security forces assisted in killing six terrorists in Mali linked to al-Qaeda to prevent a terrorist attack in Mauritania.
Israel's Blockade of Gaza Is "Illegal"
On May 31, 2010, French ambassador Gérard Araud told the U.N. Security Council that Israel's blockade of Gaza is illegal and unsustainable and should be lifted. Araud added that Israel's use of force against the Turkish flotilla was unjustifiable and disproportionate. British prime minister David Cameron agreed: "The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable ... Gaza must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." Meanwhile Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that the blockade of Gaza was "unacceptable and unsustainable." The British ambassador to the U.N. demanded that Israeli restrictions on access to Gaza be lifted to allow unfettered access and the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and persons to and from the enclave, which, he said, was among the highest international priorities of the new British government. Former EU commissioner Patten argued that the Israeli blockade was "immoral, illegal, and ineffective."
Here again the European position is hypocritical. From 1993 to 1996, twelve European navies participated in a NATO-Western European Union blockade known as "Sharp Guard," enforcing both an arms embargo and economic sanctions on the former Yugoslavia. This involved the navies of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. Some 74,000 ships were challenged; almost 6,000 were inspected at sea, and more than 1,400 were diverted and inspected in port. Had there been violent resistance to this blockade, all the parties enforcing it were committed to the use of force. The fact that no one dared to challenge this powerful blockade prevented violence from occurring, not any principled objection to the use of force. Nonetheless, the Europeans at the U.N. Security Council continue to put Israel on the defensive about its Gaza blockade, making it more difficult for Washington to support Israel's right to self-defense under article 51 of the United Nations charter.
The Europeans evidenced a similar attitude in July 2006 when Israel went into Lebanon in response to Hezbollah attacks. An agreed statement by the EU presidency stated, "The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel." French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy agreed that Israel's strikes were "a disproportionate act of war" and said that the French government supported "Lebanon's demand for a referral to the United Nations Security Council as soon as possible."
Israeli Settlements Are "Illegal"
President Ronald Reagan said in 1981 that Israel's settlements were "ill-advised," "unnecessarily provocative," and "an obstacle to peace," but he also said that they were "not illegal." This distinction has been the implicit policy of all successive U.S. administrations since Reagan. The George W. Bush administration added a further distinction between settlement blocs on territory that the Palestinians are expected to cede to Israel in a land swap in future negotiations (as Arafat agreed as part of the Clinton parameters negotiated at Camp David in 2000), versus isolated settlements deeper in the West Bank interior on land expected to fall under eventual Palestinian sovereignty. President Bush considered that the settlements in the West Bank interior were more problematic while the blocs on land to be swapped could be accommodated. Barack Obama apparently has rejected these Bush refinements, and his administration seems to consider all Israeli settlements equally problematic. But even Obama has not returned to the pre-Reagan assertion that the Israeli settlements are illegal.
However, on this issue, again Europe is closer to the Arab side and is more critical of Israel than the United States is. On June 13, 1980, the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU, affirmed in its Venice declaration that "these settlements, as well as modifications in population and property in the occupied Arab territories, are illegal under international law." On December 8, 2009, the EU Council reiterated this belief: "Settlements ... demolition of homes and evictions are illegal under international law."
The juridical premise on which the European policy is based is that Israel is occupying land taken from another sovereign power. But the pre-1967 boundary was nothing more than a demarcation of the positions held by opposing armies when the fighting stopped in 1949, never recognized by either side as a permanent political border. Nor has the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank prior to 1967 been recognized by any country apart from Britain and Pakistan. The West Bank is disputed rather than occupied territory, so the Geneva Convention cannot be applied as the Europeans seek to do. The Europeans are reifying a temporary holding line that existed for less than eighteen years (1949-67) while ignoring realities that have lasted for twice as long (1967-2010).
For Israelis, more important than an arcane legal dispute is the practical impact of declaring all Jewish communities across the pre-1967 line to be equally illegal. That statement, if true, would mean that more than half the Jews in Jerusalem, the nation's capital, are living unlawfully on somebody else's land in homes the Israelis built and paid for in completely Jewish, established communities including Gilo, French Hill, and Pisgat Ze'ev, which are across the previous armistice line. Israelis do not consider these to be settlements at all. It would mean that Maale Adumim, a sprawling metropolis of 36,500 people, is lumped together with nearly unpopulated dots on the map. It would also mean that the militarily indefensible pre-1967 line is recognized under international law as permanent, in contravention of a fact that was implicitly acknowledged by Security Council Resolution 242, which envisaged Israel's retention of some territories captured in the 1967 war.
European intervention often inflames controversies over settlements between Washington and Jerusalem, frictions that have had a particularly destructive effect in the case of the Obama administration. Martin Indyk, an adviser to Obama's secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell, said recently: "I don't think that ... Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton or George Mitchell—want to get waylaid again by an argument about settlements [instead of] the main challenge which is to reach an agreement on what the borders of the Palestinian state will be ... The settlement issue will be resolved as a result of that." European pressure has pushed the Obama administration to emphasize the thorniest part of the settlement issue, Jewish housing in Jerusalem. Bill Clinton wisely avoided this minefield even when, in 1995, the Yitzhak Rabin government gave approval for 5,000 new housing units to go up in East Jerusalem because, as an adviser said, "To take action now ... would be very explosive in the negotiations, and frankly, would put us out of business as a facilitator of those negotiations."
European leaders are the most effective external force urging the U.S. government to move away from Israel and closer to the Arabs. Europe is not hostile to Israel on every issue, and not every European intervention with U.S. officials is meant to move U.S. policy in the Arab direction. But, on the whole, the Arab road to Washington runs through Paris, London, and Berlin.
Steven J. Rosen served for twenty-three years as a senior official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is now director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.
 "Arab Americans," US4Arabs.com, accessed Aug. 16, 2010; "Arab Americans," Arab American Institute, accessed Aug. 16, 2010.
 "Arab Americans," US4Arabs.com, accessed Aug. 16, 2010; "Arab Americans," Arab American Institute, accessed Aug. 16, 2010.