Many American Jews, understandably, think of Israeli foreign relations as focused almost exclusively on the United States.
It’s true that Washington remains Jerusalem’s most vital and strategic ally, but the fact is that the European Union, made up of 28 countries, is Israel’s largest trading partner and of great political and diplomatic importance as well. So when the EU voted last week to formalize and make explicit its position to cut off funding for all Israeli activities beyond the 1967 borders —part of its belief that the settlements are the virtually exclusive cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict — it was a serious and deeply offensive blow, with major financial repercussions if it affects future trade agreements.
How can the EU maintain a role encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down and negotiate a peace deal directly when it has already reached its own conclusion that Israel’s borders are restricted to pre-June 1967? That means the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, is no longer Israel’s. Why should the Palestinians be forthcoming in terms of compromise if the EU has already made clear where it stands on borders, territory, etc? The move goes against the very core of direct negotiations between the parties themselves, and is mischievous, misdirected and mean-spirited, reinforcing the Palestinian perception that it can make demands of Israel without making commensurate concessions, and the Israeli belief that the diplomatic cards are stacked against them from the outset.
The EU decision infantilizes the Palestinians, excusing them of responsibility, while at the same time expressing a readiness to support a sovereign Palestinian state with no indication that it will function democratically. This simply defies logic.
The good news from the EU this week, and surely linked in terms of timing to ease the blow of the anti-settlement measure, was the unanimous vote to formally place the “military wing” of Hezbollah on the EU list of terrorist entities. Putting aside for a moment the false notion that Hezbollah is made up of distinctly separate wings — the others being “political” and “social,” and still able to receive EU funding — the decision marks a victory for Israel and the American Jewish organizations long advocating for such a judgment.
The American Jewish Committee played a leading role in this effort over the years, and its executive director, David Harris, applauded the decision “and the spotlight it shines on Hezbollah terrorist activity.”
He and others noted that the turning point for the EU to act came after Hezbollah carried out a bus bombing a year ago in Bulgaria, an EU member nation, killing five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver. There had been recognition that the Iran-sponsored terror group carried out its work globally, but the message hit home when an EU member country was targeted.
Another impetus for the EU vote is the fact that Hezbollah has become increasingly active, and public, in its full support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, fighting along with government troops in a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people. The EU is on record in calling for Assad’s defeat and removal.
The next step is to end the false distinction among Hezbollah’s various wings, and press the EU to ban engagement with or support for any part of the group, and to place it in its entirety on its list of terror organizations. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the step in the right direction this week.
American Jews sometimes react dismissively to the actions of Europeans, with their marked bias toward the Palestinians and pockets of anti-Semitism. Israelis, by contrast, are more pragmatic. The EU countries are their neighbors — far less hostile than the Arab states nearby — and trading partners. Perhaps the latest effort to revive the Mideast peace talks will underscore Israel’s willingness to achieve a two-state solution, and convince the EU to support those who call for and embody peaceful democracy rather than those who resist it.