The European Obsession with Settlements

February 1, 2013 1:25 am 1 comment

The security fence near Jerusalem. Photo: Jacob Rask.

When AJC opened its Berlin office in 1998, many things were different.

Helmut Kohl was Germany’s chancellor. There were 15 European Union members. The Eurozone was still in the planning stage. King Hussein was Jordan’s monarch. Hosni Mubarak was Egypt’s president. Yasser Arafat was the Palestinian leader. Hafez el-Assad was Syria’s strongman. 9/11 was three years away and the American-led invasion of Iraq five years off.

One thing has not changed. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister in 1998, holds the same office today. While from 1999 to 2009 Netanyahu was out of office, he is widely expected to serve a third term as Israel’s leader after the country’s January 22 elections.

Compared to 1998, Netanyahu faces an even more complex regional picture.

First, Iran now looms as the greatest threat to Israel and Sunni-dominated Arab governments. There is the approaching prospect of Iranian nuclear capability, all the more ominous when combined with the regime’s apocalyptic theology and its oft-stated desire to annihilate Israel.

Second, Israel’s two unilateral gestures – withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 – strengthened the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively. With Iran’s help, both terrorist groups have been building up their military strength.

Third, four successive Israeli leaders – Barak, Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu – have endorsed a two-state deal with the Palestinians. Each tried to reach an accord, but failed. In all four cases, whether under Arafat or his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians refused to go along.

Fourth, the Arab upheaval has created a new dynamic in the region and for Israel. Those who thought the Arab world would follow the model of post-1989 Eastern Europe failed to grasp the deeply-rooted systemic issues and the absence of democratic traditions. Instead, the Islamists have shown impressive strength in Egypt, and the future direction of the Arab world’s largest country is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, Syria, Israel’s neighbor and home to a massive arsenal of chemical weapons, has become a tragic case study in regime brutality and UN inaction.

Fifth, many Israelis have grown more skeptical of the possibility of peace. Some in Europe fail to grasp this essential point. Israelis retain their thirst for peace, but see a regional climate less conducive to achieving it. They remember what happened in Lebanon, as Hezbollah became a state-within-a-state, and in Gaza, as Hamas violently ousted the Palestinian Authority. They recall that, after the Clinton-Barak effort to reach a deal with Arafat, he unleashed a new intifada. And they see Egypt in the throes of change, raising questions about the future of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Maybe elsewhere wishful thinking can be allowed to substitute for reality, but not in Israel, where the stakes could not be higher.

But there is a wide and growing gap between a majority of Israelis and Europe. To listen to European pronouncements, Israeli settlement policy is the nub of the problem, with only occasional references, usually in muted tones, to destructive Palestinian behavior. Not only is this factually flawed, but it also raises profound questions among Israeli policymakers about the way Europe perceives reality.

If Egyptian President Morsi’s repugnant anti-Semitic comments, recorded in 2010 but only now revealed, and if Palestinian President Abbas’s recent praise for Amin el-Husseini, the wartime mufti of Jerusalem and a Nazi ally, do not trigger howls of protest, then Europe and Israel are not just living on different continents, but perhaps planets.

Germany, as always, is central to the equation. Its special link with Israel and its acute sensitivity to the dangers the Jewish state faces, coupled with its leadership role in the EU, place it in a unique position. While Berlin has made no secret of its unhappiness with Israeli settlements, it recognizes there are larger issues at work, and settlements, however controversial, are not the root cause of the conflict. Rather, it is Israel’s very right to exist as an expression of Jewish sovereignty.

That is also the position of the U.S. Much has been made of the differences between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but such tension has arisen in every administration. No two countries, even the best of allies—as America and Israel are—have identical interests. Yet that tension has never defined the overall bilateral relationship. Indeed, cooperation today between Washington and Jerusalem has never been closer, and that will continue.

Much has changed since AJC established its Berlin office in 1998. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Middle East, not all of the change has been for the better.

David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). This article was originally published by Der Tagesspiegel.

1 Comment

  • Only for Hezbollah Israel would be still occupying Lebanon up to the Litani river. That is their strategic aim and why they want to get rid of Lebanese resistance

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.