Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Rapper B.o.B’s New Song Invoking Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial Has Jewish Group ‘Deeply Troubled’

    Rapper B.o.B’s New Song Invoking Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial Has Jewish Group ‘Deeply Troubled’

    A Jewish human rights organization expressed concern on Wednesday over a new song by a popular US rapper that includes lyrics promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories and cites a Holocaust denier, The Algemeiner has learned. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was responding to Tuesday’s release of B.o.B’s “Flatline,” the lyrics of which include: “But before you try to curve it, do your research on David Irving; Stalin was way worse than Hitler, That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a Kippa.” Irving is a historian who has questioned […]

    Read more →
  • Business Features World-Changing Israeli Technologies Wow at Global Investor Summit

    World-Changing Israeli Technologies Wow at Global Investor Summit

    JNS.org – You’re cruising along the highway. Suddenly, your car starts to sputter, your engine grumbles, and your car comes to a screeching halt. The tow truck drags the car to a local auto mechanic. Damage: $1,000. You have no idea whether or not the mechanic is trying to do one over on you, but you will soon, thanks to a new Israeli innovation. Engie puts the car owner in the driver’s seat by providing a special malfunction reader that simply […]

    Read more →