Can Europe’s Leaders Halt the Obsession With Attacking Israel?
by Gerald Steinberg
Much of the Middle East is burning, but official Europe remains fixated on Israel. In Brussels, Stockholm, the Hague, Copenhagen, and London, the mythologies of the 1970s remain unchallenged, perhaps because dealing with the real threats to Europe from the chaotic Middle East reality – ISIS, Syria, desperate refugees, Iran, etc. – is overwhelming. So instead of focusing on critical issues, European Union officials are preparing to escalate their war on Israel through laws requiring the labeling of products produced in the non-existent “Palestinian Occupied Territories.”
This obsession is advanced by the activities of senior European officials, such as John Gatt-Rutter, who is finishing a four year term as the European Union’s Ambassador to the West Bank, Gaza, and UNRWA (the UN refugee agency that has perpetuated the Mideast conflict and anti-Israel hatred for more than 65 years). A veteran Arabist from Malta, Gatt-Rutter had previously headed the EU’s Mashraq/Maghreb (MaMa) policy group, and advised ex-EU foreign policy head Javier Solana on the Middle East Peace Process.
During his tenure, Gatt-Rutter reinforced the prevailing European mythologies while funds for anti-peace and anti-Israel NGOs continued to flow. His lengthy article published in the Palestine-Israel Journal (2015), optimistically entitled “The European Union’s Role in Facilitating a Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” is a reflection of his policies, beliefs, and actions over the past four years.
This article, like his public statements and recent media interviews, repeats many standard catch-phrases – the obstacles to peace are again blamed on “the Israeli occupation” and “illegal settlements.” Not surprisingly, he fails to devote a single word to the chaos and violence throughout the Middle East – as if the brutality of ISIS, the Syrian civil war, Iran, and Hezbollah do not exist. His artificial map is restricted to the small area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
In this fictional world, Israel is all-powerful, and Palestinians are portrayed as victims incapable of taking responsibility. He patronizingly chides them for internal disputes and lack of unity, noting that they “would be well advised to restore their national and democratic project through holding elections.” But Gatt-Rutter skirts the abject failure of the EU’s efforts to promote democratic institution building in the West Bank, or the fact that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in the tenth year of the four year term to which he was elected in 2005.
Furthermore, the departing EU ambassador to the Palestinians strikingly ignores the many brutal terror attacks that took place while he was in the Jerusalem office: not a word about the Har Nof Synagogue massacre or the murder of the Fogel family.
In contrast, and following the usual pattern, Gatt-Rutter devotes considerable attention to suffering in Gaza, and recounts the “destruction I saw driving through Shuja’iyya.” But he did not see or mention any hint of the thousands of Hamas “fighters,” terror tunnels, or the 4,563 rockets and mortar shells launched from Gaza houses, mosques, hospitals, and schools at Israeli civilians – every one a war crime.
Gatt-Rutter also makes no mention of the drum-beat of Palestinian incitement that legitimizes the violence, including videos of hate and ceremonies that honor terrorist “martyrs.” And although he has been the top European official responsible for overseeing the massive budget with which taxpayers subsidize UNRWA, including its notorious spokesman, Chris Gunness, this organization and its failures are absent from his overview.
Under Gatt-Rutter, the EU increasingly engaged in illegal building projects that created significant environmental damage. Avoiding any pretense of objectivity, he condemns Israel for the “demolitions of Palestinian property” that have, in his view, “poisoned the atmosphere and destroyed trust.” Responding to the Israeli efforts to enforce the law, he boasts that “the international community, with the European Union at the forefront has stepped in” to stop this illegal activity.
Similarly, he was a leading proponent of European promotion of boycotts and product labeling – the soft and socially acceptable part of the anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic BDS campaign, closely matching the activities of fringe NGOs. This policy has exacerbated Israeli-European tensions, adding to the distrust that many Israelis have of the EU.
In his parting shot, Gatt-Rutter launches his own threats against Israel. He calls for “taking further measures to strengthen respect for international law,” meaning expanded lawfare cases, which are largely funded by the EU through NGO allies. His call for expanded economic warfare (also promoted by NGOs) is expressed as “ensuring compliance with legislation covering preferential treatment in the area of trade; restrictions on the use of funding for the benefit of settlements; advice to businesses and investors working in settlements; and settlement product labeling.”
These measures, readers are told, “could make a meaningful contribution in favor of a peace agreement,” and help “to re-balance Israeli-Palestinian negotiating positions within the Middle East peace process.”
But Gatt-Rutter is wrong, as his four year record demonstrates. If the EU extends the confrontational measures he and others have advocated, there is no evidence to suggest that they will have a positive impact, but rather the opposite.
Indeed, the most important conclusion based on Gatt-Rutter term as the EU’s representative to the Palestinians is the need for a new approach. In appointing Gatt-Rutter’s successor, Frederica Mogherini – the EU’s current foreign policy czar – has an opportunity to move away from the myths, paternalism, and obsessive confrontations with Israel, and to launch a positive approach.
Gerald Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and President of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.