European Foreign Policy Towards Israel Since 1967
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Published: Wed, 28 Feb 2018
How has European foreign policy been shaped towards Israel since 1967
The major European powers have been closely linked to Israel from its creation for a combination of reasons. For the British, colonial rule in Palestine and its long established presence across the Arab World have helped shape its outlook and left British governments, sometimes reluctantly, with an obligation to maintain some involvement in the region’s politics and conflicts..
Traditional French involvement in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon and Syria has led to similar ties. For Germany, the aftermath of the Holocaust has seen a warming of relations between the two nations, caused in no small fashion by a collective guilt and desire for national atonement. In addition, the geopolitical factors of the Middle East have an impact on the policies of all European nations towards Israel and the Middle East. Accessibility to the regions oil supplies will always influence the policies of industrialised nations towards the region. Spain, for example is another European that has had to include Israel in its foreign policy thinking.
Always in the background of European policy is the influence of the US, a long time ally of both Europe and Israel and major actor in the region. European states have had to make the sometimes difficult decisions as to whether follow the US lead within the Arab-Israeli conflict or toast independently. During the Cold War, Europe was keen to remain allied closely to the US, yet a need to maintain relations with oil producing Arab nations presented them with an on-going dilemma.
Of course the unique characteristics of the Israeli state also impacts upon foreign policymaking towards the region. In essence the conflict can be seen as a seemingly insurmountable conflict over land claimed by two peoples. As Fraser summarises “to the Arabs, Palestine was an Arab land whose soil they had cultivated for generations; as such, it was as entitled to independence as any other Arab country. To the Jews, Israel was a Jewish land that had been their inspiration throughout eighteen centuries of dispersion, dispossession and persecution; as such, its destiny was to be the fulfilment of their dreams of statehood” (p1Fraser TG, The Arab-Israeli Conflict 2004).
For Europeans, understanding the depths of the conflict has always been difficult; making a judgement on which side to offer its support more so.
Within any analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian questions, there will always be differing perceptions that the various parties show favouritism to one side or the other. A common Israeli view is that whilst the US is a generally loyal ally, some Europeans can be pro-Arab or simply anti-Semitic in policy formulation. Arab perceptions of European nations can be entirely different – many will see Europe as simply following the US line in foreign policy whatever the issue. Unravelling the intricacies of influence and favour in the Middle East is a complex task.
European policy makers have had to wrestle with the differences of these two polarised groups for a number of decades. This dissertation will argue that they have ultimately failed to resolve the Arab-Israeli crisis. Policy makers in Europe have largely failed to develop coherent strategy to bring about peace in the region. National self-interest and changing tack through a sense of realpolitik have sometimes been at the root of this, whilst at other times a simple lack of imagination or a willingness to let the US lead on policy in the region has been the cause.
There are other, less concrete, factors in the relationship between Europe and Israel. Whilst the Holocaust has understandably created mistrust of Europe amongst many Israelis, there is a sense in which Europe is perceived as owing a form of ‘moral debt’ to Israel. Chapter two of the dissertation touches upon German atonement for the Holocaust, but an attitude remains in some quarters that Israel somehow deserves a privileged position in its dealing with Europe and the West. Another argument is that Israel and the Israelis have largely turned their back on Europe over the last 60 years. Greilsammer and Weller summarise this view as such “Perfidious Albion is a nation that may now extend to other European states. Politically Israel’s view extends beyond the Atlantic to America” (p2 Greilsammer and Weller, Europe and Israel: Troubled Neighbours).
European public opinion can of course have an effect on policy makers towards Israel. Again, the thoughts of Greilsammer and Weller are interesting here. They state: “European attitudes are even more complex. Although foreign policy finds its expression in political and economic tangibles, the psychological intangibles are omnipresent” (p3Greilsammer and Weller). The theory here, and one which carries some weight, is that European opinion expressed through a variety of channels is consistently judgemental towards Israel.
Chapter Two will look at the early years of the Israeli state from1948 onwards and the view of the major European powers towards the new nation state. Although the focus of the dissertation will be on the successes or failures of policy since the 1967 war, a background to European involvement in the region is required. Britain and France had long-term colonial interests in the region, whilst for Germany, atonement for the Holocaust was central in post-War relations. Examining events from the First World War onwards, including the Balfour Declaration, the creation of the Israeli State and then European involvement in the Suez Crisis, this chapter sets a background to later European policy making in the region.
Chapter three looks at European policy from the 1967 War onwards, examining the individual policies of some European states as well as the shifts in global politics at the end of the Cold War. The Middle East was an important strategic area in the context of the Cold War and the emergence of the US as the dominant actor in global politics following the demise of the Soviet Union has been crucial to the region. The expanding US role across the globe is an important issue here and how European nations have reacted to growing US dominance is examined in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. European responses to the 1967 War plus subsequent events such as the Yom Kippur War are examined here, as is the European involvement, or indeed lack of, towards later diplomatic events, for example the Camp David talks. Chapter Three examines more recent attempts to broker peace – the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accords and the Quartet Roadmap and suggests that whilst Europe has played some part in sponsoring these events, it has largely taken a secondary role to the US
Chapter four concentrates on the European Union’s foreign policy towards Israel rather than that of individual member states and how it has developed policy more recently towards the Palestinian Authority. Policy documents and strategies such as the EU/Israel Action Plan and the Association Agreement are examined here. Are these policy documents mere words or can they be policies that can actually offer a positive resolution to the conflicts in the region? The EU has certainly made efforts to develop policies in terms of trade, economics and humanitarian assistance, yet as with individual member states, its record in positive contributions towards delivering a long-term peace settlement is less impressive.
Chapter five looks at the way forward for European policy. Whilst the dissertation argues that European policies have largely failed in the region, Europe at times has offered viable alternatives to the statuesque or to the US point of view. It certainly has a duty to engage more constructively in the process in the future and should have the economic and political strength to do so. This chapter will discuss options for the future and how Europe can, primarily by offering an alternative view to that of the US and Israel, make a positive contribution to resolving the conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to present Europe with anon going crisis that it cannot simply ignore. The proximity of Israel to Europe, its geopolitical role and more recently its position in relation to the War on Terror demand continued efforts to find absolution. The human cost on the ground in the region continues to deteriorate. From the breakdown of the Oslo Peace Process in 2001 to February 2005, the return to violence claimed 973 Israeli and 3747Palestinian lives.
In addition, Israeli forces have injured 27484Palestinians.(p1 Prof Avid Claim, Europe and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2005). The events of September 11 and the US led War on Terror has further polarised the West and the Arab World, yet a viable solution to the Palestinian question would do much to improve relations between the two.
A further underlying argument of the dissertation will be that whilst US policy in the region is dictated by what Claim describes as “an adherence to a double standard – one towards Israel and one towards the Arabs” (p3 Claim 2005),
Europe maintains a more common standard towards the two, yet needs to be more assertive in keeping up this level handed approach. Prime Minister Blair may recently have aligned himself closer than would have been advisable to Bush and Sharon, but Europe as a whole has for the most part upheld a neutral perspective towards the region.
British policy towards Israel has been shaped by a sense of realpolitik both before and after the 1967 war, something that in the long term has not helped in the struggle for a solution to the conflict. It is however important to understand the nature of the British relationship with the region in order to analyse policy since 1967 and through tithe present day. British opposition to the Turks and the power of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War first helped to shape policy in the region, with the British making promises of land in the region to the Arabs in 1915 in return for their help against the Turks. By1917 however, the British were claiming that the land they had promised excluded Palestine and fell into dispute with Arab leaders.
At the same time, the Government was beginning to see the Zionist movement as possible ally in the War and contact between leading British Zionist Durkheim Weizmann, Balfour and Lloyd George (p7 Fraser 2004) began tocement a relationship that would see the first of many shifts inBritish policy between the two conflicting sides in the region.
By late 1917 the Government had arrived at the Balfour Declaration. Inany study of the Arab-Israeli conflict or of European policy towardsthe region, it is a vital document with its statement that:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment inPalestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use theirbest endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it beingclearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice thecivil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities inPalestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in anyother country.” (p8 Fraser 2004).
Regardless of future British policy in Israel, the Balfour Declaration will always be seen as crucial in the establishment of a Jewish state, something that in the eyes of the Arab world has intractably linked the British on the side of the Israelis. It can be argued that British attempts to resolve the conflict since will have been affected by an Arab perception that there is little neutrality in British led negotiations.
As is the case with the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, an alternative view will see the British as historically pro-Palestinian. Certainly the fact that the British later attempted to curtail the process they had endorsed with the Balfour Declaration in the face of Arab resistance and objections, and later turned away Jews trying to escape to Palestine from persecution and death in Europe has left its mark on British-Israeli relations. Similarly, British attempts to hide their collusion with Israel during the Suez crisis did little to improve relations between the two. Karsh suggests that Suez was watershed for European influence in the region stating: “in any case, it was the American intervention which decided the outcome of the Suez debacle – obliging Israel, Britain and France to withdraw – and set the seal on the demise of European imperialism in the Middle East. (p12,Karsh E, Peace in the Middle East – The Challenge for Israel 1994).
The Labour Government elected in Britain in 1945 serves as a good example of the changeable attitudes towards Palestine. The Labour Party had long had association with the Zionist movement based on the social democratic ethos that the two movements shared. Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin however was a pragmatist and unwilling to sacrifice the country’s needs simply due a sentimental attachment to Zionism. Bevin went along with the advice of longstanding Foreign Office officials that Britain’s interest would be best served by a pro–Arab policy, particularly with the need to retain access to the regions oil supplies. As Fraser concludes “In short, the Labour Party’s emotional and ideological sympathy with Zionism was shunted aside by the Labour Government’s hard-headed view of where Britain’s interests lay” (p22Fraser 2004).
The situation came to a head for the British when in 1948, US President Truman requested that the British issue up to 100,000 immigration certificates for European Jews to enter Palestine. The negative British response and the insinuation that European Jews should not be able to queue jump merely because of events of the war gave an indication of how far it had moved from the pro-Zionist stance of 1944. For the Jews of Palestine it was an indication of betrayal by the British and the catalyst for revolt. Jewish resistance groups in Palestine began to strike against the British, attacking patrol boats, the railway network, oil tanks and airfields.
The post-war British economy could little afford a large military commitment overseas but as it built its force up to 100,000 soldiers and police, attacks on personnel escalated(p28 Fraser 2004). For the British Government, facing enough challenges at home with the difficulties posed by the ailing post-war economy, its mandate for Palestine was becoming a burden it could do without. The end of the mandate and the establishment of the state of Israel came with little genuine attempt by the British to implement partition that would offer peace. British military commanders in the region had little interest in seeing their men killed or injured in a dispute that was ceasing to be of importance to the British national interest. The result as Fraser describes was “a minimalist policy which allowed both Arab and Jewish irregular forces to become ever bolder and moreruthless2 (p40 Fraser 2004).
Britain effectively wiped its hands of Israel in 1948 – it was the signoff a pragmatic policy towards the region that would continue in years to come. When possible, Britain would let other nations take the leading efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Germany’s relations with Israel have been indelibly shaped by events of the Holocaust, yet since the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries in 1965, the relationship has been warm. At the recent 40th anniversary celebrations, Israeli President MosheKatsav stated that “our two countries have a historic mission to fill…our history has proven that out of the deepest hatred, out of the destructions of millions of people, with good intentions something good can exist again. Today Germany and Israel stand for common values such as democracy and human rights. It is our duty in the coming decades to carry these values into the world, to prove that one can learn from history”
The immediate post-war years saw Germany arrange to make reparations payments to Israel. From the signing of the Luxemburg Agreement in 1952until the end of 2002, over 55 billion euros had been made to the state of Israel or to recipients within Israel.
Germany has consistently supported Israel’s right to existence, and support for Israel’s security has been established as a central tenuto Germany’s foreign policy. Indeed, within Israel, Germany is seen by many as its closest ally after the US.
The two nations also have strong links in the fields of science and technology. Scientists and students have taken part in a large number of exchange programmes and Germany has sponsored a wide range of scientific research within Israel. Economic ties have also been forged. Germany is Israel’s most important trade partner after the US (p3 40Years Diplomatic Relations between Germany and Israel, German Embassy Document) and its principal trade partner within Europe. A number of large German firms such as Siemens and Volkswagen have invested directly in Israel and large numbers of tourists make the journey between the two countries.
In the light of such warm relations, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that Germany has not made more of an impact in peace negotiations. It would appear that the German Government is generally happy to maintain its warm relationship with the Israeli state and let the US and on occasion its European neighbours deal with the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course, relations between the two will always be marked by the past. As President Kohler said at a speech at the Knesset in 2005:
“Between Germany and Israel there can never be what is called ‘normality.’ However who would have thought 40 years ago that our countries would develop so well in a spirit of friendship? Today, not only our Governments work well together. Our relations are characterized by friendship between many people in our two countries”(p1 40 Years Diplomatic Relations between Germany and Israel, German Embassy Document).
French foreign relations with Israel have been dictated by a generally pragmatic approach. A former colonial power in the region following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, France has longstanding ties with both Syria and Lebanon and has attempted to maintain cultural and educational links with both after granting independence in spite of its sometimes changeable relationship with Israel.
France damaged its relations with the Arab world when it openly opposed Nasser during the Suez crisis and supported the Israeli attack on the Sinai Peninsula. Indeed, throughout the 1950s, France remained one of Israel’s closest allies, offering regular support at the United Nations and providing the Israeli military with large shipments of arms, including the Mirage jets that would prove to be so effective in the1967 War.
The psychology of French support for Israel can to some extent be compared to that of Germany. Following the War there was a collective feeling of guilt across France for the collaboration of the Vichy Government with the Nazis, and although reparations were not made as with the Germans, support through diplomacy offered a different way of consolation.
The de Gaulle Presidency however sparked a dramatic shift in France’s relations with Israel. The new President was less inclined to follow the US line on the international stage and saw smaller nations within both Africa and the Middle East as potential allies for France as it looked to establish itself as the leader of a group of non-aligned nations. De Gaulle was willing to sacrifice the previously close relationship with Israel to achieve this aim.
France under de Gaulle came out as strongly opposed to the 1967 War, criticising the occupation of Palestinian areas and the Israeli treatment of refugees as well as refusing to recognise the Israeli control of Jerusalem. For the next 25 years, France refused to sell any significant military equipment to the Israelis, only recommencing sales following a policy shift in the mid 1990s. (Britain likewise was for considerable time a reluctant sellers of arms to Israel, imposing an embargo after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon which was only lifted in the spring of 1994). In the aftermath of the war, French opposition to Israel became more pronounced in diplomatic circles, opposing Israeli actions and operations elsewhere such as its attacks on the PLO in Lebanon. At the United Nations, France began to side with Arab states and use its Security Council veto against Israel.
Chapter Three – European Policy from 1967.
The war of 1967 had consequences for Israel largely as decisive as had the war in 1948-49. It left Israel firmly in control of all the land of mandatory Palestine, in control of large areas of Syrian and Egyptian territory and established as firmly the most powerful actor in the region. Military forces of its enemies in the region had been decimated and Israel controlled the future of east Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Desert and the Golan Heights. Additionally it enjoyed the overwhelming support of Western public opinion (p82 Fraser 2004).
Events in the years following the 1967 war were largely based around Israel’s relation’s with the rest of the Arab world and the US. The end of the Cold War left the US in a position of dominance in the region and whilst some of the peace talks over the next two decades were held on European soil it has to be acknowledged that the US was the driving force behind the talks. European governments and the EU itself would begin to play a more influential role as the modern day peace process unravelled, but certainly during the 1970s and 1980s, European leaders can claim little success in resolving the on-going conflict.
The Yom Kippur War in 1973 had been the most notable event between 1967and the Madrid talks of 1991. It was a conflict set against a backdrop of Superpower manoeuvrings as the US and the Soviet Union sought to consolidate their positions in the region. European policy at the time was almost was torn by its reliance on American support for NATO and the need to maintain good relations with the oil- producing states in the Gulf. The outcome of this was a lack of any decisive policy linked to either side. Egypt’s President Sadat may well have reached his decision to launch the war with the politics of the Cold War in mind.
Shlomo indeed suggests that “Sadat’s strategy did not aim at military victory…his war was a political move made by military means…all he wanted was to unleash a political process by shaking Israel’s complacency and forcing the superpowers to reactivate a search for a settlement. (p145 Shlomo B, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace 2005).
Europe’s greatest concern at the time would have been the effect that war in the Middle East would have on its oil supplies, along with worries that the conflict could spark an escalation of the Cold War.
By October 1973, the Soviet Union was making noises about intervening on behalf of its Arab allies and the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) had announced a reduction in oil production until Israel agreed to withdraw from the land it had gained in the 1967war. A further total embargo soon followed on the United States and on the Netherlands which crucially supplied much of western Europe through the port at Rotterdam. For European nations the consequences were potentially dire, As Fraser states “as the United States had become ante importer of oil with no capacity to ease the problems of her allies, the problems likely to face the Western economies were known tube severe” (p98 Fraser 2004).
The eventual ceasefire came largely through US/Soviet diplomacy, leaving Israel with an overall military victory but without the aura of military invincibility that it had held previously. What the outcome of the war clearly showed was that the US was now the major power brokering the region. The influence that the British and the French has held only a few decades earlier had all but gone. For Europe, the 1973 war should have focussed minds more clearly on a long-term resolution tithe Arab-Israeli dispute bearing the economic cost that continued conflict could bring. There is however, little evidence in the following decade that European leaders concentrated on this. As Shlomo accurately concludes “it was indeed the combination of the unexpectedly good performance of the Arab armies in the early stages of the war, Israel’s psychological setbacks and the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger, who knew how to use and manipulate the military impasse in order to produce an exclusively American-sponsored political process, that made the 1973 war into the major watershed that it was” (p145Shlomo 2005).
The Camp David Summit in 1978 give an indication as to how far removed European politicians had become from the politics of the Middle East. The talks tackled firstly the on-going Israeli-Egyptian dispute and also looked to find a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue. The outcome of the talks is subject to debate. One view is that whilst President Carter and his team were making genuine attempts to find a peaceful solution that would be acceptable to all parties, the overall effect was to further disengage the Palestinians. Fraser writes: “the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza saw Camp David as the ultimate betrayal by their most powerful ally, condemning them to permanent Israeli military occupation.
Their view was widely shared in the Middle East” (p121 Fraser 2004). Other commentators take a more positive attitude suggesting that the talks produced a revolutionary platform for all the fundamental principles and components that would be at the heart of the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Shlomo takes this view, arguing: “concepts that would be so central to the Oslo process such as a Palestinian full autonomy, Israel’s withdrawal to the West Bank to ‘specific military locations’. were all laid down at Camp David….truly historic expressions of very far reaching consequences were introduced into the language of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process” (p169Shlomo 2005). Certainly Camp David made some important steps forward and perhaps most importantly put the possibility of peace at some pointing the future back on the table. From a European foreign policy viewpoint this would be a positive development; playing a more active role in future talks was something policy makers would have to work towards.
The next major initiative in terms of peace talks came with the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. By then, the demise of the Soviet Union had seen huge changes in the balances of power across Europe and the rest of the world. Israel and the Middle East were no longer at the centre of a bi-polar struggle for power that was rarely conducive to peaceful settlement. Shlomo sums this up well stating, “bipolarity condemned the conflict to oscillate between paralysis and decline”(p174 Shlomo 2005). The huge transformation in the structure of international relations provided opportunities for the West to explore new avenues for peace in the Middle East. Europe could look to develop policies that it felt most suitable for the region independently of its Cold War ally. Whilst the US remained resolutely on the Israeli side of the fence in the majority of negotiations around the Palestinians, Europe could afford, if it wished, to lean towards the Palestinians.
The Madrid Conference by its very location had some sort of connection to Europe, yet again it was a process largely driven by the US. The fact that PLO representatives were not allowed to attend due to Israeli objections give some indication as to the US view of the opposing parties. Chomsky cites the Madrid Conference and the Declaration of Principles that emerged from it as an example of US dominance and European impotence in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian question. He argues that the philosophy of the Bush regime at the time of Madrid(and not coincidentally the Gulf War) was one of ‘what we say goes’. Chomsky concludes of Madrid and subsequent events:
“…The world now accepted the guiding principle of the New World Order: ‘what we says goes’, at least in the Middle East. Europe backed away. It’s only further role was to facilitate further US rejectionist programmes, as Norway did in 1993. The Soviet Union was gone. The Third world was in disarray, in part as a result of the economic catastrophe of the 1980s. The United States was at last free to implement the basic principles it had held in isolation for twenty years: 1) no international conference; 2) no right of self-determination for thePalestinians2 (p190 Chomsky N, Middle East Illusions 2003).
The Oslo Accords made some progress in the search for peace, but again, Europe’s role in the process can only be described as limited. There was an opportunity for Europe to play a more decisive role in the peace process at the beginning of the 1990s – social transformation in Israel and a realisation by the Palestinians that they could not impose their conditions on the Israelis had altered the political background. Added to the dramatic changes in the structure of global politics at the time and there was a distinct possibility in the months leading up to the Oslo Accords that there was a readiness on both sides for compromise in the search for peace.
The Gulf War, to which Europe had committed itself, had also led many ordinary Israelis towards a greater willingness to compromise. The fact that many had been forced to evacuate the cities in fear of Scud missile attacks appeared to be valid argument for peace in the region.
The Oslo accords were ultimately driven by US president Bill Clinton, who whilst conveying a genuine mission to accomplish peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, could not be described as neutral in his views. Shlomo writes that whilst the previous Bush-Baker team had displayed no particular sympathy towards the Jewish lobbies, “Clinton, however, lost no time in positioning himself as a staunch friend of Israel and of the Jewish people “ (p207 Shlomo 2005)
Edward Said is another commentator to dismiss Oslo as a creation of the US-Israeli lobby, again implying that there was a failure by Europe to involve itself in the process and protect the interests of the Palestinians. Said argues that US and Israeli led peace process simply encourages a disparity to grow between the actualities and rhetoric of peace. As Said concludes of the Oslo Accords:
“Because the United States, the world’s only superpower, has been the sponsor and the keeper of the ‘peace process’, as it has come to be known, the arrangements agreed by Yaris Arafat and three Israeli Prime Ministers (Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu) have become synonymous with “peace”, the only game in town and the real problems on the ground either papered over or ignored” (p312, Said, E, The End of the Peace Process, Oslo and After, 2001). This view and that of others sympathetic to the Palestinians is that European indifference has led to the peace process during the 1990s be dictated by an US/Israeli agenda, an indication of European failings.
Europe has at least established itself as one of the ‘Quartet’, along with the US, Russia and the United Nations for overseeing the implementation of the 2003 road map for peace. As with previous peace plans, much of the thinking behind it has come from the US, but on this occasion Europe undertook a more visible role in what was a more imaginative attempt at finding a breakthrough. Finding a consensus amongst the four parties within the Quartet is of course difficult – as Hollis writes, “the trouble, of course, is that each of the key players has a different interpretation of how to implement it and all believe that unless and until the US is engaged it could languish in abeyance indefinitely” (p193 International Affairs 80).
Europe also faces the difficult issue of how the different member states of the EU would like to see the transatlantic alliance work in the post-Cold War era. New states, particularly those from the east remain grateful to the US for its support
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