Jewish leaders disappointed with European stance on Israel

BRUSSELS, Feb. 21 (JTA) — American Jewish leaders have emerged with a deep sense of disappointment from a series of meetings here with European Union officials. During last week’s meetings, a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations attempted to get the E.U. officials to address a long-standing suspicion that the Europeans have a distinct tilt toward the Palestinian Authority at the expense of Israel. The chairman of the Presidents Conference, Melvin Salberg, later described the meetings with the European officials as “very frank.” “We left our meetings with a clear understanding that there is disagreement between us,” he added. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said the delegation was “disappointed by the unresponsiveness of the Europeans on the specific issues we raised.” A past chairman of the umbrella group, Lester Pollack, sounded a similar note of discontent. “There is a disconnect between the [Europeans’] desire to be fair-minded and the reality in punishing Israel for political reasons,” he said. E.U. Commissioner Manuel Marin, Europe’s point-man on Middle East issues, told the delegation that Europe is “not pro-Palestinian — it is pro-peace.” But that struck many of the Americans as somewhat disingenuous, given their perception that Europe measures the success of the peace process according to the amount of territory Israel is willing to cede — giving no attention to Palestinian violations of already signed accords. Ambassador Miguel Moratinos, the European Union’s special envoy to the Middle East, acknowledged that “some of you have the impression that Europe is anti-Israel” and sought to calm the American delegates. “We have to create a new Palestinian society that really believes in peace,” he said. “We have to build a new Palestinian generation that embraces the culture of peace.” While the European Union is the largest foreign donor to the Palestinian Authority, its most senior officials react defensively when challenged about rampant corruption in the self-rule government — a charge against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his colleagues that has been levied even by members of the Palestinian legislative council. European officials explain this corruption away as inexperience and then swiftly blame Israeli policy for Palestinian impoverishment. They agree that the culture of incitement and violence in Palestinian political life is regrettable, but they imply that this is a product of Israeli non-compliance with the Wye agreement. Further, they warn that unless Israel is more forthcoming in delivering territory, it may result in an explosion of Islamic extremism. Attitudes toward Israel are not always uniform within the 15-member European Union, where national rivalries for trade and diplomatic advantage — particularly between Britain and France — sometimes transcend collective solidarity. But the unmistakable buzzword in the European Union is “harmonization.” Just as a new single currency — the euro — was introduced at the beginning of the year, the 15 member-states now aspire to a single voice on foreign affairs. Given the current divergence of national interests, that could be some way off. Even without it, however, Europe is a growing political and diplomatic powerhouse. And E.U. leaders are making an increasingly insistent demand for a central role alongside the United States in Middle East diplomacy. The American Jewish leaders accurately identified this trend — and in their meetings last week, they made it clear that European attitudes toward the peace process can no longer be ignored.

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