VIENNA (Feb. 23)
The European Union is trying to reassure European Jewish officials that it will stand tough on Hamas and Iran, but so far it isn’t having much luck. Speaking this week to the leaders of 40 European Jewish communities federations at the general assembly of the European Jewish Congress, the European Union’s foreign affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, tried to strike a note of solidarity with the Jewish leaders, but the leaders weren’t buying into the notion.
The disagreements reflect the tensions between the European Union and the continent’s Jewish community over how to deal with the thorny issues of Iran’s nuclear program and the rise of Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
They also come as cracks are emerging between the United States and its European allies over how to deal with Hamas’ ascension.
Ferrero-Waldner prefaced her comments on Hamas to the delegates gathered in Vienna on Sunday with an emphasis on compromise: “Israel must do more to ensure the peaceful coexistence of two viable states, such as ending the new construction of settlements.”
She urged Israel not to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority, as the Israeli government has said it would.
But she promised Sunday that before engaging the new Hamas government, the European Union would stick to the requirements laid out on Jan. 30 by the “Quartet” for Middle East peace, made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.
These requirements state that Hamas must renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and adhere to all previous agreements made under the rubric of the road map for Middle East peace.
“We hope we can continue to work with the Palestinian Authority to build up the infrastructure of democracy and work towards building a state,” she said. The ball is in Hamas’ court, she added, although she did not specify which moves the European Union wants Hamas to take.
Ferrero-Waldner never said the European Union would not “talk to” Hamas, only that the European body would not “work with” Hamas if it did not adhere to the Quartet principles.
This distinction has become crucial since Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Hamas leaders to Russia for talks. Ferrero-Waldner said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has promised the talks are in keeping with the Quartet’s guidelines, but many Jewish leaders view any engagement with Hamas as a betrayal.
The prospect of E.U.-Hamas talks angered Pierre Besnainou, president of the European Jewish Congress, who grilled Ferrero-Waldner on the E.U.’s stance.
“I just saw a woman from the Hamas election list on Israeli television saying that she was proud that her son killed Jews. Now you say that you feel Russia holding talks is consistent with your policy. Do you mean the E.U. will have discussions with the Hamas government? Should we imagine you will have discussions with such terrorists?” he said.
Urging patience, Ferrero-Waldner responded that the European Union has been very clear about its requirements. But she added: “We have to see what happens with the new Hamas government. Israel has elections coming. Both sides have to be tough right now, but then after I hope there will be a positive direction.”
In addressing the Iranian nuclear issue, Ferrero-Waldner, Austria’s former foreign minister, said, “Tehran should have no illusions about the international community’s resolve.”
If Iran did not change its stance and continued its nuclear program, the matter will definitely be dealt with by the U.N. Security Council, she said. “Of course what happens at the Security Council is another matter entirely.”
Russia and China, two members of the council, are known to be reluctant to pass any resolution criticizing Iran on its nuclear program.
During her speech, Ferrero-Waldner condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent denial of the Holocaust, his statement that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth and an Iranian newspaper’s Holocaust cartoon contest, which she referred to as “a race to the bottom for religious intolerance.”
Despite such assurances, Ariel Muzicant, president of the Austrian Jewish community, warned Ferrero-Waldner that Europe’s 2.5 million Jews, as well as Israel, would not sit idly by if the European Union did not stand fast on Iran and Hamas.
“We expect the E.U. not to move one single inch. Until Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces violence, no talking. I have lots of relatives in Israel and if the E.U. betrays Israel, the Israelis will implement something extreme.
“I am telling you it is Europe this time, not the U.S., that is the key player,” he said.
In a weekend meeting involving Besnainou, Muzicant and Austrian President Wolfgang Schussel, the latter told Muzicant that an “armed solution” was not possible in Iran.
Stephan Kramer, general-secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, summed up the emotional tenor of the Jewish community leaders when he nearly shouted at Ferrero-Waldner, “We will not accept an Iran with nuclear weapons, Israel will not accept this, all there has ever been from the E.U. on this is appeasement.”