Behind the Headlines Europe and Israel
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Behind the Headlines Europe and Israel

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Western Europe surprised world public opinion and often itself when its delegates either supported pro-Arab resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly 10 days ago and the UNESCO conference in Paris or at the best, abstained. Only Holland, Denmark and Britain occasionally cast a negative vote on one of the Arab and Communist-backed resolutions, usually on paragraphs of minor importance.

Western Europe seems to be gradually loosening its traditional links with Israel. Originally, West European support for the Jewish State stemmed from two factors: a deep guilt feeling for the six million Jews who died in the inferno of Nazi-occupied Europe, and the belief that Israel is the outpost of Western civilization and democracy on the shores of the Middle East.

Faced with frowning economic pressures, oil shortages and the accumulated mass of Arab dollars, these links have weakened. Many Europeans feel, especially members of the younger generation that a thirty-year atonement for the crimes of their fathers is enough. Others, especially belonging to the technocratic class symbolized by French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and West German Chancellor Hans Helmut Schmidt, which has assumed power in Western Europe, feel that conscience has to play second fiddle to stark realities.


The continent, traditionally divided by nationalisms and local interests, Is now more than ever torn asunder by its own international complications. Three countries are backing practically to the hilt the Arab side: France, Italy and Ireland. Three others, West Germany, Holland and Britain feel, on the other hand, that Western Europe has not finished repaying its debt to Israel and the Jews. Noticeably, the three countries which back Israel are those in which public opinion shows interest in foreign affairs and expresses its sentiments.

The actual battle over the Middle East was fought between France and Germany. The leaders of both states, Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing, have passed through a six-month period of strain which has eroded the sentiments of personal friendship which bound them together when both served as Foreign Ministers. Their stands on such basic issues as Europe’s institutions or European-American ties are so far apart that nothing can bridge for the time being the gulf separating them. It was thus even more imperative for them to find a compromise over their differences on the “Middle East.

The negotiations between Paris and Bonn went on throughout the latter part of October and early November. On Nov. 18, the Foreign Ministers of the nine Common Market countries met for one of their periodic meetings at the Hotel Majestic in Paris, where the German kommandatur once used to be. Within less than two hours, the nine reached a solution, kept secret at the time, but which became apparent during the UN votes: it would back two horses at the same time–the Palestinian demand for their national recognition, and Israel’s right to exist within safe and recognized borders.

It was as a result of this decision that the nine did not back the Arab resolution at the General Assembly. The European states informed the resolution’s sponsors that they would back it only If an additional paragraph was inserted recalling Israel’s inherent rights. When the Arabs refused. the nine abstained.


At the UNESCO conference, the nine adopted a slightly different position as the vote was on paragraphs dealing with specific issues and not with general outlines of political programs. The French, Italians and Irish voted for a number of resolutions dealing with Jerusalem and UNESCO education in the occupied territories, while Britain and Germany, together with Holland and Belgium, either voted against or abstained.

The role of Western Europe in the Middle East conflict is not yet finished with the United Nations vote. It seems obvious that Western Europe will continue to play an ever increasing role in the affairs of the Middle East.

All nine countries, suffering from inflation, economic crises and mounting unemployment want to strengthen their links with the Arab world. All hope for a flow of Euro-Arab dollars into their economies and banks, and all are prepared to pay a political price. The difference between them, as in the story of what makes “an honest woman,” is how high the price will be.

All have already informed the Pentagon that one price they are prepared to pay is barring their airports and air space to Israeli-bound supplies in case of renewed warfare in the Middle East. Another European country, not a member of the nine. Portugal, has also reportedly informed Washington that its air bases both on the continent and in the Azores Islands will be closed to Israeli-bound supplies in case of war.

It will be a long and arduous task, some say an uphill fight for Israel, to regain part of its former influence in Europe. To a considerable degree this will depend not on Israel’s efforts alone but on the objective circumstances of the economic situation. Crisis time in Europe will automatically spell crisis time in Europe’s relations with Israel.

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