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Europe Disagrees with United States About Israel’s Response to Terrorism

December 7, 2001
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Italy’s prime minister donned a skullcap this week and joined hundreds of Jews crowding Rome’s main synagogue for a prayer vigil honoring the victims of last weekend’s suicide bombings in Israel.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who attended Tuesday night’s ceremony along with Rome’s mayor and other senior officials, condemned “all types of barbarity, all types of terrorism, all ideologies of death.”

“I am here as a father and share the anguish, suffering, grief and pain of so many fathers, mothers and families,” he told the congregation, many of whom held blue-and-white signs reading “We Are All With Israel.”

In another show of solidarity with Israel, Rome’s City Hall turned off its lights for 15 minutes Tuesday evening. And, mirroring a move by President Bush this week, Rome’s public prosecutor ordered financial officials to freeze bank accounts in Italy that can be traced to Hamas.

Despite these moves, however, Italy — like other European countries — has refused to follow the U.S. lead in backing the airstrikes Israel launched on the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the suicide bombings.

On the contrary.

Almost unanimously, European governments have called for a halt both to the terrorism and to the Israeli reprisals — and they have just as unanimously reiterated their backing for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat as a key to any resolution of the conflict.

On Wednesday, E.U. officials rejected Israel’s designation of the Palestinian Authority as a terrorist entity.

The designation made by the Israeli Cabinet on Monday, following the series of Palestinian suicide bombings over the weekend, is “not shared by the European Union,” E.U. spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said in Brussels.

He also said that destabilizing the Palestinian Authority would not help stop the cycle of violence, and that Israel needs the P.A. as a peace partner.

“I have no hesitation in saying that this partner is and should remain the Palestinian Authority,” Wiegand said.

The sentiment appeared to be shared across much of the continent.

“As international attention focuses on the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, differences of emphasis have emerged between the United States and the European Union about how best to tackle the problem,” BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris reported.

“While the Americans are putting pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to ‘respond forcefully’ to those responsible for the latest suicide bombings, European spokesmen are also urging Israel to show restraint, and not to destroy the Palestinian Authority as an ‘indispensable partner for peace,’ ” he said.

European leaders, who back the formation of a Palestinian state, have been critical of Israel’s policies since the Palestinian intifada began more than a year ago.

Some were vehement in their condemnation of the Israeli airstrikes, seeing them as an attempt to topple the Palestinian Authority.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said, “Everything must be done to stop the kamikaze bloodshed and the terrorism. But to take on the Palestinian Authority, to weaken it or even to eliminate it, would be a fatal error.”

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement condemned the Palestinian terrorism, but also urged Israel and the Palestinians to give up the hopeless “eye-for-an-eye logic, however justified it might seem at an emotional level.”

Yet it was Israel, the statement said, that must show “self-control and not resort to actions that will make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict irreversible.”

Part of the European defense of Arafat, a frequent visitor to European capitals, appeared to be a reflection of concern that his demise could open the door to anarchy.

“I do not believe that there are alternatives to Arafat,” Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero said this week in Milan. “The problem is not one of delegitimizing one person or another. What has to be done is to avoid doing anything that can close the door to a resumption of peace negotiations. Everyone must act with necessary moderation.”

At this week’s prayer vigil in Rome’s synagogue, Israeli Ambassador Ehud Gol presented a different view.

“Arafat is received in European capitals with great honor and talk of peace, but he uses his words as an anesthetic to cover real homicidal actions,” Gol said. “We have to respond with actions because the Palestinian violence is an anthem to death, a license to massacre.”

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