by Efraim Halevy
This account comes from Manfred Gerstenfeld's book: European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change?
"For a very long time the Europeans' weakness has been that so often somebody else has to solve their problems. Frequently the United States has had to do so. Yugoslavia and Iraq have been cases in point. It is possible that this will now change as European nations make major contributions to the multinational force that is being deployed on the southern borders of Lebanon after the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006."
Efraim Halevy is a former head of the Mossad. From 1996 to 1998 he was Israeli ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. The conversation with him takes place on 18 July 2006 while Israel's war with Hizballah in Lebanon rages (updating was added subsequently). He remarks: "A few days ago, I was in Frankfurt at a meeting where I met Benita Ferrero Waldner, Austria's former foreign minister who is now the EU commissioner for external affairs.
"She was very busy with the question of what Europe could do concerning Lebanon. Would it intervene? Would it do something? Could it do anything? An EU official participated in the meeting. He heads a department inside External Affairs, in charge of Israel and the Middle East. He was all the time occupied on the telephone trying to work out whether Javier Solana, the EU high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy would come to the Middle East and who would be the members of the delegation accompanying him."
Europe's Actions: At Best an Irritant
Halevy considers all this of little importance. "Europe's actions during the hostilities have had little or no impact on events as they unfold. At best so far, the EU has been an irritant in the Middle East conflict. It cannot help in the battle with Hizballah, which is a proxy fight with Iran.
"Israel is fighting Iran where it is vulnerable. If Israel succeeds in greatly weakening Hizballah and severely harming its capacity to fire missiles this will be a major setback for Iran's prestige in the region. Iran, for its own reasons, cannot come to the support of Hizballah whom they supplied with weaponry. It has threatened Israel not to attack Syria but has not come to the support of Hizballah after Israel massively attacked it. All groups who consider themselves clients of Iran must now conclude: 'The Iranians will not come and save a client in trouble.' This is one major aspect of the battle in Lebanon.
"When all is over, if Israel had succeeded, the Europeans would have applauded it. If Israel had failed the Europeans would have condemned it. That is the way they have always played it. Had Israel totally destroyed Hizballah, it would have removed a major threat to Lebanese democracy in which the EU has invested. That would have helped Lebanon implement Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for the Lebanese government to have full control of its territory. Had we removed Hizballah's threat of instability in the region, that would have helped the EU when moving to rebuild Lebanon for a second time. The job would then have been done by Israel. The Europeans should have done this themselves when they invested in Lebanon. Once again somebody else had to solve the problem."
Reminiscing about 1996
Many current European reactions to Israel's battle with Hizballah remind Halevy of the time he was ambassador to the EU. "I came to Brussels in January 1996. A few months later Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister. His election was the result of the many terror attacks at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996. Netanyahu became prime minister at a time when the confrontation with the Palestinians became a very serious issue. Netanyahu said he would accept the Oslo Agreement, but also followed a different policy than his predecessors toward the Palestinians."
Halevy says that personal aspects also played a role. "The Europeans had been used to Shimon Peres. He considered himself their great friend and was much influenced by their flattery. I have hinted at this also in my recent book Man in the Shadows. This explains in part why the Europeans disliked the change in government.
"Within a short time, the policies of the Israeli government became rather unacceptable to the EU. Israel, after the many terror incidents, began taking steps to restrict the Palestinian movements and deprive them of certain of their facilities. When Ehud Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, opened a tunnel outside the Temple Mount, there was Palestinian violence that ultimately caused loss of life on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides."
Every Month a Resolution
"Every month the EU Council of Foreign Ministers meets in Brussels. In almost each meeting during that period it passed a resolution censuring Israel for one thing or another. In the EU this was a monthly process: the draft resolution started at a low level. It went up to a medium level and from there to the director-general level. Then it was sent to the European capitals and finally it was approved at the Council of Foreign Ministers. One might call this an EU ritual. The entire month before the next resolution was approved Israeli diplomats throughout Europe were busy trying to prevent, soften, or amend it.
"In retrospect, all this was ridiculous because none of these resolutions had any importance. The same is true regarding the EU resolution adopted a few days ago in Brussels on the crisis in Lebanon. The G8 met in St. Petersburg from 15-17 July. There policy was decided, and not in Brussels or anywhere else.
"Israeli-European relations during my time were complicated. A few weeks after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Israel signed a new economic association agreement with the EU. A second agreement concerned Israel joining the fourth European Research and Development program. For Israel to become a member of this, the agreement had to be approved by the European Parliament and by the parliaments of all fifteen member states. This approval came up when Netanyahu was already prime minister. Many in the EU thought this an opportunity to use leverage against Israel concerning its policies in the territories. For Israel this posed a major problem."
Approval by the European Parliament
"The European Parliament is chosen in various ways by the electorates in member countries. In the parliament itself, factions are composed on a Europe-wide ideological basis. There were five of these at the time, including conservatives, liberal democrats, and socialists. It was my task to get the parliament to approve the agreement while a significant number of its members had a very negative attitude toward Israel in general.
"Several MEPs also specifically disliked Jews. Without going into detail, some Germans among the Free Democrats had a very problematic World War II past. There were Belgian MEPs from the extreme right-wing Vlaams Blok. One had been an active officer in a Belgian unit that fought together with the Nazis. Some French MEPs belonged to Le Pen's Front National. Several left-wing socialists had little love for Israel or Jews. There were also some British diehard anti-Jewish conservatives. Most were polite to me but I knew what their real feelings were.
"This major task ended successfully. The European Parliament, surprisingly, passed the European Research and Development program with 265 votes in favor and 4 against. Almost half the approximately five hundred MEPs did not attend the meeting. Thereafter the agreement had to be approved by all national parliaments. This took some time, but also there it passed. For Israel this was a major achievement.
"The Europeans fully realized that this agreement was also advantageous to them. First, Israel had to contribute a significant amount of money annually. Even more important, however, Israeli technology and science are of interest to the Europeans. When Europeans have a practical material interest, their ideological considerations become secondary. This is normal and natural."
Europe's Role in the Middle East Conflict
"A second problematic issue at the time concerned the European attitude toward the Palestinians and the European role in our conflict with them. They were a major financial contributor to the Palestinian Authority. Yet politically they had no clout. They thought that since they contributed so much money they should also have a say in what was happening politically. Israel rejected this.
"Manuel Marin, then vice-president of the European Commission was the key European actor involved. He is now chairman of the Spanish parliament on behalf of the ruling Socialist Party and previously had been Spanish foreign minister. Marin said he was much in favor of peace, and was very critical of Israeli policies. He complained all the time that the EU was paying and didn't get political recognition for this.
"The EU was also, however, paying the Palestinian Authority in a less than straightforward way. They channeled part of the funds semilegally. Some money went directly into Yasser Arafat's bank accounts. Once I was meeting Marin when he got a call from the German foreign minister who complained that $25 million, which Arafat got as 'special emergency funding,' had been transferred to the wrong account. It went into the general account and should have gone into his private one."
Halevy describes this in his book: "The commissioner asked the minister for a few minutes' pause and then turned to me and politely asked me to excuse him because he had to attend to the matter at hand. I left, of course, but not before my host had unburdened himself and had expressed his exasperation at the way he was being forced to cooperate in these matters."
"A few years later this matter became a point of discussion in the European Parliament as it became clear that some EU money was being abused. For political reasons the European Parliament decided to hide the real nature of what was happening and prevent a full-scale investigation into this diversion of funds. It voted for a fuzzy form of investigation so that it would not become a major political issue.
"In other words, the Europeans -- the parliament and the commission -- once again applied double standards to Israel. Toward us they were moralizing. When it came to the Palestinians as far as finance and politics were concerned, they were 'very understanding,' to put it in diplomatic language, of the special considerations of how Palestinians handle money.
"Yet another aspect was the EU's desire to become involved in Israeli-Palestinian political relations. When there were major confrontations they immediately tried to move in and advance various proposals to 'bring the sides together.'
"One example was when in 1997 David Levy, then Israel's foreign minister, came to Brussels for a periodic meeting at a time there was a major crisis between us and the Palestinians. The Europeans raised the idea that Arafat should also visit so that they could bring the two sides together. Levy could not avoid the meeting.
"The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg then held the EU presidency. Its foreign minister, Jacques Poos, presided over what became a ridiculous meeting, out of which came nothing. For the Europeans the meeting was relevant even without any substance. I noticed many times that for the Europeans to appear as if they were a factor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was much more important than playing a real role."
Halevy describes in his book how Arafat fell asleep during Levy's speech. Nobody bothered to wake him up. Finally Nabil Sha'ath, the PA foreign minister, responded to Levy's words.