The Muslim Issue Emerges
"Ten years ago Europe's problems with its large Muslim immigration were already emerging. The Europeans complained frequently to us that they were paying a price for Israel's attitude toward the Palestinians. They claimed that the negative tendencies among the Muslim communities in Europe were fed by their frustration over how the Palestinians were being treated.
"They said that if Israel would treat the Palestinians differently European Muslims would be less hostile and Europe would benefit. They never told us this story directly but dressed it up in a different way. They said that Europe had a stake in Israeli-Palestinian issues because some Muslims were European citizens. Thus the EU was representing the sentiments and aspirations of these citizens in expressing the hope that Israel would take a different position in the conflict.
"I replied that they should face up to the real problems with Muslims in their countries. When I was stationed in Brussels there were growing signs that the approach of many Muslims in Europe was changing. Up to the mid-1990s, most tried to become fully identified with the culture and society of the countries they lived in. They wanted to be more French than the French, or more Dutch than the Dutch.
"In the mid-1990s there was a shift toward a more separate religious identity. Many Muslims maintained their religious approach opposing the secularism of European society. I said to my European counterparts that these were growing manifestations of separatism. They answered that this was an internal European issue and none of my business.
"It was one more among many examples of European double standards. When convenient, they used the same argument in order to get a stake in what was happening in the Middle East. When it was turned against them, they adopted a different stance. This attitude caused frequent displeasure on their part and frustration on mine. They did not want to listen to what was obvious and for which they are now paying a heavy price. I wasn't too keen to press the point endlessly as my mission in Brussels was not to educate Europeans."
European Integration and Individual Approaches
"Despite the integration of Europe, every country has its own attitude toward most matters. Their national identities, cultures, and approaches to life differ. So do their financial, judicial, and social systems. Each country has its own army. On the legal side there has been an attempt to harmonize many fiscal aspects and laws that relate to customs and commercial issues, yet there was no attempt to try and harmonize criminal law.
"The only truly harmonized issues concern human rights. The Human Rights Act is a European act. This now has become a problem because in Britain, for instance, it has become a barrier against some steps to combat terrorism.
"This lack of a unified approach has made it impossible to develop a common European policy on the issue of Islam. Each country wanted to maintain its particular approach thinking it was better than that of its neighbors."
Halevy indicates that in retrospect the Europeans would have done better to take a common approach to this matter rather than trying to create an appearance of a common European foreign and defense policy. "This concept is a misrepresentation because no common policy exists on many foreign issues. There are big differences, for instance, between the French and British on problems such as Iraq, Iran, or even the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"Furthermore, one cannot maintain a common foreign policy on issues relating to Islam if in Europe there is no common domestic policy toward these. The Europeans, however, developed a logic of creating a common denominator between the absurdities of their domestic policies and the pretensions of their foreign policy. That is how I saw it then and how I continue to see it now.
"During my stay in Brussels the European Commission was weak. It was headed by Jacques Santer from Luxembourg, who was both pleasant and feeble. In the end his commission was deposed. Over the years one country was consistently pro-Israeli. The German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl was very positive toward us, and so were his various foreign ministers such as Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Klaus Kinkel.
"France's role was highly negative. The French government was not only highly critical of Netanyahu. It also treated his successor Ehud Barak very badly. At each meeting of the Council of Ministers they were the most extreme actor against Israel. Almost all officials at the Quai d'Orsay, their foreign ministry, were negative toward Israel. Our ambassador in Paris made many efforts to change the situation but did not succeed. Hubert VÃ©drine, the foreign minister in the socialist Jospin government, was an outspoken anti-Israeli and so was his right-wing predecessor."
"Coreper (ComitÃ© des ReprÃ©sentants Permanents) is a key organ in the European Union. It is composed of the ambassadors of all EU member states. The German ambassador was very helpful to us and so was the ambassador of Great Britain. At the time the Dutch ambassador was Bernard Bot, the current Dutch foreign minister. He might occasionally make unpleasant remarks about us but in practical matters he was very helpful.
"On the other hand, the French representative in COREPER was outright hostile. Ambassador Pierre de Boissieu is a grandson of de Gaulle and a very arrogant man. When I arrived in Brussels he refused to meet me. He said he did not have to and did not want to waste time on ambassadors from outside the EU.
"Javier Solana, a former Spanish socialist foreign minister is the current EU high representative for foreign relations. At the time he was the secretary-general of NATO. He could be critical of Israel but this should not be confused with him being anti-Israeli. He is a nonconfrontational person who always looks for compromises, diplomatic solutions, and bridging positions. I think in his heart he has a great admiration for Israel's capabilities and progress. His policy was to avert a situation in which relations between Europe and the Palestinians would deteriorate beyond what he thought was good for the Europeans. Therefore, he continued to maintain a relationship with Arafat long after it was clear that he was promoting terrorism.
"It is to Solana's credit that when, in 2002, Israel came up with the idea of changing the constitution of the Palestinian Authority, he helped us move it forward. The concept was to empower the prime minister and to turn Arafat into a figurehead. Nowadays, with Hamas in power, we are interested in the opposite, strengthening the president(?), Mahmoud Abbas against the prime minister. Solana has also been helpful in arranging orderly elections in the Palestinian territories and providing monitors and observers."
Europe's Major Mistakes
When asked about the major mistakes Europe made in the Middle East over the past ten years, Halevy replies: "The first one was their political assessment of Arafat. Without the EU he would not have had a financial basis for his administration. This led to their second mistake. The EU approach facilitated corruption inside the Palestinian Authority. The way they channeled their money was both a major waste and an important source of corruption.
"The third EU mistake was that they thought they could lean on Israel. They were subtly threatening economic sanctions and thought that this would push Israel. It caused some concern in Jerusalem but mainly created a bad atmosphere between us. The Europeans thought that by making these efforts they were ingratiating themselves with the Arab world. It was, however, a major miscalculation to think that the Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and others would become Europhiles as a result. Nothing of this kind happened.
"Ten years ago many Europeans had a great ambition to be close to Syria despite the fact that it was a cruel dictatorship. There was great friendship between Syrian president Hafez Assad and German chancellor Kohl. Assad also had close relations with many people around Kohl.
"French president Chirac admired Assad and many other prominent Europeans had a lot of respect or sympathy for him as a person. Every time Israel had a problem with Syria, the French were very sensitive that we did nothing to destabilize Syria or damage its interests. The fact that Assad was a mass murderer who had killed tens of thousands of Syrian civilians was not something that troubled the European leaders at all."
This leads to the final question, whether Europe is behaving differently now.
Halevy replies: "I think the Europeans are more mature in their assessment of the Palestinians. They don't try to exert economic pressure on Israel. They don't allow their monies to be used in the same way as before. They are less pretentious about their political role in the Middle East. The Europeans increasingly recognize the American supremacy and do not try to upstage it too much. It now remains to be seen if Europe will move to leverage its major role in the multinational force in Lebanon into playing a more active and significant part in forging a peaceful future for the war-torn nations of the Middle East."
1 Efraim Halevy, Man in the Shadows (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006), 128.
2 Ibid., 126.
Efraim Halevy is a former head of the Mossad. From 1996 to 1998 he was Israeli ambassador to the European Union in Brussels.