Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Europe's Palestine

European officials seem to have a strange idea of the powers of the euro. Following revelations in summer 2002 implicating the Palestinian Authority in suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians, critics objected that EU-financing of the PA amounted to a subsidy for terrorism. But the European External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, responded serenely. “We have found no evidence of EU funds being used for purposes other than those agreed between the EU and the PA,” he said, “So, there is no case for stating that EU money has financed terrorism.” Mr. Patten and his office have hewed to this line ever since. In an interview in the December 11, 2002 edition of the French daily Le Monde, Jean Brétéché, the European Commission’s “Representative for the West Bank and Gaza Strip”, remarked in the same vein that: “For the moment, we do not have even the beginning of proof that European money is being used for other ends than those for which it was allocated.”

Despite the apparent self-assuredness of these assertions, in February 2003 the Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office, known by its French acronym OLAF, opened an investigation into the matter. This came, no doubt, by way of deflecting the demand of some 170 members of the European Parliament that a parliamentary Committee of Inquiry be created. The credibility of the denials of Mr. Patten and Mr. Brétéché was, moreover, undermined by the fact that at the time of their being made the EU was paying some 10 million euros per month directly into the Palestinian Authority budget – that is, apart from the hundreds of millions of euros in project-related aid that the EU has been providing the PA for many years now. So, for some part of the European aid the “purposes” and “ends” of which Mr. Patten and Mr. Brétéché spoke had in fact not even been specified. This direct budgetary aid was terminated at roughly the same time as the OLAF investigation was begun. By its own account, “targeted” EU aide to the PA for the years 2002 and 2003 exceeded half a billion euros.

As of August of this year, the OLAF announced that its investigation, limited just to the since terminated direct budgetary assistance, was still ongoing. But the OLAF investigators could spare themselves the trouble, supposing they have been going to any. The disclaimers of European officialdom – massively reinforced by the pretense of opening an “anti-fraud” investigation – create the impression that the very shekels into which a euro contribution was converted would have to have gone to the purchase of the explosives used in an attack or to the payments of the operatives who planned it or of the family of the “martyr” who carried it out, before European responsibility could be established. But from an economic perspective it is self-evident nonsense even just to expect to be able to obtain such “proof.” It lies, after all, in the very nature of money – what economists call its “fungibility” – that even if a financial contribution to a given budget is ostensibly “targeted” to some particular expenditure, it necessarily frees up resources for all others. Given a range of expenditures, it is in fact meaningless to try to distinguish to which of them a particular revenue went. If, then, the PA has been financing terrorist attacks, the EU has been subsidizing them. And, given the massiveness of the evidence which has surfaced, no one seriously denies today that the PA has financed such attacks.[1]

EU attempts to distance itself from the PA in this connection ring especially hollow in light of the seemingly unconditional quality of its engagement on the PA’s behalf in recent years. Indeed, what is most striking about EU pronouncements on Middle East politics is the degree to which they tend to suggest a virtual identity between the Palestinian Authority and the EU itself. This tendency is clearly reflected in M. Brétéché’s December 2002 remarks to Le Monde. Thus, for example, he noted that his office had lately informed Yasser Arafat that “we needed four or five months to prepare transparent and irrefutable elections” and he speaks proudly of the reforms which – “in the last two years, despite the situation” – “we have accomplished..., notably the reform of the Ministry of Finance.... We are also working on the independence of the executive power and the judiciary.” For M. Brétéché, it is “we,” the officialdom of the European Union that is responsible for the reform of Palestinian institutions and not Palestinians themselves. This pretension is hardly compatible with European claims to be championing Palestinian “self-determination.”

It is, however, consistent with the marked preference that the EU has displayed for setting up de facto protectorates in “trouble zones” where it is diplomatically and otherwise engaged. Kosovo and Bosnia are obvious examples. Today, almost nine years after the signature of the Dayton Accord which brought an end to the Bosnian Civil War, Bosnia continues to be governed, in effect, by a “High Representative” who, for all intents and purposes, is appointed by the EU and who, in the person of Paddy Ashdown, now combines also the post of the EU’s “Special Representative” for Bosnia. Given persistent confusion on the matter, it is worth noting in this connection that the administration of the “High Representative” in Bosnia was not created by the UN and does not stand under the latter’s authority. The UN’s own “mission” in Bosnia was always a comparatively minor affair and was disbanded two years ago. The contrast, moreover, with post-war Iraq – which, if the efforts of what so much of the European media tellingly chooses to label “the resistance” are defeated, will have a sovereign elected government in two months – could not be starker.

The EU’s indulgence, if not in this case financial support, apparently extends not only to the Aksa Martyrs Brigades of the Fatah movement – now apparently renamed the “Brigades of Martyr Yasser Arafat” in honor of their fallen hero – but even indeed to the Islamist militants of the rival Hamas. Thus, beginning in November 2002, some weeks after reports first surfaced that it had itself taken up contact with Hamas,[2] the EU discretely “facilitated” a series of meetings between the latter and the PLO. These meetings were officially supposed to serve the purpose of dissuading Hamas from conducting further suicide attacks, at any rate within the “green line” demarcating Israel’s pre-1967 borders, but also indeed that of establishing a Palestinian united front in the conflict with Israel. It can be wondered if the latter purpose is wholly compatible with the first, and Hamas leaders quickly denied that a cessation of the attacks was in fact a central agenda item. “After all,” one is reported to have remarked, “people from the PA also perpetrate suicide attacks and other attacks within Israel....” But whatever purposes the meetings may have served, it is revealing that the EU should regard as a legitimate interlocutor an organization whose very Charter, among other things, denies Israel the right of existence, excludes in principle any peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict, and makes allusion to the infamous 19th century forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the standard text of “Jewish conspiracy” theories – as if it were an authentic historical document. That the belated spiritual leader of this same organization, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, declared all Israelis, wherever they are to be found, as legitimate military targets, might also have led one to believe that Hamas would be off-limits for countries ostensibly cooperating in a “war on terror.”

Europeans might consider treading more softly in the Middle East. The Israelo-Palestinian conflict is, after all, in large part a product of European history and, more specifically, of the history of European anti-Semitism. As recounted by the German political scientist Matthias Küntzel in his recent book Djihad und Judenhaß, before the coming to power of the National Socialist Party in Germany in 1933, yearly Jewish immigration to Palestine numbered in the low thousands and public attitudes toward Jews in the Arab world were generally moderate. A limited Jewish immigration was even welcome by certain Arab leaders. Just two years later, the number of immigrants had swelled to 60,000. The rise of National Socialism in Germany and the introduction of discriminatory policies designed precisely to expel Jews from German society, had, in effect, given practical confirmation to the Zionist hypothesis that a national homeland for Jews was needed. The demographic pressures created by the wave of new arrivals in the Middle East inevitably resulted in increased tensions with the indigenous population. The Mufti of Jerusalem – with, incidentally, Berlin’s financial and material support – was able to channel these tensions into a full-fledged “Palestinian uprising,” directed against the Jewish settlers and the British colonial authority, but also indeed against secular and liberal Palestinian factions still defending various models of coexistence with Jews. In the meanwhile, the genocidal turn taken by Nazi anti-Semitic policies during WWII and their exportation to the rest of occupied Europe, only served to reinforce the convictions underlying the Zionist project. The end of the war brought a new wave of immigration, now including hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors.

The residents of the Middle East, Jews and Arabs alike, are reaping the bitter harvest of this history to this day. In light of it, it would seem fitting for Europeans to show more understanding for the Israeli dilemma and less favor toward the sworn enemies of Israel, especially such as whose anti-Zionism is openly informed by anti-Semitism. Otherwise, observers will feel themselves justified in wondering whether European zeal for the Palestinian cause does not in some measure reflect Europe’s inability to lay to rest its own anti-Semitic ghosts.

[1] For more on EU funding and Palestinian terrorism, see the articles by Rachel Ehrenfeld here and here.

[2] See “Palestinian Paper Reports Meetings Between EU, Hamas Officials”, BBC Monitoring International Reports, 15 October 2002.