Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We need a civil society transatlantic dialogue on the Israeli Palestinian crisis

The Gaza crisis shows the gap that will have to be bridged between Europe and the U.S. in order to work together for a long term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The difference will be less acute between the next U.S. administration and the current EU leadership. Although the responsibility of the region within the new administration will probably be attributed to a pro-Israeli diplomat the line will inevitably be softer and more balanced than the “Likud” neo-conservatives that ruled during the first 6 years of the Bush presidential mandate.. Even discounting the Czech “exception” (the current presidency of the EU does not represent the mainstream European view on this issue) both U.S. and EU leaders know very well the roots of the crisis and the conditions of a long term solution. The challenge is to convince their own public opinion and within that public the key sectors that guide the framing of the issue
The divisions are indeed much more pronounced at the public opinion levels. The U.S. public is solidly behind Israel “right or wrong” while the Europeans are much more critical of the Hebrew State and more sensitive to the Palestinians’ fate.
Contrary to the accusations of U.S. pro-Israeli pundits or activists it does not mean that most Europeans are prone to anti-Semitism. It is true that there have been ugly cases of anti-Jewish attacks on the Old Continent: anti-Semitism is on the rise among disaffected Muslim youths and the traditionalist extreme right is gaining ground in many countries. On the fringes of the left the criticism of Israel and the support given to Palestinians also reflects hostility to the U.S. in general.
The real issue however is much more the growing European awareness that this conflict is corroding the internal situation and constantly endangering international stability. According to most surveys the level of knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is higher in Europe not only because the European media are on the whole more generous in their foreign news reporting and on the whole more diverse in their coverage but also because the mainstream European political debate provides more plurality of voices than in the U.S.
This has been demonstrated a few days ago by the very different approaches taken by Parliaments. While the U.S. Congress adopted a resolution putting all the blame on Hamas and avoiding any critical reference to the responsibilities of Israel (especially its duties under international law) the European Parliament took a much more pluralistic and critical line.
The Gaza crisis and the change of administration in Washington provide a historic opportunity to try to forge a better transatlantic understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Things are changing in Washington, positions are moving. As former U.S. diplomat and Democrats Abroad representative Gerald Loftus mentioned in his blog, "I doubt that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, supportive of Israel though they may be, will be as willing (as George Bush) to provide perpetual cover for Israel's intransigence in the face of world calls for a truce. And the US Congress, which overreached itself in its desire to be more Israeli than the Knessnet, may be out of sync with US public opinion, which is tilting away from unquestioned support of Israel's incursion into Gaza."

A lot will will have to be discussed at the governmental level, but there should also be a real effort to bring together intellectuals, pundits, scholars, journalists, religious leaders, and activists in order to bring more reason and more intellectual integrity into the transatlantic debates on Israel and Palestine.
The blunt accusations that are being lobbed from Washington at Europe’s “anti-semitism” or from Brussels at the “U.S. submission to the Israeli lobby” cannot be allowed to dominate the transatlantic discussions.

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