Islamic Terrorism in India

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Israel finds more sympathy in Europe

Posted by jagoindia on January 20, 2009


Israel finds more sympathy in Europe
By Robert Marquand
The Christian Science Monitor
January 8, 2009

Concerns about Islamist threat have influenced traditionally pro-Arab
Europe’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Paris – European Union leaders this week flanked Israeli Foreign
Minister Tzipi Livni as she told the world’s news media, “We are all
opposed to terrorism.” For many observers in Europe, the moment
underscored a little-noted but ongoing convergence between European
and US-Israeli thinking – despite the tragedy and challenge that Gaza
presents.

For decades, Europe was a Middle East counterbalance – generally
sympathetic to Palestinians as the weaker party, critical of an
unqualified US backing of Israel. The Palestine Liberation
Organization had offices in Europe. France’s Navy helped Yasser
Arafat escape Tripoli in 1983. Europe backed the Oslo Accords, and
saw the Palestinian cause as a fight for territory and statehood.

Yet Europe’s traditional position on the Arab dispute has been
quietly changing: It is gravitating closer to a US-Israeli framing of
a war on terror, a “clash of civilizations,” with a subtext of
concern about the rise of Islam – and away from an emphasis on core
grievances of Palestinians, like the ongoing Israeli settlements in
the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and “occupation.”

Causes for the shift are complex and manifold, and in no small way
associated with the rise of Muslim populations in Europe. But since
Sept. 11, the discourse and psychology in Europe has shifted, with
pro-Arab support “diluting and weakening,” as Karim Bitar, with the
International Institute of Strategic Relations in Paris, puts it –
and converging with US-Israeli framing of a fight against terror.
[Editor’s note: The original version misspelled Mr. Bitar’s name.]

“There is convergence on goals [terrorism] between Europe and the US,
and a remnant of divergence on means [military logic],” argues the
French intellectual Dominique Moisi. “The Europeans are less pro-
Islamic Muslims now than before, after 9/11.

“We also see that even American Jews are not entirely at peace with
what Israel is doing. There’s more criticism of Israel than before,
in American opinion; and in Europe there is less support of what the
Arabs are.”

In the Gaza conflict, “European diplomats see a crisis with no exit
point,” says a senior French scholar with extensive Mideast
experience. “They think if the Israelis can put out Hamas and put in
Abbas, that would be wonderful. They don’t see Hamas as Palestinian
nationals, but as Islamic.”

A Euro-American convergence leaves European Union diplomats
supporting Palestinians on “shallower emotional and humanitarian
grounds,” says Mr. Bitar, “helping people survive, hoping economic
improvement is enough, and forgetting the old issues of substance,
and Israeli occupation. The two-state solution is nearly dead.”

Europe itself is not the Europe of decades past, dominated by French
diplomacy, with its Arab ties. There are 27 nations. Eastern and
former Soviet states, like Poland and the Czech Republic, often take
American positions on foreign affairs. As Prague took over the EU
presidency last week, it issued a statement that Israel’s actions in
Gaza were “defensive” – later backing down under French and British
censure.

In Scandinavia, traditionally pro-Arab states have found social
tensions with new Muslim populations – the crisis in Denmark over a
cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, for example – and public support for
Arabs is down in polls. In Europe today, nearly all major leaders –
France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Gordon
Brown, and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi – are seen as leaning toward
Israel. The lone pro-Arab leader is Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez
Zapatero.

“There is a general ‘Arab fatigue’ in Europe,” says Denis Bauchard,
an adviser to the French Institute for International Relations in
Paris. “The Palestine issue continues, the violence continues, the
Palestinians are divided, and it just creates a kind of fatigue.”

“Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and
this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine
conflict,” says Aude Signoles, an expert on Palestinian movements at
the University of La Réunion in Madagascar.

A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2006 found that French sympathies were
evenly divided (38 percent) between those sympathizing with the
Palestinians and with Israel, marking a doubling of support for
Israel and a 10 percent gain for Palestinians over the previous two
years. In Germany, 37 percent sympathized with Israel – an increase
of 13 points over 2004 and more than double those who supported the
Palestinians.

To be sure, Europe retains deep reservoirs of solidarity with North
Africa. Public opinion here is outraged by the Gaza inferno. There is
widespread condemnation of the Israeli attack, including by French
President Sarkozy. European media have been overwhelmingly
sympathetic to the Gazans, even while being barred from entering the
Strip.

More fundamentally, says Antoine Sfeir, founder of the Middle East
review “Cahiers de L’Orient,” European leaders understand the
political realities in Israel, the problems of a state attacked by
rockets, and the need to protect citizens. Even if he disagrees with
the framing of the issue, “The Europeans don’t see this as a
Palestinian thing. They see it as a Hamas thing,” he says. “In fact,
this is not about terrorism; it is a war between Israel and
Palestinians that is being called a war on terror.”

Ironically perhaps, Europeans were the most vocal critics of the Bush
administration-coined phrase “war on terror.” It is seen as
overreaching and simplistic while being used to sanction wars like
Iraq.

Yet since Sept. 11, a discourse that advocates a tough confrontation
with Islam has emerged in Europe – based in part on Samuel
Huntington’s “clash of civilization” theory – in such venues as the
French magazine “Brave New World.” Sarkozy has been congenial to
these points.

Authors include former leftists like Pascal Bruckner, André
Glucksmann, Olivier Rolin, and Bernard-Henri Lévy who supported the
war in Iraq and view Islam as a creeping form of totalitarian
ideology moving into Europe. The most recent issue contains an homage
to Mr. Huntington, who died last month.

Bitar argues that “Islamophobia” feeds a popular confusion in Europe
about Muslims. “Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda are all viewed as the same
thing. Europe used to see the Arab conflict as about territory. Now
it is shifting towards the global war on terror, Islam versus the
West, clash theory.”

Mr. Moisi dissents from the Huntington thesis. His recent book “Clash
of Emotion,” describes a West characterized by “fear” and an Arab
world characterized by “humiliation.”

US and European differences on Israel have been deep and numerous.
The US and Israel have religious and theological sensibilities about
the Holy Land; Europeans view the Palestinian issue through a secular
and humanitarian lens.

America, with an influential Jewish population, has seen Israel’s
security and right to defend itself as central. Europe, without as
weighty a lobby, has stressed UN security resolutions, and
international law for Palestinians that have been a counterbalance.
European academics have not been uneasy with the phrase “state-
sponsored terrorism” to describe Israeli violence against
Palestinians; in America the phrase is seen as far-left.

Europeans saw President Clinton as an honest broker in the Mideast;
President Bush has been seen as wholly aligned with Israel.

Large differences still exist between the two continents on the
priority of the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

“In Europe, we see the Palestinian issue as major, one that, if not
solved, will continue the chaos and violence,” says Mr.
Bauchard. “Americans agree with Israel that the real issue is the
existential threat from Iran. The Israelis built a wall and treated
the Palestinians as unimportant.”

European media characterize the photogenic and well-spoken Ms. Livni
as a moderate – though she emerged from the hard-line party of Ariel
Sharon. “The Europeans really fear what will happen if [right-wing
Likud Party chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu wins in February,” says Ms.
Signoles. “So she is called a moderate, because in Europe, the term
right-wing means violent.”

Signoles points out that the main effect of a Europe that adopts an
American position is that the core Palestinian issues regarding the
cessation of settlements, a shared capital of Jerusalem, and the
right of return “may not be emphasized as before.. [T]he Israel-
Palestine issue is an asymmetric problem, and if the international
community does not raise it and balance it, there is little chance
that the rights of the smaller player will be raised.”

One Response to “Israel finds more sympathy in Europe”

  1. […] Israel finds more sympathy in Europe […]

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