How Europe can become a player in the Middle East

From an Austrian Member of Parliament: The EU could play a supporting role – recognizing Israeli concerns, and encouraging Palestinian compromise

Regarding the Middle East, the EU has so far played the role of the two old men in the “Muppet Show”: observing the course of events from the box and bitching about it. The Europeans could do well as mediators though.

The United States presented the Trump Peace Plan a few months ago to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The new Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu is preparing to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank based on this plan. In these developments, the European Union have so far only been grumpy bystanders. But Europe could become a player in the Middle East again. Here’s how.

First, a sober inventory should be taken: the Middle East is and remains an immediate neighborhood region of Europe. Events there can quickly have an impact on Europe — see the refugee crisis of 2015. Therefore we cannot be indifferent to what is happening there.

Second, the EU has not made a constructive contribution to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for many years. The engagement usually ends with a condemnation of Israel. Financial support for the Palestinians to maintain the — actually undesirable — status quo continues. What remains is the ritualized lip service to a (not defined) two-state solution.

Third, it should also be noted in the EU that the status of the West Bank under international law is not that clear. The last legal sovereign was Britain. When the United Kingdom ended the League of Nations’ mandate in 1948, Jordan occupied the West Bank, without any legal claim, and held it until the Six Day War in 1967 without establishing a Palestinian state there.

The pioneering UN Security Council Resolution 242 adopted after the 1967 arms movement, laid down two things: Every State (note: specifically Israel was meant) had the right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats and acts of force. And furthermore, Israel had to withdraw from territories occupied in the recent conflict.

It is of critical importance here that the wording deliberately chosen was the indefinite designation “from territories” and not “from the territories.” This left open which parts of the West Bank Israel would have to withdraw from, especially with regard to the establishment of secure borders. And the pre-1967 armistice lines were certainly not such safe limits.

This is exactly what the narrative of Israel is based on, that in the case of the West Bank they are “disputed territories.” The US government recently joined this position.

Fourth, it is about an effective negotiation strategy. The Austrian courts could serve as an excellent example: Here, judges and mediators are more and more successful in bringing the parties to the dispute to a reasonable compromise. The recipe? They make it very clear to both parties that the issue is not black and white, that the outcome will ultimately always be an arrangement, but by then the two parties will have lost so much time, energy and money that it makes a lot more sense to find a compromise right now. It’s amazing to see how well this works.

What happens now in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The United States and, finally, some Arab countries are increasingly making it clear to the Palestinians that sticking to maximal demands (such as receiving the entire West Bank, dividing Jerusalem, retaining the right of return for refugees, including those who have not lived in Israel for generations, etc.) doesn’t bring the Palestinians a step closer to a solution. Rather, the Palestinians would have to return to the negotiating table with Israel which they left in 2010.

However, some EU countries such as France, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland etc. do exactly the opposite: metaphorically speaking, they threaten and sanction one party to the dispute (Israel) again and again, while constantly assuring the other party to the dispute (the Palestinians) that their claim is justified. And they also support the latter politically and financially so that they just don’t give up their narrative.

Fifth, the EU can therefore only play a role in the Middle East if it does not leave Israel policy in the hands of notorious critics of Israel such as the EU’s foreign minister Josep Borrell. Its predecessor, Federica Mogherini was not even received in Israel, and Borrell will probably be no different.

Some European countries such as the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia as well as Austria are breaking new ground. With a greater understanding of Israel’s difficult security situation and willingness to signal to the Palestinians that they too must be willing to compromise. With the clear message — as with the Austrian courts — that time is not on their side.

The Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said many years ago. It was exactly 100 years ago that the Sévres Treaty provided for an autonomous state for the Kurds. Today hardly anyone knows that, and the Kurds are now considered one of the largest peoples without their own nation-state.

If the Palestinians are not to suffer the same fate as the Kurds, then there could be another historical chance of obtaining one at the negotiating table. Of course, involving a cut in their previous expectations.

This is exactly where the Europeans could support the Palestinians and thus play a supporting role in the Middle East. This is certainly not possible with threats and sanctions against Israel, but rather by demanding the principle of reality, understanding the narratives of both sides, pushing for a willingness to compromise and last but not least: the promise to Israel and the emerging Palestinian state structure that they both can expect generous economic support from the EU and maximum integration into Europe.

This could form a viable bridge from Europe to the Middle East, which could become an alliance for peace, freedom and prosperity.

The Op-Ed was written by  Austrian MP, Martin Engelberg and was published in The Times of Israel


Austrian parliament urges chancellor clamp down on Hezbollah

Call for EU to reassess how to deal with terrorist entity regarding security of Israel


A COUNTRY BY COUNTRY LOOK AT THE EU ELECTIONS

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

With the European elections results coming in overnight there are some surprises, but many predictable outcomes. The elections have ramifications for Europe’s position in the world because the more Europe is unstable and fractured by infighting, the less it will play a role in world affairs. In addition, the more extreme parties in Europe will fuel the continued cycle of the instability, likely exacerbating the inability of the continent to act as a whole on policies, leaving such issues as immigration and security in the hands of states that have deepening societal divisions.

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party remakes map of UK politics

The pro-Brexit leader Nigel Farage, who appeared to leave politics after the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, led a new party to a surprising thirty percent of the votes in the UK European elections. These elections weren’t supposed to even happen because the UK was already supposed to have left the EU. His message was that his party wants to take responsibility for leaving the EU and that if the ruling Conservatives don’t act then they will be crushed at the next polls.

The Conservatives already were humiliated in the EU elections in the UK, receiving less than ten percent. The Liberal Democrats performed well with almost 20 percent of the vote while Labour slipped to 14% and the Greens grabbed 11%. It’s clear that a coalition of Labour, the Greens and Liberal-Democrats, with the Scottish Nationalists, likely could run the UK after the next general election. For now it is the EU that will be getting Farage back.

Germany goes Green

In Germany the centrist and historically dominant Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost votes to the Green Party. The Greens took twenty percent of the vote while the right wing AfD took ten percent. For Germany, any notion that right wing parties might do well always conjures up comparisons to the past. But the reality is that there is no massive swing to the far-right in Germany, yet. Instead the major parties are simply being weakened. The smaller leftist Die Linke party, for instance, took five percent of the vote. Liberals took another five percent.

Le Pen wins, again, in France

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally defeated President Emmanuel Macron’s party by a whopping 23.3% to 22.4%. This is supposed to make us all gasp that Lep Pen has “won,” but she hasn’t really won anything. Macron has been beset by massive protests by the “yellow vests” and French politics is fickle. They tend to dislike their presidents. The Le Pen phenomenon has continued for twenty years in France. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen received 17% in the presidential election. Marine Le Pen got 33% of the vote in 2017. So her 23% isn’t a win, it’s a loss for her party. It just looks good in comparison to Macron’s failure. The real winners, in a sense, in France were the Greens with 13% of the vote, an increase from last time. See a pattern here with the Greens doing better in Germany and the UK?

Italy’s one third

A third of Italians voted for the Lega, Matteo Salvini’s party that is popular in the north of the country. Another 23% voted for the social democrats while only 16% chose the Five Star Movement, a new party that had got around a third of the vote in the 2018 elections. It appears that Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia got 7% of the vote. One supposes that means former Italian leader Mr. Berlusconi is back in politics, something he has been trying to achieve for the last few years. The end result in Italy is that although the right wing is doing well, they are still divided and kept at a third of the votes.

Sweden’s moderate politics

Not so long ago Sweden thought that it might be swept up in populist politics with the rise of the Sweden Democrats. The wave appears to be cresting as they now have 15% of the vote, a continual rise from 2018 when they had 13% in national elections. But the rest of Sweden’s politics is predictable. The Moderate party got 16% and the center-left took 23%. The Greens now have 11%.

Flemish Nationalism rises in Belgium

The new Flemish Alliance, which had 20% in the 2014 vote got only 13% in the EU elections, but its more far-right Vlaams Belang got 11%. On the left the socialists took 10%, the French speaking Greens 7% and the Flemish speaking Greens another 7%. Flemish socialists also got 6%. All in all the politics in Belgium is so divided that it’s hard to make any real conclusions, besides the obvious fact that the Flemish right is rising. Previously the the Vlaams Belang had only around 3% of the vote. But a previous incarnation of the far-right, the Vlams Blok, once got 12% of the vote in 1994 and 15% in 1999. So the new far-right Flemish speakers have merely gone back to what they used to have.

Puigdemont gets a seat in Spain

The Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont secured a seat in Spain while another group supporting local regions, Ahora Republicas, got 5% of the votes. Its leader Oriol Junqueras has been in imprisoned on charges of “rebellion.” The populist Vox party got 6% of the vote in Spain. Overall Spain’s politics are largely dominated by the normal parties with the socialists getting 32% and the center-right People’s Party getting 20%. Another center-right Citizens party got 12%.

Orban’s Hungary

Viktor Orban continued his dominance of Hungarian politics, taking more than 50% of the vote in the EU elections there. He has been the leader of the Fidesz party for years and a dominant figure since the late 1990s. It is the only European country where a party got over 50% of the vote.

Poland goes for two big parties

Poland looks the way western European countries used to look in its voting pattern for two large parties. Forty-three percent chose a right wing conservative party called Law and Justice, while 38% chose the European Coalition. In general Poland’s politics have not fractured like many other countries in Europe.

Austria’s Greens and Freedom Party

Austrian politics also looks relatively normal in the EU election, with the People’s Party taking 34% and the Social Democrats taking 23%. The Freedom Party, with is more right wing, has 17% and the Greens 14%. This looks like the 2017 Austrian legislative elections in which the Freedom Party got 20% and the Greens got 12%. Basically there is no news from Vienna.

Romania’s socialists lose out

In Romania the center-right National Liberal Party got 27% of the vote while the Social Democrats got only 24%. A centrist party called USR-PLUS got another 18%. The Social Democrats had 45% of the vote as recently as 2016. They now have been handed a major defeat. Romania matters to the Eu because it has 32 seats in the 751 parliament, making it one of the larger members in the 28 member block. Germany, Italy, France and the UK are the largest, followed by France and Poland.

Ireland also goes Green a bit

Ireland largely voted for the parties one would expect, Fine Gail got 29% and Fianna Fail got 15%. This represented a defeat for Fianna Fail while the Green Party grabbed 15%, much more than in the 2016 elections in Ireland. Sinn Fein got 13%, which is exactly what it got in 2016. No big surprises here, except for the Greens.

Netherlands says goodbye to populism

The Party for Freedom (PVV) once had 16% and 13% in EU elections in 2009 and 2014. But it slipped to a dismal failure in the 2019 elections, illustrating the far-right nationalism may not be on the march. It came in second with 13% of the vote in the 2017 general elections in Holland. But the Dutch decided on more traditional politics this election, sending Labour to the EU with 19% of the vote and the People’s Party with 14%. The Greens got 10% of the vote. The surprising failure of the populists and nationalists in Netherlands may point to a turning point in that country and others. After almost two decades, since the days of the Pim Fortuyn List, politics in the low country seem a bit more traditional.

The article was published on The JPost


Netanyahu to meet Austrian chancellor, attend anti-Semitism conference in Vienna

During his visit to Israel this summer, Kurz expressed remorse for Austrian participation in Nazi crimes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to fly to Vienna later this month to meet with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in what will be the first official visit to Austria by an Israeli premier in more than two decades.

“It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu for an official visit to Austria!,” Kurz tweeted Wednesday.

Netanyahu will hold a bilateral meeting with the Austrian leader and attend a “conference on the fight against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism” hosted by Kurz on November 21-22.

Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit to Vienna will be the first trip to Austria by an Israeli prime minister since 1997, when Netanyahu visited the country during his first term.

Member of parliament Martin Engelberg, a member of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s center-right Austrian People’s Party (OVP), announced the Israeli premier’s planned visit earlier Wednesday during a pan-European conference on anti-Semitism in Brussels.

“[Netanyahu] is going to come to Vienna in two weeks, and there will be a summit, a quite high-ranking summit…on fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, also including BDS [the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement] and protecting and securing Jewish life in Austria and in Europe,” Engelberg told i24NEWS.

Ties between Israel and Austria have strengthened over the past year, despite the inclusion in Kurz’s coalition government of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda.

Israel’s foreign ministry has maintained a “boycott” of the Freedom Party ministers, who preside over the foreign and defense ministries, since they joined Kurz’s government late last year government, instead conducting all governmental matters through lower-level civil servants.

But it appears the Israeli government is eager to maintain good relations with Austria, as the reaction paled in comparison with that in 2000, when the Freedom Party first joined a coalition government and Israeli authorities withdrew the Ambassador from Vienna.

The Austrian chancellor visited Israel in June and met with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

“It’s a very clear sign of the close friendship not only between Israel and Austria, but also on a personal level between the Israeli prime minister and our Austrian chancellor,” Engelberg said of Netanyahu’s planned reciprocal visit.

Engelberg told i24NEWS that it was the “right” of the Jewish community to decide to boycott ministers of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), but noted that nonetheless, “the relationship between Austria and Israel has never been as close as it is now.”

He added that “nobody is pressing” Israel to change its policy regarding FPO ministers.

“Austria is a member of the European Union…and whether or not the Israeli government has contact with Austrian ministers of the Freedom Party does not really bother us,” he said.

“I’m more interested that the Freedom Party really takes the right steps and we will charge them by their deeds, as we say,” Engelberg said.

During his visit to Israel this summer, Kurz expressed remorse at the American Jewish Committee’s conference in Jerusalem for Austrian participation in Nazi crimes during the Holocaust.

Engelberg said that over the past 30 years there has been a “strong decline” in what he called “classical anti-Semitism” in Austria, meanwhile claiming that levels of anti-Semitism in the country’s Muslim population were much higher than in the general population.

“We are talking about, according to the polls, a level of anti-Semitism [within the Muslim population] of 40, 50, or 60 percent sometimes, whereas in the general population we tend to come down from 30 percent to 10 percent,” he said, without citing from which polls he had drawn the figures.

Founded in 1956, the FPOe emerged from the short-lived Federation of Independents, launched after World War II by former Nazis who had been stripped of their voting rights.

The party, whose first chief was an ex-officer from the Waffen SS, also drew pan-Germanists — believers in unifying with Germany like in the Third Reich — and liberals fed up with the ruling centrist establishment.

The party rose to prominence in the late 1980’s under Joerg Haider, the charismatic but controversial son of a former Nazi party official, positioning itself as a formidable populist force thriving on xenophobic and anti-EU slogans.

Today, the part is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, a former member of a radical student fraternity who has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda.

Strache has dismissed former associations with neo-Nazi groups as youthful dalliance and has attempted to position himself as a vocal advocate and friend of Israel.

Strache has traveled to Israel a number of times and developed ties with representatives of the Israeli right. In one of his last trips, however, late Israeli President Shimon Peres had refused to meet him.

i24NEWS correspondent Polina Garaev contributed to this report.

The article was published on I24