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Luring Israel into the European Union



Jonathan Power

March 25, 2004

LONDON - The lure of membership of the European Union is working with Turkey, Romania, Croatia, Macedonia and even to a lesser extent with Serbia. All have upgraded their attitudes to justice and to minorities. When Europe walks softly with a big juicy carrot it seems to work far better than the old time policies of sanctions, reprobation and isolation. So why not with Israel? Europe could offer the Jews a security a fence never could.

The security wall now being built to divide Israel from Palestine will end up enclosing the Palestinians inside an area that is 44% of the West Bank. This is a mere 9% of historic Palestine. No quasi independence for Gaza can compensate for this bald arithmetic. The Hamas line takes on a renewed resonance among an increasing number of Arabs: we have no choice, they say, but to drive the Israelis into the sea.

There is a telling passage in Patrick Buchanan's latest book. He records a visit to Richard Nixon. His wife asks the ex president a question: "What do you think are the prospects for Israel's future existence?" Nixon "extended his right fist, thumb up in the manner of a Roman emperor passing sentence on a Roman gladiator, and slowly turned his thumb over and down".

Palestinian anger goes back a long way, at least to 1917, when the British government in the shape of the Balfour Declaration gave the official nod to the Zionists who wanted to re-create a biblical homeland on what for 700 years, until the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of Turkey's defeat in World War 1, had been Muslim territory. The Palestinians consider themselves double crossed by the British. They have always maintained that Palestine was twice promised. During the struggle to undermine the Turkish Empire Britain had told the Palestinians that they too would get their homeland in return for cooperation.

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By 1937 the British political establishment concluded it had made a mistake in allowing the Zionist movement to drag the country into the enterprise of remaking a Jewish homeland. A bloody Arab revolt that they had to mercilessly repress had ground down the earlier idealistic vision. A year before the British had come up with their own plan for partition. By today's standards it was a very good deal. The Arabs would receive the west bank of the Jordan River, the mountainous region and the desert to the south. The Jews would receive Tel Aviv, the coastal plain, the northern valleys and part of Galilee. The British would retain Jerusalem.

But the Arabs refused partition. So did many of the Jews, although the leadership, in particular Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, were for it since it would bring about a Jewish state. Ben-Gurion preferred legitimacy to real estate.

In the end, faced with continuing Arab revolt, London in a cowardly move shelved its own proposal. But by refusing to bite on that bullet the British had to face down even more Arab violence, then Jewish violence, all the while favoring the Zionists endeavor of settling increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants. When the British upped and left- literally dropping the keys of the central administration on the doorstep of the closed-for-the-night UN office, it was inevitable the Arabs would fight. It was also inevitable that the Jews would win.

After the later 1967 war, when Israel overran the left bank, the then retired Ben-Gurion said that Israel must unilaterally withdraw from the occupied territories. But he was ignored and the settlement movement began, though it was only a small minority who thought it was a sensible idea. 

Now 37 years later the compromising efforts of Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton and Crown Prince Abdullah are all water under the bridge of Arab/Israel enmity.

There are Israelis who are prepared to meet the Palestinians half way but they are marginalized politically. Public opinion in Israel is defensive, pro Sharon, yet according to the opinion polls more open than he to a fair deal.

Much Western opinion blames the Americans for the present impasse. While it is true that the Bush administration has behaved irresponsibly, it is not right for Europe to shrug off its historical burden. Without the romantic-religious decision of the British administration of David Lloyd George and without the Holocaust we would not face what we contemplate today.

It is Europe that needs to take the lead to make amends. It is not enough to let Israeli artists sing in the Eurovision song contest- although this trivial gesture suggests that many Europeans consider Israel a slice of Europe. Israel should be encouraged to become an applicant to the European Union. This would offer the security the Jews crave and which a fence and guns can never match. In return the Jews must be generous, very generous, with the division of historic Palestine.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


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