EU's Second Greatest Mistake in the Middle East (Alistair Crooke in London Review of Books)

The origins of the Hamas action in Gaza lie in the reaction of the international community, and of Fatah, to Hamas’s overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections of January 2006. Fatah, Yasir Arafat’s movement, saw itself as the founder of the Palestinian Authority; it believed it was the natural party of government; and it had fought a long battle with Arab neighbours to establish itself as synonymous with the PLO, and therefore, implicitly, as the ‘sole representative of the Palestinian people’. Some within Fatah were unable to come to terms with their loss of power, or to reconcile themselves to the claim that, on the basis of the election result, an Islamist party best represented the views of the Palestinian people. At this crucial juncture, the International Quartet intervened: they pressed President Abbas not to yield to Hamas, to hang onto power; and they promised to support him if he did so… Whatever the cause, Europeans embarked on one of their greatest policy mistakes in the region – second only to their support for the invasion of Iraq – with their dogged determination to isolate Hamas and attempt to return Fatah to powerThe activities of the US are fundamental to the present crisis. Iraq continues to radiate instability and is exacerbating tensions between the Shia and Sunni everywhere. US and EU policy in Palestine and Lebanon is driving internal tension and polarisation, and the risk of conflict involving Iran and possibly Syria overshadows everything else in the region. In all, the Americans and Europeans are engaged in six internal conflicts in Muslim societies – in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine – in each case providing finance and weapons for one faction to use against another. As I write, Hizbullah is preparing for the possibility of renewed conflict with Israel, and Syria and Iran have also reached the conclusion that conflict is a real and imminent prospect, and are actively preparing for it. When all parties begin to see conflict as inevitable, then the ‘inevitable’ becomes self-fulfilling. Americans are fond of comparing the situation in the region to the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism; but perhaps Europe in 1914 is a better metaphor: EU’s Second Greatest Mistake in the Middle East (Alistair Crooke in London Review of Books and Conflicts Forum))

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3 thoughts on “EU's Second Greatest Mistake in the Middle East (Alistair Crooke in London Review of Books)

  1. Comment from William Beelaerts
    Time: June 29, 2007, 2:14 pm
    Mr. Crooke,
    Thank you for your interesting analysis and policy recommendations. They make salutary reading for European diplomats dealing with the Middle east.
    Frankly I couldn’t agree with you more. I believe the western approach towards the Palestine question is a self-fulfilling ‘’prolicy’’-to coin a phrase. It is a source of great regret to me personally to have to use the term ‘’’western’’ in this context. Until very recently I insisted on drawing a distinction between European and American policies when talking to Palestinians and others. But it will no longer do.
    The end-result of this policy is the exact opposite of what was intended. Eg. when Hanniyeh says releasing tax-remittances to in essence Fath is no more than a form of rashwa, this rings a bell across the region.
    For Europeans naive assumptions about the credibility of secular nationalists, the lending of an all too ready ear to ‘’friendly’’ arab regimes with their own axes to grind, and the ostensible weakness of the Palestinian factor as a quantite negligeable in the greater scheme of things have all played their part. But towering above all this, for European governments, has been the relationship with the US.I have drawn the attention of colleagues at the Middle East Dept. of the Dutch MFA to your perspective. Whether however they succeed in persuading principals of the necessity of another course of action is another matter entirely.
    You will be aware as I am that most European states -with a few honourable exceptions- do not assess developments unfolding across the Middle East on their own merits but view these through the prism of their relations with the United States.
    Your own country is a prime example. Mine (The Netherlands) runs yours a very close second. The powerful atlantically-oriented instincts of a foreign policy generation reared during the cold war are not to be underestimated. I should have liked to close with a few suggestions of my own but it is late and my family and I are leaving Beirut early tomorrow morning.
    Yours,
    William Beelaerts

  2. A couple of days ago, I did a quick survey of some of my regular readers to canvas opinions on why it is that Europe, so obviously knowing better, has nonetheless wholly embraced the disastrous U.S. boycott of the democratically-elected Hamas government. I asked them to respond to the following: My most recent posting includes Alistair Crooke’s observations about how the Europeans are as culpable as the U.S. in the application of a hopelessly dysfunctional policy on Hamas after it won the Palestinian election. But the Europeans obviously ought to know better, and I’ve seen no good explanation for why this is the case — it’s easy to see how the Bush Administration has arrived here, but less so the Europeans: There’s no significant Israel lobby in Europe, is there? Are they simply compensating for the damage Iraq has done to the Transatlantic relationship? Or is this somehow a reflection of their own, domestic Islamo-phobia?
    Reactions were varied: Paul Woodward offered this quote from William Beelaerts, the deputy head of the North Africa and Middle East department in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to back up the idea that the EU position on Hamas is driven primarily by a desire to maintain the pre-eminence of European-US relations:
    “You will be aware as I am that most European states — with a few honorable exceptions — do not assess developments unfolding across the Middle East on their own merits but view these through the prism of their relations with the United States. Your own country [referring to Britain] is a prime example. Mine (The Netherlands) runs yours a very close second. The powerful Atlantically-oriented instincts of a foreign policy generation reared during the Cold War are not to be underestimated.”
    Paul adds that Europe defaults to a “proxy consensus” of following the U.S. lead because the alternative requires a more drastic break with the U.S. “New governments in Europe have good reason to assume that the next administration in Washington will be just as biased towards Israel as is the current one, they have little interest in creating a rift that would extend well beyond 2008.”..
    http://tonykaron.com/2007/07/06/mark-perry-why-europe-marches-meekly-behind-washington-on-hamas/In the intervening months, I have had occasion to reflect on the depth of American-European ties. They are much broader and more deeply rooted than I had ever believed. Despite my oft-repeated projection — that the nations of the EU would, one-by-one, peal away from the American-led boycott of Hamas — the united anti-Hamas front shaped by the Americans (irrational and counterproductive though I believe it to be) has been maintained intact. The French, Germans and of course the U.K — but also Spain and Italy — have maintained the alliance and I have been given to think that it will be maintained even in the face of America’s continued foreign policy fumbles. And perhaps for good reason…http://tonykaron.com/2007/07/06/mark-perry-why-europe-marches-meekly-behind-washington-on-hamas/

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