Friday, June 28, 2013

Europe kowtows to Kerry on "peace process"

John Kerry used to baffle me.

When he was running for president in 2004, Kerry had to keep quiet about how he could speak French. Being brainy enough to have a good command of a second language was something of a liability in US politics, it seemed.

As most of my American friends were smart and witty, I couldn't accept this caricature of the general US population scorning education. I still can't.

Despite the confusion he has caused, I have grasped one thing about Kerry. Regardless of what language he speaks as secretary of state, the European Union will do what he says.

This week, the EU's foreign ministers declared their full support for Kerry's efforts to revive the moribund Middle East "peace process." Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues were delighted by the terse statement which the ministers issued. A more detailed communiqué upbraiding Israel for its ongoing construction of illegal settlements was reportedly binned.

Sacred flame?

Why is Europe voicing confidence in a US-led initiative? By providing $3 billion in military aid to Israel each year, no nation is less qualified to bring peace than America. But speaking the truth about "our friends in Washington" -- a term used habitually by Brussels-based diplomats -- is taboo.

A recent quote from an unnamed diplomat in European Voice, a weekly paper published in Brussels, indicates that EU officials are seriously deluded. According to this diplomat, the Union was "the only actor keeping alight the sacred flame of the two-state solution" last year (when the US was preoccupied with re-electing Obama).

What is sacred about the "two-state solution"? The idea of building a Palestinian nation on a fraction of historic Palestine amounted to a sordid compromise, to begin with. With Israel ploughing ahead with a massive expansion of its colonization program -- by, for example, seizing the area between Jerusalem and the West Bank known as E-1 -- there is no longer any prospect of having any kind of viable Palestinian state.

The unholy flame of the two-state solution has, therefore, been extinguished. So why are EU diplomats patting themselves on the back for keeping it alight?

Dithering on labels

The EU has also dithered on introducing mandatory labeling for produce emanating from Israeli settlements. This idea could have been approved by the foreign ministers this week if they weren't so busy kowtowing to Kerry. Instead, it has been delayed once again.

Andrew Standley, head of the EU's embassy in Tel Aviv, has insisted that the plan nonetheless remains on the agenda.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Standley presented the move as purely a "consumer protection" issue. “It is important to emphasize that, indeed, it is not a boycott,” he said. “At no time, at no stage, has anyone called for settlement products to be prohibited from entering the EU.”

Standley was speaking about the European elite. Ordinary folk who believe in standing with the Palestinians are calling for a complete ban on settlement products, as well as a complete boycott of Israeli goods (not just those from settlements).

Ducking the issue

Correctly stating where goods originate from would certainly be useful as an awareness-raising exercise. Yet it would duck the central issue that these settlements are illegal under international law. By allowing exports from the settlements to continue, the EU is facilitating violations of international law -- something it should regard as far more "sacred" than the futile quest for a two-state solution.

While Standley has hinted that labeling should only be a matter of time, I wouldn't be surprised if the EU finds further excuses to procrastinate. Israel and the lobby network which supports it are exerting pressure on the Union to drop the labeling move altogether.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, has written to senior EU figures in the past few days. According to him, the "timing of the labeling move is inauspicious as it is diverting energies that could be better placed supporting positive moves towards restarting direct negotiations between the parties."

The argument that you shouldn't do anything to jeopardize the peace process is an old one. Sadly, it's also an effective one.

The EU's governments and institutions are willing to play along with this absurd charade, in which warmongers masquerade as peacemakers. Everything must be done to avoid upsetting their puppet-masters in Washington. What Kerry says goes.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 June 2013.

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