Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Europe's 'cautious' cant on Hamas

Is the European Union about to give its blessing to the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah? There is a possibility that it will but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, was trying to sound reasonable this week, while actually being distinctly unreasonable. She appeared to declare support for the idea of a national unity government, led by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. “I understand President Abbas’s desire to move forward on reconciliation,” Ashton said. “We have all argued there needs to be reconciliation and with caution we are moving to try and support his efforts. I say ‘with caution’ because we understand it needs to be based on principles of non-violence.”

It is telling that Ashton has never called on Israel to observe the principle of non-violence. A statement which she issued after Hamas fired rockets into southern Israel last month exemplified how she applies different rules to different parties to the conflict. While she directed the words “strongly condemn” at the “attacks” by Hamas and said that they “must stop immediately”, she merely called on Israel to “show restraint”. There was no explicit acknowledgment of how Israel had killed three members of Hamas a few days earlier, inevitably provoking a response.

And why does Ashton laud Mahmoud Abbas at every available opportunity? His term as president expired in January 2009; since then he has clung to power without any mandate.

Perhaps Ashton feels a sense of affinity with him as she has been a successful politician, without having to go through the messy business of winning elections. Her $435,000-a-year job was obtained thanks to her close ties with two UK prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Although she had sat in the elitist House of Lords, few of her compatriots had heard of her until 2009, when she was appointed the closest thing that Europe has to a foreign minister by the Union’s heads of state and government. This explains her apparent bemusement at the warm reception she received when she met Libyan “rebels” last weekend. “I am more popular in Benghazi than in Britain,” she quipped.

Interestingly, the same unelected Ashton has been extolling the virtues of “democracy promotion” in the Middle East. In her contacts with Hillary Clinton, she has been exploring how Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites can help spread liberty, she stated on Wednesday. Is she telling Arabs to stop worrying about the West’s indulgence of Israel and concentrate on tweeting their way to freedom?

·First published by Mondoweiss (, 25 May 2011

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