Thursday, July 29, 2004

Solana shows his mettle

Javier Solana, the future foreign minister of the European Union, has, as readers of this blog know, announced that in order to protect its citizens the EU will have to act outside its borders. It has security interests all over the world, according to him. Curiously enough, it is precisely statements like this, made by President Bush and others in the American government that have made certain European politicians (President Chirac, Chancellor Schröder et al.) preen themselves at being more sophisticated and nuanced in their attitudes to the world.

Recently Solana has shown in practice what he means by his cryptic comments. As our readers may remember he went on a fairly extended tour of the Middle East about the time Gaza, which is now becoming an independent entity, erupted into serious problems of violence and lack of security.

Javier Solana did not visit the area. Since then the Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Chairman Yasser Arafat have kissed and made up with the latter promising for the umpteenth time that the security forces will be reformed and he will relinquish control of them. This has never happened in the past and is unlikely to in the future.

The tense and unpredictable situation in Gaza does not seem to concern Mr Solana. Does this mean that the area is not one of those where the EU has security interests? How could one even ask such a thing? Mr Solana made up for his reluctance to say anything about Gaza and even greater reluctance to criticize Arafat by having a major row with the Israeli government.

When he arrived in Tel Aviv he was greeted by angry Israeli ministers, who wanted to know why the EU’s member states all voted for the UN Resolution that recommended the removal of Israel’s defence wall. Was the EU not bothered by terrorist attacks? Solana clearly was not. As far as he was concerned it was Israel that was making difficulties, in particular by not taking the EU’s interests seriously.

“Europe”, he announced, has strategic interests in the Middle East and would persist in participating in the peace process, whether Israel liked it or not. This is a little odd, surely. After all, Israel, too, has strategic interests in the Middle East and has some say in who is involved in the peace process. Come to think of it, what are the EU’s strategic interests in the Middle East (apart from the lucrative business deals that France has in Syria)?

Surely, in the present situation our strategic interests are to deal with the threat of terrorism, wherever it may arise. Is wilful blindness to instability in the Gaza the best way of dealing with that? Is deliberate support for a man who is either unable or unwilling to deal with the terrorist gangs on the territory he rules with an iron fist conducive to a solution?

Given what, despite obstructionism by the UN, we are beginning to find out about the food-for-oil scandal and various European politicians’s involvement in it; given the fact that many of these were the most vociferous opponents of any solution to the Saddam Hussein problem; given that EU aid to Palestine has been known to disappear faster than you could say Chris Patten, is it not reasonable to ask what is it that the EU, Javier Solana and many others are afraid of? Why do they hang on in there grimly supporting Yasser Arafat against all political and moral arguments, against the needs and wishes of the Palestinian people, against all possibilities of a peaceful solution? Is there something about that relationship that we ought to know?

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