On Europe's foreign agenda: how to handle Israel
The future of Israeli-European relations will be on the agenda when European Union foreign ministers meet today to broach the subject of Israel.
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But Paris resident Souad Sadaoui joins a majority when she says she is wearied by decades of conflict and favors a two-state solution. According to a recent poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion, 78 percent of those surveyed support a Palestinian state, up from 70 percent two years ago. In a Pew global attitudes survey, Western Europeans sympathize far more with Palestinians than their American counterparts.Skip to next paragraph
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Jean-François Daguzan, deputy director of the think tank Foundation for Strategic Research in France, says popular support for Palestine has both historic and contemporary origins. “At the end of the day you have a fair amount of people, who, for different reasons, some of them emotional, some of them ideological, or some simply based on a feeling of injustice, consider that the Palestinians need to have a state,” he says.
European countries spear-headed the idea of a “two-state" solution more than three decades ago, before the US or Israel. While they have often been seen as a counterbalance to US allegiance to Israel, they have maintained close ties with Israel, which often looks like societal divergence, says Karim Emile Bitar, a senior research fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “There has been a dichotomy between public opinion and the government,” he says.
Now, that could be changing as frustration mounts at Israel over settlement building. In May, the EU issued a stinging report on the subject, discussing the viability of the two-state solution and banning products in illegal settlements as one way to move the peace process forward.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, says that European leaders are also frustrated with US inaction in a time when they have to consider domestic constituents. “Without a doubt, they have made it clear that they are no longer investing in the US as the principal arbiter of the conflict,” he says. “With a new crop of leaders in the middle of a European crisis looking to flex some muscle and look the part of the leader, and in the absence of US leadership, this is the way the drama played out.”
Many doubt that the EU wants to, or is capable of, playing a more meaningful and united role in the conflict.
“I think that the weight of Europe is very limited and has always been, and I don’t think what’s happening now will change that,” says Alain Dieckhoff, an Israel expert and research director at France’s National Center for Scientific Research. But Mr. Levy disagrees, especially if the EU were to use its leverage on the issue of settlement goods. “Europe is Israel’s backyard,”he says. “Over time it could introduce a new dynamic into this.”