An interview with Elie Barnavi, historian, former Israeli Ambassador to France, a member of the Scientific Council at FEPS and one of the initiators of ‘Islam is also our history’, an exhibition that opened this autumn in Brussels, highlighting Muslim heritage in Europe.
Does Europe have a somewhat greater responsibility than other international players in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
In principle, it should, but that’s not how it works, except at the margins.
Each European country has a position and Germany has the clearest position. Given its past, Germany is very reluctant to formulate a coherent critique of Israeli policy and, as a consequence, to take action. But, to be frank, Europe as such does not have a common foreign policy. There are attempts, a representative, etc…
But wasn’t the EU successful with Iran?
When there are clearly defined interests and the main European powers agree, then yes, we can credit Europe with achieving a step forward. On Israel, there is a vague position that has been in place since the 1981 Venice Declaration, but there is no political implementation because states disagree.
Is the timing right?
Yes, because there is a void with the absence of the Americans, who have been, up to now, the leading power in the Middle East.
Can we move forward without the Americans?
Since the Camp David accords, America has tried but failed. There’s a much more obvious vacuum than before and I repeat that Europe could occupy it but it is not doing so. And yet Europe is much more affected by what’s happening in the Middle East than the United States. This conflict is on Europe’s doorstep and it has an impact on both the stability of the region and on migration flows.
In your eyes, does Europe inert?
There is impatience with the continuation of the construction of settlements, marking of products and some vague threats but all this does not make an overall policy.
What should America have done?
Put a peace plan on the table with a negotiating framework and impose it on both sides. John Kerry’s last failure sprung from the absence of a ‘take it or leave it’ written blueprint.
What are the possible ways of putting pressure on the Israeli government?
We are totally dependent on the Americans, militarily, completely. Clearly, without American spare parts, Israel could no longer wage war. It is as stupid as that. I’m not even talking about the financial aspects. In fact, the only time they exercised it – President Bush, before the Madrid negotiations – it was enough to get the situation unblocked.
Is there no hope for a solution to this conflict?
Europeans and Americans should understand that the type of conflict we have, as exceptional as it may seem, is not really so exceptional. This type of asymmetric warfare can only be settled via international pressure. Take the example of the former Yugoslavia. If we had waited for the Serbs and Croats to get along, we’d still be where we were. It took major measures, bombing to stop it. The Dayton Accords were imposed agreements.
This conflict seems to be in deadlock doesn’t it?
Every day that goes by makes the situation more urgent. The occupation is weighing more and more on the minds and the education of young people, etc. If we let it go on, when the 400,000 or so settlers are over a million, it will be very complicated. Like Algeria, where there were one million Europeans for nine million Algerians. But what if there had been five million? There’s always a tipping point. But what is threatening Benjamin Netanyhu at the moment is not the international community but the courts of his own country!
Have you become a realist or an optimist about the outcome of this conflict?
An optimist. We will get there in the end because there are no other solutions. Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister, used to say “Nations end up adopting the ideal solution after having tried all other solutions“.
Let’s hope we’ve tried almost all of them…
But looking to Europe? That was almost it.