Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Herzliya's conference discussion of Israel and Europe pretended Palestinians don't exist

"Has Israel Lost Europe?" So asked the program of this year's Herzliya security conference, in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of the same name, of one of its panels, co-sponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. European diplomats, officials from NGOs and the occasional interested participant spent three hours discussing Europe-Israel relations, under a Chatham House Rules agreement that no one would be quoted by name. To be sure, the "peace process" was mentioned again and again, much of the time because the European Union had—mistakenly, some panelists said—linked relations to an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

But the most glaring omission were the Palestinians themselves—something a few of the participants noted with dismay after the session. From individual rights straight through to collective national ones, there was virtually no nod—not even to a vague notion of empathy—for the Palestinians. Why not? Perhaps because there were no Palestinians on the panel, or seemingly even in the room at all. (There didn't seem to be any Palestinians at the conference at all.)

Panelists and participants held varied opinions on whether Israel actually had lost Europe—no mention, of course, to whom—but almost all held a dire prognosis. "Yes," one participant answered flatly at the top of their comments, adding that relations were getting worse. Another panelist issued a warning: "For the moment, you have not lost Europe, but you will if you don't show your stances." He went on that Europe could reverse the trend by "stop(ping) that drive Israel into isolation." Those policies--of settlement expansion--were alliteratively seen as either the subject of too much focus or, by more critical panelists, through the European lens "as the biggest threat to two states." (The journalist Joseph Dana pointed out after the panel that last year the E.U. upgraded ties with Israel just weeks after issuing a scathing report on settlements.)
But for all the talk of how the Europeans view settlements, and the consequences to relations, it was almost as if these are cities, towns and outposts built upon a land without a people. One self-described "pro-Israeli" participant said Europeans needed to understand that global anti-Semitism went beyond the Holocaust, and that this was part of the narrative of the rise of Israel. But maybe, as that panelist said, everyone was too focused on the settlements, but not for wanting of more of the Israeli narrative, but more of the Palestinian one.

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