Thursday, March 19, 2009

Israel and the European Parliament

Yesterday was something of an unofficial 'Focus on Gaza' day within the European Parliament: the PSE (Socialist Group) were holding a seminar entitled Prospects for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict after Gaza and the Israeli Elections, the Taxpayer's alliance presenting their new report on Hate Education since Annapolis, and in the midst of it all a rather inconspicuous email circulated to garner support for the "Open the Doors Campaign". Just one in the melee of emails asking for support on every topic imaginable, I suspect the vast majority of MEPs with little or no interest in the situation binned it. However, it's worth taking a closer look at as I believe it's a pretty good indication of the general attitude towards the Israeli / Palestinian conflict within the Parliament.

At first glance the author seems to be impartial, describing in the opening paragraphs the difficulties faced by citizens on both sides of the border. However, the Campaign calls for the following:

"Israel must end the Gaza blockade, end all killings, and enable Gaza to open to the world, so as to guarantee the possibility of a viable economy, and improve the humanitarian situation.

"The Palestinians must end all rocket attacks against Israel and the Israelis.

"The Palestinians must free Corporal Gilad Shalit, whom they have held prisoner for two years now.

"The Israelis, who hold more than ten thousand Palestinian prisoners in their jails, must urgently release a significant group of women prisoners, sick persons, the eldest and longest-serving among them, along with those held under administrative detention and other arbitrary procedures – including all the elected members of Palestinian Legislature."

In effect, this campaign - which is backed by 127 MEPs according to the email - pays mere lip service to the efforts which the Palestinian must make to bring about a lasting peace whilst placing the onus on Israel to capitulate. Why are there no calls for Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist? Why isn't pressure being put on the Palestinians to urge their people not to use violent means of protest? In fact, when Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayer's Alliance suggested that Europe could bring this pressure on Hamas by withholding the millions of Euros given to in aid, two of the handful of questions put to him where asking what steps the Parliament is taking to prevent hate education in Israel.

Moreover, the language is misleading. It attempts to create a moral equivalence where there is none. No Palestinian prisoner is denied access to a lawyer or a visit from the Red Cross, for example. Crossings are closed due to security threats, not out of a desire to inflict suffering. What's more, Gaza seems to have no problems with it's borders when it comes to getting weapons into the territory. It also shares borders with more than one country - why isn't Egypt being called upon to "end the Gaza blockade"?

This seems to be typical of the European Parliament's approach to the situation at large: lots of vague mutterings along the lines of 'of course it's awful for both sides - Israel really must do something', followed by a lot of very energetic inaction. It is worrying that in our seats of power, there is still so much muddled thinking on the Middle East at large. That so many elected representatives allow emotions stirred by the onslaught of a liberal media's images to cloud their judgement. That a proper discussion about the implications across the region and beyond is not being had.

UPDATE: The PSE group has invited a "Palestinian doctor, father of three child victims of the recent military operations in Gaza" to give a talk to any interested parties in the Parliament at Strasbourg next week. Does this mean we shall soon be hearing the accounts of relatives of the victims of suicide bombs in Israel? I doubt it.