After years of Netanyahu’s requesting the opportunity to address all 28 European Union foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has invited him for an “informal exchange of views... [at] the margins of the Foreign Affairs Council,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
Not exactly the respect due the democratically elected leader of the only democracy in the Middle East – but it does create an opportunity to think out of the box and reframe Israel’s case, presenting itself as the one stable and reliable nation amid the chaos created by the wars of political Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism that are raging against the backdrop of Iranian expansionism.
Netanyahu believes his rhetorical skills can convince skeptical and hostile European foreign ministers of the validity of his case. This is how he approached his visit to the US Congress to fight the good fight against the JCPOA (Iran Deal), which was counterproductive and alienated some US legislators, polarized along US party lines. I was asked by one of his senior aides at the time what he should do, and I said he shouldn’t go at that time.
When addressing the EU foreign ministers, Netanyahu should avoid reaching beyond what is possible, but not miss this opportunity to begin to give a new perspective to his listeners, European diplomats who have for years taken for granted that Israel is the party in the wrong in the Middle East.
Make no mistake, the Europeans will hear Netanyahu, but will for the most part not be listening to the substance of his remarks. What he says will be heard by the US Congress and Trump administration, his primary audience.
A few central or eastern European foreign ministers may appreciate Israel’s case, but the majority of Europe is blinded by an intersectional view that sees Israel as the oppressor and the Palestinian as clearly in the right.
America can and should over time better explain to its European allies why Israel is so important for both American and European national security.
The problem is that “Netanyahu is expected to tell the European leaders that their obsessive focus on the settlements is ‘ridiculous’... We in Israel are the future. We will bring you water, technology and security against terrorists. We have blocked 30 to 40 major attacks in Europe. You ask your people whether they would rather have that or Ramallah.”
All true and all will fall on not only deaf ears, but may also exacerbate hostility to Israel, as this group believes that the conflict is completely Israel’s fault as a post-colonial imperialist power.
To them it is clear; it is all about the settlements anywhere over the green line, while Israel commits war crimes targeting Palestinian children. To this group, UNSC Resolution 2334, Israel is a violator of international law. Thank you president Barack Obama.
They believe Israel is the primary cause of most of the problems of the Middle East, and that if only Israel disappeared or acquiesced to returning to the ‘67 lines, all the problems of the Middle East would fall away. They have been hearing this scapegoating line of logic from the Arab world for half a century, and European diplomats have internalized it.
Here is a better way forward for the prime minister.
Netanyahu should begin by telling them that if Israel disappeared today, the 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite war would still be raging, geopolitical Islamism would still be a threat to them and their allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political Islamist ilk would still want a worldwide caliphate, Egypt would still be a basket case, the Syrian slaughter would have still happened, and yes, Iranian Shi’ite Islamist hegemony would still be the greatest threat to peace in the region, while Iran continues every day to be the world leader in terrorism and human rights abuses.
Netanyahu should ask them why they are willing to invest hundreds of billions of dollars propping up the Iranian mullahs’ dictatorship, which is supporting the North Korean nuclear regime, while they call for a boycott of Israeli goods from the disputed territories.
That is how you go on the diplomatic offensive. You have nothing to lose and much to gain by calling the West to task for its hypocrisy.
Netanyahu, challenge them: if they care so much about human rights, why don’t they publicly rebuke the state-sponsored human rights abuses and terrorism that afflicts almost every Muslim nation?
Where are the condemnations of Turkey for its oppression of journalists and minorities, and the putsch-style takeover of the military, media and schools?
Why do they pretend that Qatar and its Gulf neighbors are good international citizens when they keep their foreign workers in slave-like conditions, and misogyny, homophobia and torture are, for them, business as usual?
Challenge them to acknowledge that Israel has offered an Arab state living next to it five times in the past 82 years. Ask them if they know that Israel offered a state in 1936, 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2007, when the offer rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was for 100% of the West Bank with swaps, east Jerusalem as their capital, and Arab control of the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu should challenge them to get rid of the double standard they have used for years to cast blame on Israel and call them to task for their government funding of NGOs in Israel whose goal is to undermine the democratically elected government of Israel, something that they would never tolerate another government doing in their countries.
Netanyahu should tell them that before they present another peace plan that they should insist at the outset that both Israel and the Palestinians agree to sign an end-of-conflict agreement creating two states for two peoples, one a Jewish state and the other an Arab state – or no deal. Otherwise, once again, it will just be a one-way-street negotiation.
Few minds will change, but the goal of this talk is to create a new benchmark narrative that Israel should insist upon at every meeting going forward with European and international diplomats.
The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.