The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has no convincing reason to be upset about the Swedish request that the Council of the European Union endorse a Palestinian state with “East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Of course, the wording of the resolution could and should be less hostile toward Israel, for example, by explicitly recognizing West Jerusalem as its capital and doing more than merely “taking note” of Netanyahu’s settlement freeze. But what can the prime minister expect? The proposal reiterates known European and international positions. And Israel’s recent behavior in Jerusalem — the disastrous house expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah, excavations at Silwan/City of David, and expansion into disputed territory at Gilo — essentially invites a reprimand.
Whether and in what form the EU Council ultimately deals with the Swedish proposal, there is little likelihood of real EU pressure on Israel. The EU has limited clout as a diplomatic player in the Arab-Israel conflict. Conceivably, that situation may soon change, with the advent of an EU president and foreign minister. But for the moment, we simply don’t know to what extent this new system will enable the union of 27 European states to better formulate and implement a foreign policy.
Meanwhile, we recall that last July outgoing EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana proposed that the United Nations plan unilaterally to create and recognize a Palestinian state — seemingly a more far-reaching initiative — without generating more than an international yawn.
Sweden’s initiative represents the dying gasp of the old EU system under which the rotating state president can take all kinds of bizarre and ultimately pointless diplomatic initiatives. Last January, the Czech Republic held the presidency during Israel’s incursion into Gaza: Due to inexperience and a heavy pro-Israel tilt, it managed to neutralize EU influence almost completely. In Sweden’s case, a government that has demonstrated a clear pro-Palestinian tilt is trying at the 11th hour to influence future EU policy with proposals that, however logical, are guaranteed not to find favor in either Jerusalem or Washington.
The Swedish resolution will certainly not render easier the efforts of Obama administration peace emissary George Mitchell, who hoped to restart negotiations based on what Netanyahu has — rather than what he has not — done regarding settlements and Jerusalem. The PLO places exaggerated faith in European support and, accordingly, will now stiffen its refusal to negotiate.
In this regard, the Swedish initiative represents the near total absence in recent months of close U.S.-EU coordination regarding efforts to resolve the conflict. Remember the Quartet? It represented President George W. Bush’s relatively successful effort to maintain such coordination, even as the Bush administration did far too little on the diplomatic front. Now the Obama administration has tried harder diplomatically yet has accomplished equally little, and without effective coordination with the Europeans to boot. In this regard Obama, too, “deserves” this Swedish initiative.
Finally, if Netanyahu takes umbrage at the Swedish attempt to create a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, what does it say about his “conversion” from Greater Land of Israel Revisionist to champion of the two-state solution?
Surely Netanyahu understands by now that a genuine solution will require the ceding of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state. In this context, he seemingly says and does the right thing — endorsing a two-state solution in his July 14 Bar-Ilan University speech, removing checkpoints, announcing the settlement freeze, confronting settlers. All this sounds like a plan to extricate Israel from a demographic disaster that threatens its future integrity as a Jewish state.
Yet in parallel he leads us, through innuendo and body language, to understand that all this is being undertaken for ulterior motives: to make the Americans happy so they’ll keep their eye on the Iranian threat; to “prove” the Palestinians don’t want peace; and to keep Labor in the coalition. So the settlers get reassurances and concessions and the creeping and utterly counterproductive Judaization of East Jerusalem continues.