Bosnia 1993- Palestine 2006
EDITO - Will the Europeans be deaf to the screams of Palestinians in 2006 as they were to the Bosnians in 1993? Will the lack of empathy for Europeans toward more Muslim populations produce the same lack of actions, and in the end lead to an unsustainable peace?
Most of the inhabitants of Sarajevo claim that their city, the “Jerusalem of Europe”, will never be the same than before the 1993-1995 war: a multicultural vibrant city, where the different Christian churches, the synagogues and the mosques share the same streets, and the inhabitants the same cafés. After losing at the heart of Europe this symbol fitting so well the European motto of “Union in Diversity”, will the Europeans remain completely passive as chances are vanishing for Jerusalem to ever be a shared capital between peoples, nations and religions?
When the old President Izetbegovic in Sarajevo in 1993 was demanding help from his European neighbors, most of them turned a deaf ear to him, preferring the siren songs of the Christian aggressors of his country (militias and armies supported by the government of the Catholic Tujman and the Orthodox Milosevic). More than a true European, Izetbegovic was perceived as a Muslim: to his own despair, he had to turn himself to the further Muslim countries who were quicker at sending money and some mudjahidins to defend Sarajevo and Bosnia. Being constrained to do so, the Bosnians were set further apart from the European public opinions, who were unable to even pay attention to the Orthodox Serb Bosnians defending the multicultural Sarajevo against the Milosevic-backed Serb army: they preferred to see a simple “clash of civilization” rather than a complex web of competing conceptions of identities and interests.
When the isolated president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah was demanding help from the international community to not freeze the international aid to his people, the divided EU preferred the easiest way: follow the American Hegemon in demonizing the Palestinian voters. More than somebody committed to the Road Map, Mahmoud Abbas was perceived as somebody unable to win an election with his so-called “moderate party”. The West easily forgot that its asymmetric pressure on Israelis and Palestinians probably did a lot to promote the more radical forces in Palestine. Have we already forgotten that the newly elected Mahmoud Abbas (supported and pressured by the West) managed to secure in February 2005 a truce from all Palestinian armed factions in order to relaunch the Road Map process (at that time Hamas even started mentioning the possible acknowledgement of Israel in exchange of the 1967 borders). In exchange, the Israelis declined any commitment to the Road Map, and went on with the unilateral withdrawal of Gaza, one of the poorest areas in the region, to be managed by a destroyed administration. The Israelis were praised for the withdrawal, while they were continuing the construction of the settlements in the West Bank, as well as a methodic “land grab” around Jerusalem in beyond, as recently emphasized by The Economist.
In the current circumstances of demonisation of the Palestinian government, it seems that the only possibility for the Palestinian Authority will be to find money by knocking at the door of its most anti-American neighbors: the EU might be complicit to have reinforced an alliance between the Palestinian and the Iranian governments, at a time when Mahmoud Abbas, and even some Hamas leaders were ready to start off some negotiations.
This is the result of two missed opportunities: in addition to rightly putting pressure on the Palestinians, the EU and the rest of the West failed to 1. engaging the Palestinian leadership, at the right time, and at the right level (using track II diplomacy in order to prepare the grounds for official talks); 2. putting pressure on Israel to deliver its commitments on the Road Map. The EU or the US should not shy away from this pressure: they would just act as the relay of the always more numerous voices in Israel that demand for it. In the April 13th “Le Monde”, the Tel-Aviv University professor of contemporary history, Shlomo Sand, asks: “Is the world too lenient with Israel?”. He underlines the “historically imbalanced relationship of the US with Israelis and Arabs”. Being even more explicit, another article from Haaretz, republished in the International Herald Tribune recently affirmed: “so pro-Israel that it hurts”. Its author, Daniel Levy, served as a policy adviser in the Israeli prime minister's office in the government of Ehud Barak and was the lead Israeli drafter of the 2003 Geneva peace Initiative. His message is more addressed to Americans than to Europeans, but for whoever is interested to bring peace in the region, the words of a truly committed Israeli peacenik are clear: the mediator, be it the US, the Quartet or the EU, has to understand both parties, but also to be forceful with each of them.
If the Europeans do not apply their lessons from Bosnia in the case of Palestine, no peace will be possible in the Middle East. Besides the probable anger among the Muslims that will continue and grow worldwide, and especially in Berlin, London and Paris, the European leaders should also fear the lessons that historians will draw from this period, as they are already doing from the recent history in Bosnia.
Luc Roullet (Harvard/Paris)
Member of Newropeans' CD