Robert Marquand makes a convincing, if counter-intuitive case in the Christian Science Monitor that "Israel finds more sympathy in Europe: Concerns about Islamist threat have influenced traditionally pro-Arab Europe's view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
He begins by observing that leaders from European Union countries recently joined Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni as she announced "We are all opposed to terrorism" and offers this anecdote as a symbol of the "little-noted but ongoing convergence between European and US-Israeli thinking" on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For decades, Marquand writes,
Europe was a Middle East counterbalance – generally sympathetic to Palestinians as the weaker party, critical of an unqualified US backing of Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization had offices in Europe. France's Navy helped Yasser Arafat escape Tripoli in 1983. Europe backed the Oslo Accords, and saw the Palestinian cause as a fight for territory and statehood.
Yet Europe's traditional position on the Arab dispute has been quietly changing: It is gravitating closer to a US-Israeli framing of a war on terror, a "clash of civilizations," with a subtext of concern about the rise of Islam – and away from an emphasis on core grievances of Palestinians, like the ongoing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and "occupation."
Causes for the shift are complex and manifold, and in no small way associated with the rise of Muslim populations in Europe. But since Sept. 11, the discourse and psychology in Europe has shifted, with pro-Arab support "diluting and weakening," as Karim Bitar, with the International Institute of Strategic Relations in Paris, puts it – and converging with US-Israeli framing of a fight against terror. "There is convergence on goals [terrorism] between Europe and the US, and a remnant of divergence on means [military logic]," argues the French intellectual Dominique Moisi. "The Europeans are less pro-Islamic Muslims now than before, after 9/11. We also see that even American Jews are not entirely at peace with what Israel is doing. There's more criticism of Israel than before, in American opinion; and in Europe there is less support of what the Arabs are."
Public support for Arabs is down due social tensions with Muslim immigrants. "Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine conflict," says Aude Signoles of the University of La Réunion. "There is a general 'Arab fatigue' in Europe," says Denis Bauchard of L'Institut français des relations internationales.
A Pew Global Attitudes poll in 2006 found that French sympathies were evenly divided (38 percent) between those sympathizing with the Palestinians and with Israel, marking a doubling of support for Israel and a 10 percent gain for Palestinians over the previous two years. In Germany, 37 percent sympathized with Israel – an increase of 13 points over 2004 and more than double those who supported the Palestinians.
One sign is that other than José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, all of the major leaders European leaders today –Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Gordon Brown of Great Britain, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy – are sympathetic to Israel.
What Marquand calls the "Euro-American convergence" means European diplomats support Palestinians on emotional and humanitarian grounds rather than political ones. "Europe itself is not the Europe of decades past," he writes, "dominated by French diplomacy, with its Arab ties. There are 27 nations. Eastern and former Soviet states, like Poland and the Czech Republic, often take American positions on foreign affairs."
Comment: This is another sign that Europe is not "finished," but, as I have argued elsewhere, it is in deep flux, with its destiny vis-à-vis Islam still very much unknown. (January 8, 2009)
Pro-Israel demonstration in Piazza Montecitorio, Rome, in front of the parliament building.
Jan. 15, 2009 update: Specific confirmation of this trend comes from Italy, where intrepid reporter-turned-parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein writes on her weblog about a pro-Israel rally, pictured above, that took place yesterday evening in Rome, in Piazza Montecitorio, the square in front of Italy's parliament building. (The building in the picture is the parliament.) She writes about the picture (with minor edits by me):
What you cannot see here, is the extraordinary number and variety of members of the Parliament, about 100 from all political sides, that took the stage during our marathon: for about three hours we have been speaking about the role of Israel, its right to self defense, its moral height, its fight in name of all of us, of our civilization and values, against the wild hate of the Islamic jihad represented by Hamas. It seems to me that for the first time in the too-long history of the Arab Israeli conflict, apart from a minority of crazy leftists and fascists that took the street on anti-Semitic slogans, we have obtained a huge consensus about one critical point: this is not an episode of a local conflict, there is nothing in it that reminds the land-for-peace theme that has characterized the Palestinian issue. This is an episode of the attack against the Western world, and Iran has a lot to do with it. The change of attitude is great. … in the Parliament square, many of the Parliament Members said: "I love Israel". You can't imagine how many.