Ludwig, Germany

October 24, 2011

Hi Josh!

I am 40 years old an live in Berlin. I studied Politics with a focus an International Relations and the European Union and I am trying to understand how the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is developing. First let me congratulate you on “friend a soldier”. I think it is a brilliant setting to discuss difficult questions in a respectful and meaningful way, whereas other options of dialogue like blogs and newspaper talkbacks usually end up with the exchange of hateful rants between extremists.

1. I think there are many misconceptions about Israel in Europe, as can be seen in some of the letters, and certainly the relations with Germany are very special. On the other hand the perception of European politics in the Israeli public often seems equally distorted to me, as far as I can judge this from the Jerusalem Post, Ynet and zionist blogs. Possibly this is because many Israelis judge countries as being either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, while basically all European countries and the EU are supporting the same parameters for a 2-state-solution and their differences are mostly tactical. What do you think about European politics towards Israel? In your opinion, how should European politicians, address the Israeli people to be understood more accurately?

2. One day, IMHO better sooner that later, the IDF will leave most of the Westbank. I think the International Community is quite clear that in this case an international – most likely NATO-led – force should move in to prevent a desaster like Gaza from happening again. What do you personally think of such a szenario? Whould it be acceptable to the Israeli public?

3. I am sure you heard about the tragic attack in Norway. The Norwegian newspaper VG created a virtual human chain which is going viral worldwide I think it is a great way to show support with the Norwegians. Has anything similar been done after a terror attack in Israel?

Best regards,

Ludwig

Hi Ludwig,

Thank you for your kind words, you’re quite right to say that most open forums degenerate very quickly into slinging matches of abuse, and we’re trying to steer well clear of that here.

I think that you are right, European politics are misunderstood in Israel. I would caution you away from using the Jerusalem Post as any kind of marker of Israeli society though, it’s quite literally thee worst newspaper in the country. I fear that I’m not just speculation either, they cemented that for themselves with this appalling editorial, I hope you believe me when I say that this isn’t reflective of any sane Israeli’s perspective.

I do feel that there is a strong social movement in Europe that is deeply, and irrationally, unfriendly to Israel. There is a level of vilification of Israel in the European liberal sector that belies belief.  Although this is a separate issue from the governmental sphere, there are also problems there. However, I do appreciate that the bulk of the European policy approach to Israel is reasonable and, as you say, the divergent issues are more in the details than anything else.

Sadly, living in a constant state of effective war damages a society, and Israel is far from immune from this. When in constant conflict, people and countries adopt the ‘friend or foe’ mentality that you’ve identified in Israel. I think that you are correct in your analysis, we do tend to polarize other nation’s approaches to Israel but, then again, it a very polarizing debate. As far as I can tell, many Israelis are afraid that much of Europe wants to see a single, bi-national state for both Israelis and Palestinians here, which is an idea supported by only the most radical of Israelis. Although I think that this is more the agenda of the liberal social sphere than the political one, it does not take that long for the former to impose its will upon the latter in a democracy. As such, perhaps it would help Europe engage with Israelis better if it was made clearer that a ‘two-state solution’ is the only option to solve the conflict from Europe’s perspective. Whilst this already is the stance of European governments, reaffirming it in a concrete fashion may go a long way to helping Israelis understand the European position better.

I agree with you that Israel will have to leave the West Bank at some point and that something will have to fill the security void that will be left by the absence of the IDF. The Palestinian Authority security forces are absolutely not up to the job alone, for a myriad of reasons that I shan’t detail here. As you said, a multi-national force is the only viable option. In fact, there was a very good report written by CNAS (available at http://www.cnas.org/node/4362) that I found fascinating.

As for the acceptability of this to the Israeli public, that’s a difficult question. Many Israelis would, in theory, be fine with this (surveys repeatedly show that most Israelis support a two-state solution and the inevitable withdrawal that it would bring) but there would be many concerns. From what I can see, Israelis are deeply mistrustful of multi-national forces in general.

The first concern would be with the mandate and rules of engagement of a peace-keeping force. Whilst NATO generally provides for military freedom upon deployment (they’re actually allowed to shoot bad people) I would be concerned that the major NATO nations not have the manpower to dedicate to securing a nascent Palestinian state (due to commitments to ISAF). To be honest, if we remove the US and British forces from the equation due to operational commitments then there isn’t anyone left that is up to the job. With all due respect to NATO countries such as Germany, France and Canada (who all possess large and fully modernized militaries) their expertise in the field of counter insurgency is limited, and they are either committed elsewhere (France and Germany) or, quite honestly, not very good at fighting (Canada). This means that we are either left with Italy and Albania securing Palestine (not a happy thought for Israelis or Palestinians) or the responsibility falls to the UN.

Sadly, UN peacekeeping missions are hampered by low-quality manpower and overly-restrictive rules of engagement. As such, Israelis probably wouldn’t be too happy about that one either.

In short, I’d be fine with the US Marine Corps moving in and taking over security duties in Ramallah, but the 2nd “Tundzhanska” brigade of the Bulgarian Army doesn’t quite fill me with the same confidence (apologies to any offended Bulgarian infantrymen).

I have indeed heard about the attacks in Norway, and I am as shocked and saddened as anyone else. Sadly, however, terrorist attacks have become such a normalized part of Israeli life that international sympathy dried up a long time ago. Although the attacks in Norway were on an enormous scale, with an unreal number of deaths, it was the completely unexpected nature of it that has generated so much sympathy, something that doesn’t happen here.

The link you sent me is a wonderful initiative. Although nothing can possible ease the tragedy that has befallen the loved ones of those killed and nothing can bring them back, I would hope that seeing that over 1,000,000 people have taken the time, even if it was only a few seconds, to go out of their way and show support could provide some sliver of comfort for those people in mourning.

I have joined the chain and will encourage others to do so too.

All the best,

Josh

Hi Josh,

Many thanks for your reply. I hope you are right about the Jerusalem Post not being a marker of Israeli society, because the Post indeed raises questions about sanity, at least from my German centre-left perspective. What English publications would you recommend?

I had a look at the paper on International Forces and I agree that, when the time has come, an IF must have a serious mandate for enforcement. It seems that Germany and some other governments are doing specific planning for such a case. As I understand ISAF will be reduced in the next years and the big question is how many NATO-troops will be needed in post-Ghadaffi Libya. I realize the general Israeli scepticism towards International Forces. To me its very confusing because West-European democracies have not gone to war outside of a multilateral context for quite some time, the last example I remember is the British Falklands War in 1982 and we could probably argue about some French activities in Africa. And certainly the Cold War was „fought“ by an alliance with maybe half a million foreign soldiers in West Germany. Thus multilateralism for me is the normal approach to military action. On the other hand Israel‘s borders with Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are to some extend policed by International Forces. The UN-forces in the north get routinely blamed when something goes wrong at the borders and I don’t see signs of Israeli appreciation for these long-term commitments by dozens of countries from all over the world. So my question is, to what extend do you consider the existing International Forces as something helpful for Israel‘s security?

Your comments on European politics and the perceived preference for a bi-national state were quite surprising to me, because there is no sign that the European Union or the mayor European countries could change their stance away from supporting two states for two peoples. Firstly because it is – as you said – the only peaceful solution to end the conflict and that’s in the strategic interest of „us“ Europeans. Secondly this position has been cast into EU-policy which could only be changed by consensus of the 27-member-states, which would be impossible to reach for something as essential (and destructive) like abandoning the two-state-solution. This is a link to the relevant documents. The most important documents are the „Council conclusions“ because they contain the agreed parameters of all 27 foreign ministers (see 23/05/11, 13/12/10). They are binding to the activities of EU-representatives like Lady Ashton and serve as guidelines for the policies of all member states. Whenever any European government says something about Israel or the Palestinians it should be seen in the context of these positions. Each country and each politician may have a different focus and stresses the points differently, but the core parameters can only be changed by consensus.

I disagree with the assumption that it is easy for „liberal“ social movements (BDS et al.) to impose their will on their governments or the EU. Their voices will be heard, possibly louder in Israel than in Brussels or most other capitals, they can harm Israel symbolically by all sorts of activism, maybe they can influence the positions of some individual countries. But everything which would have substantial impact on Israel like economic sanctions must be approved through the EU-27-states-consensus mechanisms, such a consensus could just be caused by very extreme Israeli actions not by some member states being „high-jacked“ by Israel-hating leftists. Sure the growing „vilification“ of Israel is real, it has great impact on Israel‘s public diplomacy but I would not perceive it as an existential threat.

Kind regards from Berlin

Ludwig

Hi Ludwig,

Please forgive me for taking so long to reply to you, I was away in reserve duty and only just returned. I’ve included your original message underneath as it’s been quite a while and it might make for useful reference!

I certainly agree with you that the Post is a joke. Sadly, they essentially ran out of money so everything is either written by interns or for free by very partisan lay-leaders. Their journalism credentials are seriously in question these days. Whilst it sits a little to the left of the Israeli center, Haaretz is still (as far as I’m concerned) the only English language paper worth reading in Israel. I promise that I’m not just saying that because I write a column for them!

It’s very interesting for me to see the difference between your European approach to military intervention and mine. We have no real multi-lateral action history here (at least not with us on the multi-lateral side) but rather we have a history of fighting wars very much on our own (unless you count our alliances with the Southern Lebanese army in the 80s/90s).

As such, there is a real mistrust of all foreign intervention in Israeli military action, as it has rarely been on our side. People in Israel also deeply mistrust the UN in general, particularly due to the attitude of the UN Human Rights Council towards Israel which even I think displays a serious institutional bias against my country. Put together, this means that the UN forces on our borders don’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s also worth noting that these forces are not there to help Israel, but rather to enforce UN Security Council resolutions in Lebanon and Gaza. As such, they have no contact of real note with IDF forces, but spend a lot of time with the other side, particularly in Lebanon. When an incident such as the Lebanese Army sniper incident of last year occurs, UNIFIL tend to be deeply embedded and intertwined with the Lebanese forces, effectively providing shields for the Lebanese Army against our military action. In the aftermath of that cross-border sniper attack (one that was unprovoked and that killed an IDF major and wounded a Captain) UN forces were calling for a ceasefire and de-escalation whilst standing in the middle of Lebanese Army positions, rendering our ability to defend ourselves almost nil. Meanwhile, the IDF had cleared a military zone near the border and only IDF personnel were in the area on the Israeli side of the border. That sort of makes us sitting ducks. Many of the soldiers there that day were friends of mine, and I know the wounded captain. They all told me the same thing; that they had guns trained on them by Lebanese forces with UNIFIL standing right next to them, rendering counter-strikes impossible without causing international outcry. Thankfully, that ended peacefully, but you’ll have to excuse us for not being too grateful for UN intervention. Basically, we can secure our borders far better than the UN can. We are not restricted by crippling mandates and rules of engagement and we are better trained and more experienced soldiers. Ultimately, the existing international forces are really there to try and stabilize other states, not secure ours.

As for your comments about EU policy, I completely agree. I am well aware that they are in full support of a two-state solution. The problem is that, as we become more entrenched in the current situation (settlement expansion, Palestinian refusal to negotiate the right of return etc.) we move closer to a future where a one-state solution is the only option. I was simply saying that many Israelis believe that Europe’s population has an inclination toward this solution already, making the eventual transition to policy easier there than in, say, America.

I also agree with you that a “vilification” of Israel is not an existential threat. However, whilst vilification is not, de-legitimization is. Attacking the fundamental right to existence of a state is, by definition, an existential threat. Israel was legally formed in 1947 by the UN, and to deny it that same personality today (regardless of borders) is certainly existential. Sadly, the debate on this is mired by too many Israel supporters that see all criticism as de-legitimization, and too many detractors that fail to recognize it at all.

Josh

Thank you!

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