A blunder that alienates Israel

The Israeli military's attack on Gaza Freedom flotilla, which resulted in at least nine deaths onboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara has prompted an outcry in Europe, where the press is calling for the EU and the international community to take Israel to task, and worrying about the consequences of an escalation of tensions between Israel and Turkey.

Published on 1 June 2010 at 15:14
Orthodox Jews watching the Turkish ship "Mavi Marmara" by the port of Ashdod, Israel.

"Governments, the UN and the European Union will have to stand firm in their response," insists L’Humanité. The French daily wants the EU to "immediately suspend its association agreement" with Israel, and to implement a ban on arms sales to to the Jewish state. In Germany, Tageszeitung suggests that any future deliveries of arms be conditional on the lifting of the Gaza blockade and an effective ban on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Flemish daily De Morgendeplores "the EU's support for Israel's recent accession to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), while in the columns of De Standaard the president of the Belgian NGO 11.11.11, Jos Geysels, calls on the government in Brussels "to make its position clear on the eve of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union."

Israel doesn't grasp what has happened

In particular, Geysels wants "the EU to open a debate on Israel's special status in Europe*," which would question "the wisdom of allowing this country to join Europe's criminal intelligence agency Europol.*" Because, he continues, "if the EU does not apply these brakes, it will grant Israel a carte blanche for further violations of international law." The question of international law is also taken up by Tageszeitung which remarks that "deliberate breaches of international law are nothing new for the Israeli government." The German daily reminds its readers "that when Mossad executed a senior member of Hamas in Dubai early this year, its agents use of forged European passports outraged authorities in London and Paris. But this did not appear to bother the Israeli government."

In The Independent, the award-winning Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk criticises Western leaders for their "gutless" attitude to yesterday's killings and the many deaths caused by Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza. The flotilla that was headed for Gaza was made up of "ordinary people, Europeans, Americans, Holocaust survivors – yes, for heaven's sake, survivors of the Nazis – who took the decision to go to Gaza because their politicians and their statesmen had failed them." For Fisk, "Something has changed in the Middle East these past 24 hours – and the Israelis (given their extraordinarily stupid political response to the slaughter) don't seem to have grasped what has happened. The world is tired of these outrages. Only the politicians are silent."

Condemn - a "taboo verb" in EU-Israel relations

Although the European Union responded reasonably quickly, El País notes that "differences of opinion among EU ambassadors delayed by four hours the issue of a statement by the Spanish EU Presidency condemning the Israeli "military action," which took place "in international waters." The EU has demanded that Israeli authorities undertake "an immediate inquiry" to clarify what happened. The daily explains that the 27 member states were divided on the text of the statement with some countries advocating the abrogation of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and that the resulting document represents a "consensus" between those who wanted "a firmer condemnation" of Israel and those who wanted "more information before reaching a decision."

In recent days, the EU has also called "for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of border crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza." Libération notes that Catherine Ashton's demand for an end to "the continued policy of closure," which "is unacceptable and politically counterproductive" is consistent with the views of several European capitals concerned by the situation that has endured since June 2007 when Hamas took power in Gaza. That said, La Vanguardia argues that the statement by the Spanish Presidency of the EU "will lead to a cooling of relations between Europe and Benyamin Netanyahu's government," because it uses the word condemn, which is "a taboo verb" in EU-Israel relations.

Turkey's status as a trusted Western ally affected

The Israeli press is none too eager endorse the "rush to judgement" in Europe. In its editorial the Jerusalem Post affirms: "What happened on the Mavi Marmara was tragic. But it did not justify the international response." The daily notes that "the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, foreshadowing the pressure Israel will be under in coming days as the EU prepares to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the ramifications of the Mavi Marmara incident." However, another Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz argues that "it's reasonable to assume Europe and the United States will not be able to let Israel get away with a mere reprimand.."

Tageszeitung deplores "the increasing radicalisation of Israeli policy," which has meant that the country "no longer takes its allies, friends and mediators into account. Turkey was one of the few countries that could play a constructive role as a mediator in the Middle East. Now Netanyahu has decided to shoot at its ships." La Stampa remarks takes a pro-Israel stance by noting that the degradation of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel over the last few months "is more than just a bilateral squabble, but will affect Turkey's status as a trusted Western ally." The Turin-based newspaper, which believes that "it is almost certain that Turkey will not be joining the EU," wonders about "the long-term sustainability of of Turkey's role in NATO."

Passengers and ships came from many countries

While the possibility of Turkish accession to the EU was still current, "the prospect of a dual membership of both the EU and NATO contributed to keeping Ankara on good terms with other European countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But now that its chances of joining the EU have evaporated, the situation has become more complicated. Having been held up at the doorway to Europe, Turkey has moved to establish its own policy on the Middle East. However, in its new role as a player in the Middle East, the country risks becoming embroiled in the unresolved conflicts of the region — something that would not have happened if it was a member of the EU (or a serious candidate for EU membership)."

For another Italian daily La Repubblica, "the dramatic consequences of a break between Israel and Turkey are now inevitable," while for the Turkish daily Zaman, the scope of the problem is even greater: "The damage to Israel is not limited to its relations with Turkey, either. The passengers and ships in this aid convoy are from many countries, including members of European parliaments and one Holocaust survivor. The EU and many countries have harshly criticised Israel for its attack on the ships on Monday."

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