So, this is Christmas…

Posted in 1 by Editor on December 28, 2008

The Catholic mayor of Betlehem has ordered the switching off of the lights of the Christmas tree in front of the Church of the Nativity in protest against yesterday's airstrikes.

Yesterday’s massive Israeli airstrikes on Gaza – leaving behind so far 250 dead and at least three times as many wounded including harmless civilians – is a shocking reminder that we live in a dangerously unstable region. A region that, in a global geographic perspective, is small but, in political terms, is globally determinant. Having joined the European Union in 2004 has not transported us one centimetre further from the scene of the south eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and their hinterland. The geographic dimension of our geopolitical location has not been neutralised by its new political dimension.

On the contrary, it may well have been enhanced. In the eyes of the Arab people of the Magreb and the Mashrek we are now a frontier post of the EU, and in those eyes we bear our share of responsibility for what is decided (or left undecided) not only in Brussels but also in every European capital of any international standing. What is said about Gaza in the capital cities of the two main Mediterranean EU ‘powers’, Madrid and Rome…what is said in the three main EU ‘powers’, Berlin, Paris and London…what is said in the Union’s name in Brussels…will be inevitably reflected in our Arab neighbours perceptions of our Country.

We have, therefore, a vested interested in participating in the formation of an EU foreign policy within, of course, the limits of our objective political weight. Note my choice of words. I did not say “the formation of EU foreign policy” but “of an EU foreign policy”. Nothing more than the past few hours has confirmed that there is no such thing as EU foreign policy. Things are said in Brussels but things are also said in the capitals of major EU member states that diverge from what the Commission says. Ultimately this damages the standing of the EU in the eyes of its neighbours, in this case of its Mediterranean neighbours. It damages us.

Britain and the United States’ failure to call for an end to Israeli airstrikes on Gaza contrasted sharply with Javier Solana’s statement last night: “I call for an immediate cessation of military actions on both sides. The EU has repeatedly condemned rocket attacks against Israel. The current Israeli strikes are inflicting an unacceptable toil on Palestinian civilians and will only worsen the humanitarian crisis.” The EU foreign policy commissioner’s statement resembled that of the UN’s general secretary Ban Ki-moon’s call for “an immediate halt to all violence”. President Sarkozy, currently presiding the EU, was even more explicit in condemning Israel’s “the disproportionate use of force”.

Gordon Brown may have been unwilling to distinguish himself radically from Bush’s unilateral condemnation of what Sarkozy termed Hamas’ “irresponsible provocations” of Israeli wrath – and in so doing he objectively weakened the EU’s voice on the matter – but perhaps it is precisely the UK’s preoccupation with its special relationship with the US that will lead him to a more progressive position. Only two weeks ago, Brown said he hoped that president-elect Barak Obama would make 2009 the “year of peace” in the Middle East. If Obama were to take advantage of the coming elections in Israel to argue forcefully, with both sides, for a progressive solution to the cycle of violence, he will almost certainly find the EU – and the UK – substantially behind him.

I use the adjective ‘progressive’ not in an ideological sense but in an extremely pragamatic one: progressive is that which makes workable solutions possible. Perhaps there is not a great deal we Maltese can do to influence great and momentous decisions, but a bipartisan, progressive, policy on the most burning issue in our region is possible and is necessary. Let’s do it, let’s let it be known to our regional neighbours, let’s canvass for a progressive joint EU-US initiative and let’s offer Malta – discreetly, as befits our real weight and the complexity of the situation on the ground and of its international context – as a venue for a peace conference. Far fetched? A case of appearing to be boxing above our weight? Perhaps, but it will – if, I repeat, wisely carried out – enhance our regional credibility. Not only with the present occupiers of palaces but also, and above all, with those who occupy the streets.


3 Responses

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  1. Tony Muscat said, on December 29, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Good idea. The question is, however, will Obama embrace a progressive solution (in your practical sense of a solution that unblocks a stalemate)? His position(s) so far have been, to say the least, ambiguous. During his campaign for Congress in 2000 (an unsuccesful campaign), Obama took distance from the Clinton administration for its unconditional support for the occupation and advocated a more balanced policy towards both sides. While most Democrats were referring to “Palestinian violence and the Israeli response”, Obama spoke of a “cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians (an expression that you have yourself (knowingly or unwittingly) used in your post. He also supporting a peace settlement along the lines of the Geneva Initiative and similar efforts by Israeli and Palestinian moderates. But things have changed. During the past two years, the now president-elect of the United States, has made statements practically indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration, iinsisting that the US “should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests” and that no Israeli prime minister should ever feel “dragged” to the negotiating table.

    • Editor said, on December 29, 2008 at 10:36 am

      Yes, Tony, you are right. Obama, to date in any case still president-elect, will now have to take a clearer stand than he has (had to take) in the course of his march towards the presidency. There can hardly be a progressive joint US-EU position unless Obama wants it.

  2. Elizabeth Camenzuli said, on December 31, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Although I very much doubt anyone of our EU sister countries would take a Maltese initiative seriously, your proposal has the undoubted merit that it would (a) train us to think in bipartisan mode regarding issues that need not divide us, and (b) remind us that there is more to the world than our claustrophobic little provincial island state and our often stupid partisan small-mindedness.

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