Editor’s Notes: A candid new EU voice

By David Horovitz March 25, 2005

It is clear to the EU, says it new envoy Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, that in order to make progress we must have a PA leadership that is fully committed and proactive in the fight against terrorism

Readers may recall a minor contretemps I had four months ago with the French ambassador here, Gerard Araud. Seeing me noting down his remarks, neglecting to ask me not to print them, yet inexplicably assuming that I would keep them to myself, Araud said all sorts of nice things about Israel – including that he thought the government had ‘tried to show the utmost restraint’ in the course of the conflict with the Palestinians – and then got ever so upset when they appeared in the next day’s paper.

So desperate were his bosses in Paris to dispel the impression that France was departing from its consistent Israel-bashing line and had belatedly come to empathize with us in our terror-blighted plight, they unconscionably tried first to claim that the envoy’s comments had been ‘taken out of context’ and then that perhaps I had made them up altogether.

I mention the episode again now because another ambassador got talking with me at length this week, the European Union’s new envoy here, Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal. In contrast to Araud, he set parameters for our discussion, most of which was explicitly ‘on the record’ – for publication in his name.

We spoke on Sunday, the day before he was to formally present his credentials to President Katsav, and he was a little concerned that some of the things he had to say might cause a stir that might overshadow that ceremony. And it’s possible, indeed, that an unscrupulous journalist, deliberately misrepresenting some of his emphases, might indeed have exploited his candor to embarrass him.

But Cibrian-Uzal was prepared to take that chance and to speak to me in subtle, carefully formulated language, and I am of course doing my best – both in the short news article I wrote in Monday’s paper and in this more extended piece – to convey his thinking with the same care.

French envoy Araud plainly has two messages – the one, not intended for wider distribution (and indeed denied when it is made public), in which he tries to curry favor behind-the-scenes by professing empathy for Israel, and the other, for public consumption, in which he sticks to his bosses’ critical line.

Cibrian-Uzal is straight. Not everything the EU’s new man has to say may be palatable to all Israelis – it seems to me that he underestimates both the uncompromisingly anti-Israel motivation of the terror groups and their indifference to any conventional notion of punishment – but it’s what he believes, and he’s prepared to present it and stand by it.

CIBRIAN-UZAL feels Mahmoud Abbas is ‘making progress’ in the battle against terrorism, and appears to endorse what he says is an assessment shared by ‘many in the EU and in Israel’ that the new PA leader ‘is a man of peace.’

‘For the time being,’ he says of Abbas, ‘he has managed to achieve a cessation of violence. In practice, there is a temporary neutralization of terrorist activities against Israel.’ But, he goes on, ‘It’s not enough. The final result has to be a situation in which terrorism completely disappears from the area of activities that receive any kind of understanding and tolerance.’ The ‘desirable goal,’ he says, is ‘for terrorism to disappear.’ But, he cautions, ‘it might not be easy.’

When it is put to him that we will all be hostages to terror so long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad retain the ability to strike at the moment of their choosing – so long, that is, as Abbas refrains from dispatching his tens of thousands of armed men to put the terror groups out of business – he offers the following response:

‘Even a country like, say, Italy couldn’t solve the problem of 1,000 armed militants in days or weeks. How in practice president Abbas can tackle terrorism is a question for all of us. Israel’s role in helping Abbas succeed in fighting and neutralizing terrorism is irreplaceable. Israel, the US, the EU together must help ensure the job is done. This may include coercion and confrontation, also persuasion, compromise and negotiation. At the end of the day, coercion and confrontation may be necessary if other measures are exhausted.’

Or, to put it succinctly, give Abbas some time, see if the negotiated approach pays off, hope that it won’t be necessary to resort to direct confrontation, but bear in mind that it might be.

He allows that the EU’s preference is for the softly-softly approach, noting that the EU is ‘very good at promoting cooperation. We know the techniques.’

Implicit in this, I’d say, is that the EU is not so good at fighting terrorism or even, I’d add in the context of our conflict, in honestly acknowledging when terrorism has to be fought.

THE SPANISH-born Cibrian-Uzal arrived here from a senior EU posting in Brussels, having served before that as the head of the EU delegation to the Czech Republic. He states readily that he is new to the Middle East, even that he ‘doesn’t know much about the Palestinian mentality.’ In that light, I note that much of Israel waited for most of the 1990s for Yasser Arafat to make the shift to confronting terrorism – waited in vain. And that, badly burned once, much of Israel is far more skeptical this time, and would urge the international community to show similar skepticism and to hold Abbas to the basic, humane standards Arafat never sought to attain.

He responds that ‘it is clear to the EU that in order to make progress we must have a PA leadership that is fully committed and proactive in the fight against terrorism against Israel.

‘The important thing,’ he says, ‘is when there is a terrorist attack – a terrible thing – how do the legitimate authorities react. If we see that before and after, the PA is doing the necessary steps, taking the necessary actions, then that is the desirable thing. If we see no tolerance for terrorism from the PA, then that is very positive.

‘We should have a situation where when there is a terrorist attack, the guilty persons are brought to justice together by Israel and the PA. There will be peace and security and stability when the anti-terrorist policies are implemented by Israel and the PA, when terrorists know that if they commit attacks they will have to face prosecution in Israel and the PA.

‘I come from the Basque region of Spain,’ he goes on. ‘Twenty years ago, Spain was complaining that ETA terrorists were getting a safe haven in France. Today, this is not the case… Spanish police know that if they give information to the French police, the French police will go and capture the necessary parties, and those who are captured face penalties in France and Spain.

‘That will be an acid test for peace. It is my hope that the kind of French-Spanish cooperation will exist between a Palestinian state and Israel at peace. If that is the case, then a terrorist attack won’t be a decisive thing. The important thing, I say again, is the response.’

I ASK him why he thinks terrorism has taken place here. He says, ‘I believe the Israeli-Palestinian problem is a problem of two peoples having claim to the same territory, and not having found so far a way to compromise on the legitimate claim that both sides have. The assertion of the claim in recent decades has gone better for the Jewish people than for the Palestinian people and that can lead people to desperation.’

He adds that ‘plenty of people have come to think [of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] in a state-of-war mentality. And in a war, soldiers – or fighters is more appropriate for Palestinian terrorists – are prepared to kill themselves and those they think of as the enemy at the same time.’

When I note that there’s a danger this might be interpreted as a legitimization of terrorism, Cibrian-Uzal is horrified and adamant: ‘Absolutely not,’ he stresses. ‘Terrorism is wrong. That is absolutely unqualified. Tolerance of terrorism is zero. My own personal tolerance is zero. There is absolutely no reason that justifies a terrorist action anywhere.

‘Now it is nonsense and naive to say that good ends never justify bad means,’ he goes on. ‘In the real world we have to be prepared to consider bad means in pursuit of legitimate objectives. The government of Israel, when considering harsh retaliation against terrorism, has had to consider hard means for good ends. But when are bad means justified? Only after you have explored and exhausted all the alternative less bad means.

‘My reply to any terrorist in the Middle East is that there are other less bad means available. Indeed, there are peaceful means available which one has the moral obligation to use. There is no justification for terrorism and that is valid for Madrid, Ramallah and Tel Aviv.’

Furthermore, he adds, one might be ‘prepared to sacrifice your life and the lives of the enemy if you are forced to capitulate. But that is not the perspective here. Israel’s policies have never required a capitulation from the Palestinian side. Palestinian radicals must understand that here there are two sides with legitimate claims whose resolution requires compromise.’

Who’s to blame, I ask him, for the fact that the Jewish claim has ‘gone better,’ as he puts it?

‘Plenty of people on both sides have made mistakes,’ he says.

Are they equivalent claims, I wonder?

‘In the minds of the respective populations, they are equivalent,’ he responds.

STRIKING IN Cibrian-Uzal’s comments is his attitude to Arafat. Simply put, the otherwise candid ambassador won’t talk about him. Time after time in the past few terrible years, as Arafat encouraged terrorism by urging a million martyrs to march on Jerusalem, whipped up anti-Israeli hysteria via his media, attempted to import arms from Iran and signed off on payments to known killers, the EU kept its funding flowing Arafat’s way and demanded that Israel treat him as a peacemaking partner. When Israel confined Arafat to the Mukata, the EU furiously protested so outrageous an incarceration of a legitimate leader. When Israel mused about exiling him, the EU howled that this would be ‘a terrible mistake.’

But now, barely four months after his demise, Arafat is a non-subject for Cibrian-Uzal. Twice he tells me that ‘the Arafat chapter is closed.’

He offers the official line that ‘the idea that the EU would be financing the PA, and through it terrorism against Israel, is preposterous,’ and then notes that ‘the EU has also tried to fund improved financial transparency and control. Thanks to the EU, the PA has a level of financial control that is excellent.’

There’s a contradiction right there, I point out. If everything was always just perfect under Arafat, why did the EU have to push for improved transparency and control?

The most he’ll say is, ‘My understanding of the management of funds available to him [Arafat] is that there was plenty of room for improvement, improved transparency. The goals of the funding provided by the EU have been worthwhile and commendable.’ He won’t be drawn further.

‘The past can be regrettable, even condemnable,’ he had said at the start of our conversation. ‘But we must be positive and look to the future.’

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