A Dubious Achievement: Joschka Fischer, the Road Map, and the Gaza Pullout

by Matthias Küntzel

Joschka Fischer looks out over the lake. “In that direction,” he says, “not far from here, I invented the Road Map. It came to me while jogging.”

- Der Spiegel, August 22, 2005 [1]

“Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza has the potential to create a new and positive reality,” declared the Israeli ambassador in Berlin in August 2005, “It can reduce tension, create new economic opportunities and give a new boost to the peace process.”

But the contrary is also possible: namely, the emergence of a “Hamas-stan” that the Islamists can use as a launching pad in order to escalate their war against Israel. Which scenario becomes reality depends decisively on whether and how the influence of Islamism in the Palestinian camp is combated. Germany, as one of the Palestinians’ most important financial backers, will play a key role in this connection. One thing is sure: if Germany and the European Union continue to act as they have done in the context of the Road Map peace plan, then the consequences of the Gaza pullout will be disastrous.

Regrettably, the fierce battle between the Europeans and the USA which shaped the progress of Road Map diplomacy from the outset is little known to the larger public. There is even less awareness of the role played in this context by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, usually regarded as a credible defender of Israel’s interests.

At the center of this transatlantic dispute stood and stand different assessments of Islamist terror. Should it be fought and crushed or – inasmuch as “resistance to occupation” – tolerated and rewarded? It is the conflicting answers given to this question that have thus far condemned the Road Map. Today, the USA is attempting to woo the Europeans by way of concessions. But the clash over the correct response to Islamist terror remains as sharp as ever. Let us take a closer look at how this dispute has evolved.

A German Debut in Middle East Diplomacy

On April 30, 2003, the “Road Map Peace Plan” was presented to Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the then newly elected Palestinian prime minister. Germany’s foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, saw reason to be proud: “Look at what we Europeans have accomplished in the Middle East!” he exulted, “The Middle East peace plan is a European achievement. The other members of the Quartet then adopted it and together developed it further. In essence, however, it is the product of European ideas.” [2] These remarks display a degree of German and European self-assurance such as was until then unknown in the context of the Middle East conflict.

The catalyst for the creation of the Road Map was a Hamas suicide attack on March 27, 2002 that killed 29 people at a Passover celebration in the Israeli city of Netanya. On April 4, eight days after the massacre, President Bush issued a statement, for the first time forcefully intervening in Middle East politics. On April 9, Joschka Fischer also intervened, presenting a paper titled “Ideas for Peace in the Middle East”. One day later, the “Middle East Quartet”, consisting of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia, was created in Madrid. Joschka Fischer’s “ideas”, however, had nearly nothing in common with George W. Bush’s statement.

The President’s statement called on Israel to cease its settlement activity. But the main gist of his message was directed against Hamas: “There is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.” President Bush recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, and he called on the Palestinians and Arab governments to put a halt to the “terrorist activities” of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, to “disrupt terrorist financing, to stop inciting violence by glorifying terror in state-owned media”; and to abandon the talk of “martyrs”. “They’re not martyrs,” he said, “they’re murderers”. [3]

By contrast, Hamas was not even mentioned in Joschka Fischer’s “Ideas” paper. This was by no means an accident: none of the 56 Middle East press releases published by the German Foreign Office between January 2001 and November 2003 contains a single reference to Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Hizbollah. The central message of the so-called “Fischer-Plan” was quite different: “The parties (Israel and the Palestinians) are unable to resolve their conflict without outside help. Therefore what is needed is a Road Map and a timetable laying out how to arrive at the two-state solution.” The Fischer proposal comprised the immediate proclamation and recognition of a Palestinian state, while specifying that a final settlement of crucial issues, such as that of the “right of return” and definitive borders, should be achieved within two years. Furthermore, the Fischer proposal declares that a “third party” is needed “to supervise the process”: thus Fischer brings the international community – “led by a so-called Quartet” – into play. This, the German Foreign Office announced hopefully, is the “solution” to the problem: two states, Israel and Palestine, “living in peace … side by side”. [4] If that was so, however, why, then, did Yasser Arafat leave the negotiating table at Camp David three years before? Why had all proposals for a two-state solution dating back over 60 years been torpedoed by the Palestinian leadership? Moreover, would not the rapid proclamation and recognition of a Palestinian state be tantamount to rewarding the mass-murder of the suicide bombers?

Fischer’s plan was based on an entirely different assessment of Islamism than that reflected in Bush’s Middle East statement. Astonishingly, the German government has persistently chosen to ignore an element that is all too familiar from Germany’s own past: namely, rabid anti-Semitism, such as that which gets continuously expressed by Hamas. It is symptomatic, for instance, that the Hamas Charter has yet to be translated into German. Published in 1988, the Hamas Charter asserts that “the Jews were behind the French Revolution and behind the Communist Revolution’; that they were “behind World War I so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate … and they were also behind … World War II, whereby they collected immense benefits from trading in war materials”; and that they “instigated the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council … in order to rule the world through their intermediaries.” “There was no war anywhere,” the Charter sums up, “that did not bear their [the Jews’] fingerprints.” [5]

It is tempting to ridicule the Hamas Charta as lunacy, just as in the past Hitler’s ravings were ridiculed. However, it is precisely such demonization of Jews as the source of all evil that transforms the murder of Israeli civilians into an act of liberation and that provides the phantasmagorical reason for Hamas’ ambition to destroy Israel. This is why an uncompromising combat against anti-Semitism in Palestine and the Arab world is a key precondition for any genuine peace in the Middle East.

But on precisely this point, German foreign policy under the direction of Joschka Fischer has not merely refused to join the battle. It has deliberately turned a blind eye, proceeding as if hating Jews were a normal feature of the Oriental world – like hookahs or mosques. Consequently, the “red-green” government has not treated the militants of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as combatants waging war on Israel. Islamist suicide terror has instead been presented as a false, though, in the final analysis, comprehensible reaction to poverty and hopelessness. “It is not the violence of the second Intifada which has caused the failure of the peace process,” the Green Party member of parliament Christian Sterzing remarked in a discussion of the Fischer proposal, “it is rather the failed political process which has caused the violence.” [6]

Whereas the American government set the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure as a prerequisite for any peace agreement (and hence for Palestinian statehood), the German position was exactly the opposite. “Nothing but the prospect of a permanent peaceful solution will bring about a lasting truce,” Joschka Fischer affirmed in an April 2002 interview. [7] In the same month, with the Intifada at its peak, Fischer went so far as to attribute a positive significance to the latter: “the Middle East crisis will either force a solution or escalate – that’s the alternative … That is why I prefer the speedy proclamation of a [Palestinian] state.” [8]

To the nonchalance displayed by German foreign policy toward the anti-Jewish suicide attacks, there corresponded energetic support for Yasser Arafat. After the SPD/Green government came to power in September 1998, Germany became of all states the single most important supplier of funds to the Palestinian Authority. In per capita terms, no other population group in the world receives more substantial German aid. With the initiation of the Al-Aqsa-Intifada in September 2000, the influence that this financial support gave Germany took on new significance. Nonetheless, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder visited Yasser Arafat in November 2000, he did not demand Arafat’s return to the negotiating table. On the contrary, he, in effect, gave the PLO-chief the green light for the Intifada. At the time, a member of the Chancellor’s delegation remarked: “Schröder does not want to put pressure on Arafat to return to the negotiating table. It is not sensible to link future development aid to the willingness to compromise of the Palestinians.” [9] On that first of November 2000, a course was set. Using the leverage of German development aid, one might have been able to force Arafat to make peace with Israel und thus markedly improved the conditions of life of in particular the Palestinians. But the attempt was not even made. Instead, German development aid would, in effect, henceforth be made to keep pace with the suicide attacks: despite the rise in the latter, Germany’s financial aid for Arafat was likewise increased.

Moreover, the German support for Arafat extended to the diplomatic arena as well. In February 2002, Arafat was isolated. Israel had broken off all contact with him. The USA publicly accused him of being the single person most responsible for the escalation of violence in the Middle East. Arafat was even spurned by the Arab world because of his recent rapprochement with Iran. Such was the situation when Joschka Fischer put an end to Arafat’s isolation. “Arafat’s three cheers for the visit of the German foreign minister – ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ – sound much like a victory of the Palestinian leader over the Israeli tanks positioned at his front door”, reported the German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung : “Fischer and the European Union did everything in their power to bring about Arafat’s resurrection. …. So long as Israelis are being terrorized, and so long as Arafat provides at least passive, if not active protection for the orchestrators of the terror, then it would be difficult to recommend the isolated Palestinian president as a partner in negotiations. But Joschka Fischer did just that.” [10]

From such divergent views of Arafat and Hamas there necessarily follows differing assessments of Israeli security policy as well. While the American administration recognized Israel’s right to defend itself, the German government preferred neutral talk of a “spiral of violence”: the Israeli government was placed on the same level as Arafat, with both sides being criticized as equally unreliable and “no longer capable of finding a solution to the conflict [on their own]”. In an interview on American public television, Joschka Fischer put it this way: “There was an agreement: say, hello. The interpretation of the one side is ‘good night,’ of the other side is ’good morning,’ so this leads to nowhere. Therefore, you need a vital third party for the implementation [of the Road Map].” [11]

Clash over Arafat

From the very beginning, Road Map diplomacy was thus characterized by sharp transatlantic disagreements. Nonetheless, facing “increasingly pointed demands from the Europeans and moderate Arab States for progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (in the words of the New York Times [12]), in his second Middle East statement of June 24, 2002, President Bush, as the website of the German Foreign Office emphasized, accepted “central points of the German conceptual paper”. The American President adopted the idea of rapidly proclaiming a provisional Palestinian state and announced that a final settlement might be reached within a three-year period. He did so, however, with the reservation that a new Palestinian leadership must first be established without Arafat: a leadership that fights Islamist terrorism and dismantles its infrastructure. Implicitly, he also made an appeal to the EU: “Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel – including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.” [13]

But in Brussels and Berlin the call went unheard. Instead, Germany foreign policy concentrated on securing Arafat’s political survival. A few days after Bush issued his statement, Joschka Fischer distributed a second paper to the Middle East Quartet. According to Fischer’s proposal, Arafat should not be forced to resign. Rather, “for the present so-called emergency phase,” he should “call into being a transitional government with a prime minister.” [14] This proposal had little in common with the American requirement that the Palestinians “elect new… leaders not compromised by terror”. It was unlikely that a Prime Minister would remove from office the very person to whom he owed his post.

Accordingly, when the Quartet convened in July 2002 in New York City, views on how to proceed were polarized. On the one side, there was the USA, calling on the Europeans to cease their direct budgetary aid of some $10 million per month to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, in order thus to force the latter to undertake real policy changes. On the other, were the Europeans, supported by the UN and Russia, insisting on seeing Arafat as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians. [15] In the dispute over Arafat, it was, in effect, the overall orientation towards the Middle East crisis that was at stake: “Pro Arafat” meant having a generally positive assessment of the second Intifada and the vision of Palestinian statehood that was in the process of being realized by means of Islamist terror; “contra Arafat” meant striving for a new beginning and a vision of a Palestinian state that would provide the key to a durable peace by raising the combat against Islamist terror and the normalization of Palestinian relations with Israel to the status of guiding principals.

In the course of this summer meeting in New York, the Quartet ought in fact to have broken up. After all, the signposts on the Road Map had turned out to be pointing in entirely different directions. Yet again, however, the United States gave ground, accepting Joschka Fischer’s idea of having a new prime minister installed by Yasser Arafat. Was it the then looming transatlantic quarrels over the Iraq war that made the US government eager to compromise?

In any case, at the end of August 2002, the foreign ministers of the European Union approved the so-called “EU-Road Map”, which, as the website of the German Foreign Office proclaimed, “took its basic orientation from the German government paper”: “The EU adopted the three-stage plan covering the period 2002-2005 and all the essential details, including the idea of naming a prime minister.” In September 2002, this European version of the Road Map was transformed into the joint Middle East Quartet Road Map. In December 2002, the final wording of the peace plan was adopted at the Quartet’s meeting in Washington.

What, then, were the steps foreseen by this Quartet “Road Map”?

Phase I (“up to May 2003”): the Israeli army was supposed to withdraw to its positions of September 28, 2000, and Israel was to dismantle all settlements created after March 2001. The Palestinians were to centralize their security apparatus, and to initiate “effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure”, whereas the Arab states were to “cut off public and private funding and all other forms of support for groups supporting and engaging in violence and terror.”

Phase II (“June 2003 until December 2003”) was supposed to take place after the prerequisites of Phase I were met. At the end of this second phase “an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty” was to be founded and, if possible, recognized by the United Nations.

Phase III (“2004-2005”): Only at this point were negotiations on a complete and final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict supposed to take place. [16]

Sabotage at Ramallah

The disagreements that marked the birth of the “Road Map” came glaringly into the open as soon as it was time to attempt to put it into effect. Arafat humiliated his new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, calling him a “traitor”. Just two days after the “Road Map” was delivered to the parties in April 2003, he demonstratively defied its provisions by centralizing two-thirds of the Palestinian security forces under his control, and he continued to provide tactical support for the suicide attacks of the Al-Aqsa Brigades of his own Fatah movement. Nonetheless, in the face of the increasingly vocal protestations of Washington, Arafat continued to enjoy the unqualified support of Germany and the EU. [17]

Hamas denounced the Road Map as a “Zionist conspiracy” and embarked on a new series of suicide attacks in order to undermine the peace process. In spite of this, meeting on July 3, the EU Council of Ministers refused to put Hamas on its “black list” of terror organizations or to freeze its bank accounts. The spokesperson of the European Commission, Reijo Kempinnen, emphasized that the activities of the political wing of Hamas are “legitimate”, since it provides social services and runs clinics. “You can’t say that the whole of Hamas is a terrorist organisation,” he said, “and certainly that is not our position.” [18]

In open contradiction with the stipulations of the Road Map, Joschka Fischer pleaded to have Hamas permanently integrated into the peace process. At a press conference in Cairo in June 2003, he explained that “a ‘permanent agreement for a cease-fire’ would have to be achieved with the Islamist Hamas movement and other groups.” [19] The next day’s New York Times quoted a US government official asking: “How can a group determined to wipe Israel off the face of the earth become a partner in the peace process?” Fischer’s response is unknown. [20]

On August 19, 2003, a Hamas suicide bomber boarded a crowded Jerusalem bus and killed 23 passengers. But even this was not sufficient to bring about a ban. According to a report from early September in the EUobserver, “the UK, the Netherlands and Italy are all in favour of blacklisting the group but will face tough opposition from France and Germany who are keen to stress the importance of the political wing’s humanitarian projects to people on the ground.” [21] The EU changed its course only after the peace plan was already in ruins. Hamas was finally added to the “black list” on September 6, 2003 – the very day Mahmoud Abbas resigned from his post as Prime Minister. While the EU decision represents a major development, in order properly to assess its significance it needs to be noted that the ban does not include offshoots of Hamas allegedly engaged in social welfare. [22]

Ignoring all the warnings and appeals from Washington, Germany and the EU thus undermined the peace process and secured the failure of the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. At first glance, such a policy seems as effective as shooting oneself in the foot. Had not the Germans and the Europeans sabotaged their own approach? We will return to the question below.

The Hijacking of the Gaza Plan

Abbas’ resignation brought the Road Map diplomacy to an end. With his appointment of Ahmed Qurei to replace Abbas, Arafat now had a 100% loyalist at the head of the PA. The Europeans at once recognized Qurei unconditionally. Washington, however, reacted with reserve to the appointment of the Arafat ally: in effect, with Qurei at the helm no crack down on the terrorists was conceivable. [23] Bush officials made it clear that the Road Map plan “was moribund and that, for the most part, the Palestinians are to blame,” and even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan “acknowledged that the approach of the United States and its diplomatic partners had come to a kind of dead end in the Middle East.” [24] Between September 2003 and April 2004 all meetings of the Quartet were suspended and the Road Map peace plan was effectively dead. Precisely because the peace plan was dead, however, Ariel Sharon changed Israeli policy. “If in a few month the Palestinians still continue to disregard their part in implementing the Roadmap – then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians,” he announced in December 2003 at a Security Conference in Herzliya: “The ‘Disengagement Plan” will be realized only in the event that the Palestinians continue to drag their feet and postpone implementation of the Roadmap.” [25] Thus the pull-out was not a part of the Road Map; it was a response to its failure.

When Ariel Sharon presented the unilateral pull-out plan to the White House in April 2004, President Bush responded with evident enthusiasm and even made the Prime Minister a couple of pledges intended to strengthen his position in Israel. Thus he declared that the 1967 “Green Line” had to be adapted to new realities and that the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be rejected, so that Israel would remain a Jewish state. [26]

The EU’s reaction to this summit meeting in Washington was one of outright horror. Jacques Chirac described the American position as “dangerous”. The EU’s foreign policy coordinator, Javier Solana, was especially indignant about the US rejection of the right of return, while Joschka Fischer demanded that “any solution must be within the framework of the Road Map”. [27]

Now, however, it became apparent to what extent American Middle Eastern policy had become ensnared in the web of “Quartet” diplomacy. Startled by Sharon’s visit to the White House, the Europeans demanded a high-level meeting of the Quartet on May 4, 2004 in New York. In the presence of an unhappy-looking Colin Powell (“he seemed glum”) a statement was produced that, in the words of a New York Times report, “amounted almost to a reversal of the policy set forth by President Bush”. It stipulated, for instance, that any future determination of Israel’s borders or of the status of Palestinian refugees “must be mutually agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians.” “The lengthy statement,” the Times report continues, “had been hammered out … in what diplomats said was a crosscurrent of tensions between the Bush administration and its quartet partners.” [28]

In that spring of 2004, when Arafat was still lively and alert and successfully torpedoing every measure to rein in the terror campaign, something strange happened to the Israeli government’s Gaza pull-out plan: the Palestinian leadership hijacked it and diverted it from its original purpose. Under Qurei the Palestinian Authority had systematically ignored the anti-terror stipulations of the Road Map. At the same time, however, the Palestinian leaders were desperate at all costs to rescue the Road Map for its diplomatic value. They therefore hit on the idea of presenting the Gaza pull-out as a part of the Road Map. Ahmed Qurei welcomed “an evacuation of the Gaza Strip as the first Israeli measure in the framework of the Road Map.” [29]

The Europeans endorsed this lie. The German government described Sharon’s withdrawal plan as “a step on the way to the realization of the two-state solution envisaged by the Road Map”, while an EU spokesman declared that “the pull-out could turn out to be a significant step towards implementation of the Road Map”. Since then we have heard an ever shriller chorus of voices insisting that the Gaza withdrawal must now precisely be followed by further steps. It is no wonder, then, that Ariel Sharon thereafter refused even just to meet with the Quartet or that the USA began contemplating a new Middle East project involving Israel and Egypt – but leaving out the Europeans! [30]

But then, in November 2004, Arafat died and so began the most recent scene in a diplomatic drama whose end is still far from sight. From now on Washington would place all its hopes in Arafat’s elected successor Mahmoud Abbas. Subsequent American policy has been marked by striking inconsistencies. On the one hand, during a visit to the White House by Mahmoud Abbas in May 2005, President Bush stated: “Hamas is a terrorist group; it’s on a terrorist list for a reason.” [31] On the other, he has bitten his tongue and uttered not a word of criticism of the fact that Abbas too wants neither to disarm the Islamist enemies of Israel nor even just to combat them, but rather to involve them in the work of his government. Now also the US Secretary of State began to make Ahmed Qurei’s reinterpretation of the Gaza pull-out her own: “the next stage of the Road Map must follow on from the Gaza withdrawal”, she urged her negotiating partner Ariel Sharon in July 2005. Sharon, however, rejected this demand, stating that Israel would only return to the Road Map after the infrastructure of Islamist terror had been dismantled. [32]

What conclusions can be drawn from this review of Road Map diplomacy? As a rule, all those involved start from the assumption that the USA is the ally of Israel, while the Europeans back the Palestinians. Even though tensions between the USA and Israel have risen in recent months, this assessment remains largely true as far as the USA is concerned. But have the Europeans really been standing up for the interests of the “Palestinians” as such? The history of the Road Map tells a different story: to date the European Union has prioritized support not for the “Palestinians” as such, but for the militant opponents of Israel among them. Of course, if it wanted to do so, the EU, as the biggest provider of funds to the Palestinians, could use its influence to strengthen the hand of the anti-terror elements in the Palestinian camp. But Germany and the EU were and are evidently not interested in doing so:

  • Not one member of the German or any other European government has criticized the disastrous consequences of the second Intifada as pointedly as has Mahmoud Abbas. In October 2002, when he was the PLO’s Executive Secretary, Mahmoud Abbas declared: “What happened in the past two years, as we see today, is the complete destruction of everything we built [under Oslo], and what we built before. … The militarization of the Intifada was a complete mistake.” [33]
  • According to survey results published at the beginning of July 2003, some 56% of Palestinians were in favor of the Road Map peace plan. [34] But instead of strengthening Abbas, Germany and the EU continued to support the opponent of the plan, Yasser Arafat.
  • According to a survey conducted after the Sharm el-Sheik summit of February 2005, “some 70 percent of Palestinians were worried about the diffusion of weapons in Palestinian society and wanted one central authority that could maintain law and order”. [35] This reaction was also aimed indirectly at Hamas, which has not only refused to give up its weapons, but has set about recruiting a several thousand-strong guerrilla army and stockpiling Qassem rockets in Gaza. [36] Despite this, in June 2005 the European Union promoted Hamas to the status of a negotiating partner and without posing any preconditions whatsoever. [37] The warning of former US special envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross – “if you’re dealing with them, I think you’re undercutting the Palestinian Authority” – fell on deaf ears. [38] Since then the dialogue between European governments and Islamists has not only been conducted at low level. In July 2005, the Hamas leadership proudly revealed that a senior German government representative had held talks with them in both Ramallah and Gaza City. [39]
  • On her first visit to Europe as Secretary of State in February 2005, Condoleezza Rice missed no opportunity to call on the European Union to designate Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. Her appeal enjoyed the support not only of the Israelis, but also of the Palestinian Authority. The degree of Hizbullah’s influence on the Palestinians had reached such a point that, according to the Jerusalem Post, “even the PA leadership is sounding alarm and begging the world to help it cut off those throwing oil on flames that it is trying to douse.” [40] But in vain. That very month the EU decided that it would spare Hizbullah and not place it on the terror list – despite knowing full well that this organization has aimed thousands of rockets in the direction of Israel, advocates the destruction of Israel and is a protector of Palestinian terrorism.

The above list shows that Germany and the EU do not truly side with the “Palestinians” or the Abbas government. Instead, the transatlantic conflict is also fuelling the divisions within Palestinian society between the US-backed forces around Abbas, who, however half-heartedly, are seeking accommodation with Israel, and the Islamist forces that are courted by the EU, even though they aim at Israel’s destruction. What motives could lead the Europeans, and in particular Joschka Fischer and the “red-green” government he represents, to pursue such a policy?

German Middle East Policy

Some clues are provided in the programmatic report “Framework for a German Middle East Policy”, which was co-authored by Middle East experts from the Christian Democrat, Social Democrat, and Green parties and published in August 2001. [41] It is no coincidence that this document was the product of a non-partisan effort: the CDU has always supported and never criticized the “Red-Green” coalition’s Road Map diplomacy.

To begin with, the German position paper takes for granted that there is a special relationship between Germans and Palestinians: “Supporting the creation of a Palestinian state is a priority. The financial assistance that the Palestinian authority receives either directly or indirectly from Germany exceeds that provided by any other state. This support is a considered and correct decision of German policy, and Germany should not shrink from playing the role of midwife and godfather of the future Palestinian state.”

Godfather of the Palestinians?! Why should Germans of all people be destined for such a role? Is it that they must make good to the Palestinians the wrongs previously done to the Jews? And why does one want to be Godfather precisely of the Palestinians? Is it because one imagines that, like the Palestinians, one knows what it means to be “misused” by Jews? For the contemporary German psyche, the Middle East represents a minefield. If only subconsciously, patterns of defensiveness, projection and transference clearly exert influence on German discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed on German policy.

What happens to “priority Palestine”, however, when Islamist terror continually blocks the path to Palestinian statehood? The German “Framework”-document makes provision for such an eventuality: “Germany should make clear that it recognizes the predominantly Arab character of the Near and Middle East and that it is not making its relationship with the Arab world dependent on the success of the peace process.” The hierarchy is unmistakable: relations with the Arab world are not to be subordinated to the success of efforts to create peace in the Middle East. Rather the peace process and the question of Israel’s security that is tied to it are subordinated to the preservation of Germany’s good relations with Arab regimes. The latter, however, often have their own domestic reasons for being interested precisely in the continuation of the conflict between Palestinians and Israel. “Priority Palestine” and – the greater – “priority Arab world”: these two stated priorities of the “Framework” document seem to have had a decisive influence on German Road Map diplomacy.

This choice of alliances is, moreover, linked to economic considerations. Saudi-Arabia, for example, does not only fund approximately 60% of the Hamas budget – it is also Germany’s most important trading partner in the region. Iran is not only the founder and financier of Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad – it is also an export Eldorado for German business. Today, Iran imports more goods from Germany than from any other country. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports: “In 2004, German exports to Iran increased by 33% to €3.57 billion. Since 2000, German exports to Iran have more than doubled.” [42]

Of course, it is true that Germany might also have expanded and strengthened its relationships with the Arab world by acting as an influential partner of the United States. The logic of German foreign policy under the “red-green” coalition has, however, taken competition with the USA for influence and prestige as axiomatic.

Alliance against America

Already in 1998, the director of the German Institute for Middle East Studies [Orient-Institut], Udo Steinbach, enthused that in light of the enormous “sympathy” that Germany “traditionally enjoys in the entire region”, the Federal Republic is “widely regarded in the Middle East as a future great power” that could “represent a counterweight to the all too dominant American exercise of power.” [43] The “traditional sympathy” in question notably comprises the today still widespread admiration of National Socialism. The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War seem only to have reinforced German ambitions to appear as the most important challenger to American power in the Arab/Islamic world. To this end, the pursuit of alliances with Islamist forces has been openly advocated.

Such a policy orientation was, for instance, recommended by a discussion paper prepared for a January 2002 conference on the Middle East organized by the influential Bertelsmann Foundation. Participants in the conference included Joschka Fischer and Javier Solana, as well as a representative of the EU Presidency and the Middle East envoys of both the UN and Russia. According to the Bertelsmann paper, “the EU should not waste its time on the futile search for an internationally accepted definition of terrorism.” This is especially important with respect to the “Mediterranean area, where the lines between terrorists, resistance fighters and opposition groups are blurred in public discourse.” But is not the allusion to “public discourse in the Mediterranean area” here just a flimsy pretext for being able to blur the lines between terrorists and opposition groups also in the European policy context and notably in the treatment of groups such as Hamas? What is the alternative to seeking a definition of terrorism that the Bertelsmann study proposes? “Instead, the EU actors should defend the Islamist movement against an all too undifferentiated conduct of the war on terror by the Americans and integrate it into the European dialogue of cultures”. [44]

The “red-green” government has evidently made these recommendations its own: it appears to want to co-operate with Islamists, instead of isolating them. In this respect, the consideration it has shown for Arafat and Hamas has given a signal to the Arab/Islamic world. But is this signal not tantamount to the encouragement of jihad against Israel? Why should the Arab world heed the American calls to ostracize Hamas or other Islamist terror groups if even Germany and the EU refuse to do so?

Behind the tactical acceptance of the suicide bombings may possibly lay a more far-reaching objective. Why has the USA felt obliged to accept a greater European role in the Middle East process? “The most important source of pressure is the evolution of the situation and its potential for escalation”, is Fischer’s answer. [45] Precisely! Thus, in the same way as major terrorist attacks in Iraq have forced the USA to involve the UN and EU in their plans to a greater extent than previously, so did the terror of Hamas pave the way for the German-European debut in the Middle East with the Road Map.

“Might countries with power-political aspirations perhaps have an interest in seeing that the success [of the USA in the fight against terror] be neither triumphal nor even unequivocal?” asked the foreign affairs editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with feigned innocence. He thus put his finger on a decisive point: every American foreign policy success represents a blow to the relative stature of the EU. [46] The less the American success, the greater the opportunity for Germany and the EU to put themselves forward as an alternative to the USA and thus to profit from its failures.

The transatlantic clash over the Road Map perfectly illustrates the contradictory tendencies in the struggle against Islamist terror in general. While Israel and the USA are fighting the radical Islamist movements as best they can, Germany and the other EU powers continue to curry favour with them.

“Look at what we Europeans have accomplished in the Middle East!” Joschka Fischer boasted to the journalists from Die Zeit on May 8, 2003. In the same interview Fischer gave his answer to the question of what the specific European contribution to the new world order might be: “the difference is between a cooperative or a confrontational approach towards the Arab-Islamic arc of crisis.”

In drawing this distinction Fischer obscured a more essential one: the difference between those Arab-Islamic forces that recognize Israel as a Jewish state and those that wish to destroy it. That is the real line of divide. The “cooperative approach” to Muslims who today wish to take their distance from Islamist Judeophobia requires a “confrontational approach” to Hamas and Hizbullah. Will the EU use the occasion of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip to show that it has learned something from the fiasco of its Road Map policy? Up to now, its “cooperative approach” has only benefited those forces that aim at Israel’s destruction: in Teheran, in Gaza and in Beirut. Today, Europe again faces a choice: either it begins to combat radical Islamists and to support their opponents in the Muslim world. Or it gives anti-Semites the world over a sign of tacit approval, inasmuch as it accepts or encourages the jihad against Israel. There is no third way.

Matthias Küntzel is a Hamburg-based political scientist and a research associate of the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His latest book Djihad und Judenhass: Über den neuen antijüdischen Krieg [Jihad and Jew-hatred: On the New Anti-Jewish War] was published in 2002 by Ça Ira Verlag. More of his writings are available in English, French and German at http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/.

Translated from the German by Transatlantic Intelligencer
© 2005 Transatlantic Intelligencer. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Matthias Geyer, „Auf dem Weg ins Irgendwo”, Der Spiegel, August 22, 2005.

[2] „Europa ist eine echte Macht”, Interview with Joschka Fischer, Die Zeit, May 8, 2003

[3] The statement is reproduced at http://www.whitehouse.gov/…/20020404-1.html.

[4] „Bundesaussenminister legt ‚Ideenpapier’ für Frieden im Nahen Osten vor”, Federal Press Office [Bundespresseamt], April 9, 2002; and the rubric „Deutsche Nahostpolitik” [circa March 2003] on the website of the German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de).

[5] The Hamas Charter is consultable at http://www.palestinecenter.org/…/charter.html.

[6] Tagezeitung (taz), April 10, 2002.

[7] „Israel darf keine Schwäche zeigen”, Interview with Joschka Fischer, Die Zeit, April 12, 2002.

[8] „Die Nahost-Krise wird ihre Lösung erzwingen – oder eskalieren”, Interview with Joschka Fischer, Frankfurter Rundschau, April 20, 2002

[9] Archiv der Gegenwart, November 9, 2000, p.44580.

[10] „Danke, Danke, Danke”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 18, 2002

[11] Interview with Joschka Fischer, “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer”, PBS, April 30, 2002. (Consultable at http://www.pbs.org/…/jan-june02/fischer.html.)

[12] “Bush to Set Out Broad Approach on Mideast in the Very Near Future, Powell Says”, New York Times, June 25, 2002.

[13] President Bush’s speech is reproduced at http://www.whitehouse.gov/…/20020624-3.html.

[14] „Fischer rückt von Arafat ab”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Juli 11, 2002. The Foreign Minister’s four-page “Non-Paper” remains unpublished. The website of the German Foreign Ministry summarizes its contents as follows: “A first operationalization of the Bush statement took place by way of the German initiative of July 2002, which for the first time tried further to concretize the three year period (2002-2005) set by U.S. President Bush. The basic ideas of the German suggestion are as follows: the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister; a plan in three stages, accompanied by progress on security matters and consisting of a democratisation of Palestinian institutions, including elections, a provisional Palestinian state, and a final status agreement; the appointment of an international representative with the authority to realize this reform program.”

[15] „Staat für Palästinenser in drei Jahren”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 18, 2002; „Arafats Lohn”, Die Zeit, July 18, 2002.

[16] See Eli Kazhdan, David Keyes, “The Inevitable Disintegration of the Hudna”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 3, No. 5, 26. August 2003. The details of the road map are documented at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/20062.htm.

[17] „Arafat hält sich nicht an den Friedensplan”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 3, 2003.

[18] “Under Pressure from France, E.U. decides against Hamas ban”, JTA News Service, July 6, 2003.

[19] “Fischer fordert Ende der Gewalt”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 25, 2003.

[20] “A Sense of Harmony Felt Within Diplomatic Circles”, New York Times, June 27, 2003.

[21] “Middle East to dominate ministers meeting”, EUobserver.com, September 6, 2003.

[22] “EU places political wing of Hamas on terrorist blacklist”, EUobserver.com, September 7, 2003. The implementation of the decision, moreover, was postponed to a later date. On the question of the Hamas affiliates, then French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin declared “that enforcement of an assets freeze or a ban on suspected Hamas offshoots would be a ‘voluntary’ decision for individual EU countries.” See “EU recognises Hamas as Terror Organization”, Jerusalem Post, September 6, 2003.

[23] “A Trans-atlantic role reversal on the Mideast”, International Herald Tribune, September 24, 2003.

[24] “U.S. folds up ‘road map’, blaming the Palestinians”, JTA News Service, January 28, 2004; “Mediators appeal to Israel and Palestinians to save peace plan”, International Herald Tribune, September 27, 2003.

[25] The full text of Sharon’s speech is published in the Jerusalem Post of December 18, 2003.

[26] „Bush: Bye-bye, roadmap”, Die Tageszeitung (taz), April 16, 2004.

[27] “Bush backing for Sharon initiative worries European ‘Quartet’ partners”, JTA News Service, April 18, 2004.

[28] “Gaza Pullout Is Endorsed, With Proviso, by Envoys”, New York Times, May 5, 2004.

[29] „Palästinensisches Werben um die ,Road Map’”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, April 3, 2004.

[30] “EU excluded from plans for Mideast peace talks”, International Herald Tribune, July 22, 2004; “In Talks, U.N. Nuclear Chief Says, Israel Turns Focus on Iran”, New York Times, July 8, 2004.

[31] “Bush Praises Palestinian; Tells Israel of Its Duties”, New York Times, May 27, 2005.

[32] Cf. JTA News Service, July 22, 2005.

[33] „Friedensaufruf eines Fatah-Führers. Vernichtende Intifada-Bilanz von Abu Mazin”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 28, 2002; Yael Yehoshua, “Abu Mazen: A Political Profile, Special Report Nr. 15”, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), April 29, 2003.

[34] “Skepticism Lives on Scarred Jerusalem Street”, New York Times, July 2, 2003.

[35] “Hamas’ role is diversifying as parliamentary elections draw near”, JTA News Service, April 18, 2005.

[36] “Hamas gathers several thousand Gaza fighters and arsenal of Kassams”, Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2005.

[37] „EU-Diplomaten dürfen Kontakt zur radikalen Hamas aufnehmen”, Die Welt, June 17, 2005.

[38] “Bush Praises Palestinian”, New York Times, May 27, 2005; “Ross criticises E.U. on Hamas”, JTA News Service, July 5, 2005.

[39] “Hamas: We met with senior German official”, Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2005.

[40] “Europe and Hizbullah”, Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2005.

[41] Hermann Gröhe (CDU), Christoph Moosbauer (SPD), Volker Perthes (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Christian Sterzing (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), „Ausgewogen, nicht neutral. Eckpunkte einer deutschen Nahost-Politik”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 21, 2001.

[42] „Iran-Sanktionen bedrohen lebhafte Geschäfte”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 11, 2005. Michael Laker, „Flexibel die Marktposition verteidigen”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 11, 2003; „Gute Geschäfte in Arabien”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 7, 2002. On the Saudi share of Hamas funding, see Kazhdan and Keyes, op. cit., p. 4.

[43] Udo Steinbach, „Der Nahe Osten in der deutschen Außenpolitik”, in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 12/1998, p. 25ff

[44] Felix Neugart, “Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East”, Discussion Paper presented by the Bertelsmann Group for Policy Research, Center for Applied Policy Research, to the VII. Kronberg Talks, January 17-19, 2002, p.15.

[45] „Die Nahost-Krise wird ihre Lösung erzwingen – oder eskalieren”, Interview with Joschka Fischer in the Frankfurter Rundschau, April 20, 2002.

[46] Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, „Im Strom der Weltpolitik”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Oktober 19, 2001.