Chirac Defines Role for Europe in Middle East

By Al-Maeena, Khaled | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 1997 | Go to article overview

Chirac Defines Role for Europe in Middle East


Al-Maeena, Khaled, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Chirac Defines Role for Europe in Middle East

The American elections were just around the corner and, as usual, Arab political conversation concentrated on which candidate would be better for them. During one such conversation, in reply to the question, a gentleman answered in no uncertain manner, "Jacques Chirac."

There was a stunned silence. However, as I walked from the gathering back to my house, I thought about his answer. And I came to the conclusion that the United States -- tilted so unashamedly toward its dependent, Israel -- will continue to do nothing positive for the Arabs as they seek a just solution to the most outstanding problem in the Middle East. True, the U.S. continues to play a vital role in the talks but its bias is all too obvious and, despite the pressure it could easily bring to bear, the fact is that it does virtually nothing except window-dressing.

On the other hand, last fall's visit to the Middle East by French President Jacques Chirac presented a new possibility -- that of a European role in the Middle East. Chirac's emotional outburst in Jerusalem, brought on by the insensitive heavy-handedness of the notorious Israeli secret police, was witnessed by the whole world. And the world did not see the outburst as baseless: Chirac was touring the Old City of Jerusalem, where 98 percent of the population are Palestinian, and he was prevented from having any but the most innocuous exchanges with them.

He spoke for Europe by calling for a Palestinian state. Unlike the United States whose Middle Eastern policies are largely controlled by the minority Zionist community, European policy is based on genuine expressions of freedom and self-interest. Europe should no longer play second fiddle to the United States in the Middle East, especially when the region can offer the Europeans such vast opportunities.

Forty years ago Israel, Britain and France launched a joint assault upon Egypt. The result was that both states lost influence and the field was left to the United States. Unfortunately, after initial attempts to broker peace, the United States became a blind supporter of Israeli aggression and went even further in refusing to acknowledge Arab and Palestinian rights. The 1956 invasion was followed by 1967 and then, in 1973, the crossing of the Suez Canal broke the myth of Israeli invincibility and sent new signals to Israel's principal ally and benefactor.

A new world was emerging in the Middle East. A generation of young men and women, better educated than before, wanted to live as equals with other peoples in the world. They were not burdened with the hang-ups of the past. They were interested in science and technology and, on an individual basis, were the equal of their contemporaries anywhere in the world. A new dawn seemed to be on the horizon, but some old Arab problems reappeared to hold back the rising sun. …

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