European Parliament Member Alexander Graf Lambsdorff Outlines Middle East Approach


Yesterday, I hosted a meeting with European Parliament Member Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (and Deputy Chairman of the Free Democracts in the European Parliament) who gave a talk titled: “Europe’s Evolving Stakes in the Middle East.”
The meeting was assembled by the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
Lambsdorff outlined a sensible strategy for Europe in the Middle East, that still “hoped for” enlightened American engagement in the problems there. But he was skeptical of the ability or desire of this particular White House to move in positive directions. This was an important set of public remarks that should be read in full.

But here are two highlights that I thought were important and insightful:

The question people are asking is: Are we not moving into an area in which we will be confronted only with losing propositions? Are we not trying to do the impossible, achieve the unachievable? Should we not leave it to the US and look after other regions of the world? After all, how likely is Hamas to recognize Israel in all honesty? How likely is Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program?
They also point out that there is a limit to how much they are willing to pay, and wait, and see, as happened in the Palestinian case. There is a limit as to how many destroyed buildings, airports and roads Europe is willing to reconstruct. The airport in Gaza was built with taxpayers’ money from my German home state — and was destroyed by the Israeli air force. Not a good scenario either. And now, Lebanon.
The decision by the European countries to send troops to Lebanon reflects the conclusion that only a strong political involvement in a conflict — embodied in the use of military forces — will allow Europe decisively to influence the outcome of a conflict. It is also the answer to the sceptical voices, to the “isolationist” streak, that Europe is willing to put up a serious effort.
For Germany, specifically, a military mission close to the Israeli border is a historical novelty, to say the least. There was a lively debate, as you can imagine, whether the country that perpetrated the Holocaust could move into an area in which its soldiers might be forced to shoot at IDF members. This discussion took an interesting turn when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited German soldiers to help secure the Israeli border and disarm Hezbollah. This was a difficult invitation. If Germany was to participate in such a mission, it was to implement UNSCR 1701, not to protect a party to the conflict.
On the other hand, it is part of Germany’s raison d’etat to help secure Israel’s right to existence. Yet another part of German raison d’etat, however, is to strengthen and support the United Nations. The way out of this dilemma was found with Germany sending naval forces to guard Lebanon’s seashore against weapons smuggling by Hezbollah. Still, 2/3 of the German public is opposed to a mission where German soldiers might have to shoot at Israeli soldiers.
The willingness of European nations to risk their troops in one of the most dangerous regions in the world clearly means that Europe’s engagement in the future of the Israeli-Arab conflict has moved to a new level. Financial means and political brains are now backed up by military muscle.

Then, Alexander Graf Lambdorff got into the question of negotiations, objectives, and interlocutors:

The second question we have to answer is: Who do we talk to? Can we talk to Hamas, can we talk to Hezbollah, can we talk to Syria?
Let’s start with Syria. I believe that the continued isolation of Syria will prove to be counterproductive. Syria and Israel need come to a peace deal. Syria currently sees itself more isolated than ever. Even Arabs friendly to the idea of the destruction of Israel, are unhappy with Syria doing this on the back of the Lebanese people. “Syria is fighting Israel to the last Lebanese” is the word on the street in Aman and Cairo. In an interview in the Spanish newspaper El Pais on Monday President Assad said he was prepared to resume peace talks with Israel within 6 months. A solution to the Sheba’a Farms issue, disarming Hezbollah, and clarifying once and for all what the role of Syria is vis-a-vis a sovereign Lebanon: under these conditions a deal is possible that is sorely needed. In a way, I believe it is ironic that we talk to Iran despite its policies because of its nuclear program but refuse to do so regarding Damascus.
Hamas and Hezbollah are more difficult. Scholars of the region point out that it will be utterly impossible to achieve a lasting solution without the involvement of modern Islamist movements. They point to the fact that unlike Al-Qaeda both Hamas and Hezbollah have a military and a political arm (much like the IRA and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland). Both participate in electoral processes — where they have more to fear from winning than from losing, but that may be a useful lesson. As for Hamas — their electoral platform was: “The party of reform” — The Fatah platform was “The party of the martyrs.”
But we will talk to Fatah only. That is difficult to explain. Now, does Hamas have to recognize Israel? Absolutely. Do they have to renounce violence? Absolutely. Do they have to respect the accords signed by the PLO? Yes, they do. Do they have to do it before one starts to talk to them. This is a crucial and a difficult question. But finding an answer to it should not be an insurmountable obstacle. And, make no mistake about it, peace with Syria alone is not going to solve Israel’s existential question of how to live safely next to the Palestinians — the two processes must at the very least go hand-in-hand.
Hezbollah is perhaps more difficult even than Hamas. But here also, they do not pursue a nihilistic campaign of the Al-Qaeda kind. Are they terrorists? They are. But they are a political force as well. They have two ministers in the Lebanese government, after all. Was Arafat a terrorist? He sure was. But he was the sole partner capable of delivering the Palestinians, despite his past as a terrorist, his role as the instigator of the second intifada, despite his mind-boggling corruption and all the other things that could rightfully be laid at his doorstep.
It may be too early but we will have to look at Islamism with a more discriminating eye than we have in the last few years. More often than not, Islam is the only avenue for political opposition. The governments in the region can and often do withhold all basic civil rights — but they cannot close the mosques or outlaw Islam. Voters are also often less radical than party members. A significant part of Hamas voters favors the recognition of Israel, some even say a majority does.
The third question is: Who needs to be involved, and the answer is obvious: Europe cannot do it alone, just as the US can’t. However, these days European engagement is stronger than American one and I hope that this is going to change after Secretary Rice’s trip to the region. We need the US to be involved again. We need to revive the Quartet with substantial US input.
The key word behind this is of course ‘Effective Multilateralism’, i.e. the doctrine adopted by the EU in 2003 for international affairs. Of course, we wish for a world in which countries bind themselves into a network of laws, obligations and institutions, like the EU itself. By projecting the European vision of rules-based, predictable and institutionalised international relations, the EU is hoping to solve problems and, yes, increase its global influence.
But a doctrine alone is not going to solve any problems. The political will to back it up is also needed. Today, Europeans are willing to use military force in the Middle East to back up their vision. This is clearly not the end of it, much remains to be done, but it is a difference and I hope and believe that it will make a difference — for the Middle East, for the EU and for a world of effective multilateralism.

This speech by Lambsdorff should be read by key national security officials in the White House, intelligence and defense bureacracies and the State Department because it reflects the ‘best America can hope for’ from a US-sympathizing elite European figure.
When one combines the Lambsdorff speech yesterday with the fact that earlier this week Condoleezza Rice was given a stiff rebuke by eight Arab Middle East foreign ministers who told her that the moderates she was trying to rally were increasingly fragile situations and could not muster much support for America’s position on Iran and Iraq without making some important steps on Palestine/Israel and other regional grievances.
The Europeans and Arab states are united in perspective — and Rice needs to deliver that back to the powers she works with in the White House so as to break the logjam that is now paralyzing sensible American policy in the region.
— Steve Clemons


9 comments on “European Parliament Member Alexander Graf Lambsdorff Outlines Middle East Approach

  1. larry birnbaum says:

    “The European countries should find some leaders with balls and move them back to it if it takes an international army of bulldozers to do it. Just announce that the way it’s going to be, flood Palestine with international troops and start staking out the real borders.”
    Carroll is a Rush Limbaugh knock-off for the anti-Israel set.


  2. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “nothing is going to be resolved until Israel, in particular, is horsewhipped into getting serious about peace instead of expansion.”
    As I recall, it didn’t take horsewhipping to get Israel to give the Sinai back…just mutual recognition and the intervention of the US. And this with a neighbor that conducted a surprise attack on the state on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
    I’m sorry: Your movie in which the Arabs just want to be friends and the Israelis just want to occupy all the land just doesn’t wash.


  3. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “Israel has only one LEGAL, internationally acknowledged border, the one the UN set.
    Then why, even from the very beginning, did none of the surrounding Arab countries recognize it? Why do they prattle on about 242 and never mention 181?
    Why have Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Saudi Arabia never concluded a treaty with Israel recognizing those borders…going all the way back to 1948?
    Why did it take Saudi Arabia until 2002–53 years after the founding of the state to agree to end the war?
    Why did it take the PLO until 1988, 38+ years to agree that those borders were legal?
    Why do Hamas and Hezbollah still reject those borders vow to violate them by destroying Israel?
    Why does Iran’s leader still talking about Israel “vanishing”?
    Carroll writes: Every inch of ground Israel occupies in Palestine is illegal according to international law…how hard is “i-l-l-e-g-a-l” to understand?”
    But then why was this also the Arab “line” before 1967, before the occupation? And, while we’re on it, why didn’t Jordan and Egypt accord the Palestinians their own state in Palestine when they controlled the territories, not Israel?
    In them days, “Palestine” was all of Israel proper. Prior to that it included Jordan. Seems to me that the borders of Palestine keep shifting to suit the needs of Israel’s opponents.
    Carroll writes: “Then Israel and Palestine can start talks even steven based on the one and only LEGAL border recongized by every country in the world except Israel and the US.”
    If every country in the world recognizes Israel’s original borders, why didn’t every country in the world, including her adjacent and proximate Arab neighbors, conclude peace treaties with Israel prior to 1967 or prior to 1956? Then, the talk was all about how these legal UN borders were also illegal.
    Simply painting Israel as an aggressor with no more reason to fear and even pre-empt her enemies–pretending Israel has no real enemies but just makes them up in order to grab more land–is just plain wrong. A willful misreading of how present actions spring from an historical–and not so long ago historical–context. Kind of a kin to the holocaust denying that is so popular throughout the Arab world.


  4. Carroll says:

    Posted by Richard W. Crews at October 7, 2006 02:57 PM
    Give up the “Jerusalem Summit UN” plan. Will never happen. If the Israelis ever suceed in getting their “new” UN it will have only two members, themselves and the US.


  5. Carroll says:

    Interesting. But what is the EU going to do? Or rather what can they do, and when are they going to do it?
    I am not a genius European Parliament Member but even I can see that nothing is going to be resolved until Israel, in particular, is horsewhipped into getting serious about peace instead of expansion.
    Everyone has their own little suggestions to end this but here’s mine:
    Israel has only one LEGAL, internationally acknowledged border, the one the UN set. The European countries should find some leaders with balls and move them back to it if it takes an international army of bulldozers to do it. Just announce that the way it’s going to be, flood Palestine with international troops and start staking out the real borders. Every inch of ground Israel occupies in Palestine is illegal according to international law…how hard is “i-l-l-e-g-a-l” to understand? Then Israel and Palestine can start talks even steven based on the one and only LEGAL border recongized by every country in the world except Israel and the US.
    My bet is if a united Europe faced down the Isrmerica bullies on this, especially now, the only thing the Israelis and the US congress would do is shit in their britches at the thought of having to declare war on the entire world for the sake of AIPAC.
    It’s only a hop, skip and jump from Lebanon to Israel/Pal…do it…and send the Israelis the bill…the rest of us are tired of paying for these psychos.


  6. Richard W. Crews says:

    I think Rice is WORSE than useless. She is a bush talker who is never correct. If she would go home and do nothing for the next two years it would be better than anything she has tried so far.
    I want something done – it’s just that it doesn’t seem to be her(?) vision that will do it.
    I have a solution :
    Palestine & Israel solution SEP06
    The Palestinian/Israeli problem is the core of the MidEast Troubles. Without a solution here, there will be no solutions anywhere in the area. Without dwelling on history, I will go directly to the solution.
    First, Jerusalem becomes an International City and the Israeli capital is re-acknowledged as Tel Aviv. The Palestinians name their own capital.
    Second, Israel pulls back to the pre-1967 borders.
    Thirdly, the area of Jerusalem is physically defined to form many functions :
    – The city will become host to most large-scale UN functions.
    – Jerusalem will have a local security force and a UN security force of limited scope.
    – The borders will be maintained by Israel and Palestine, either in tandem or separately.
    – There will be an International airport.
    – The area will be large enough to be physically defended and observe adjacent areas.
    – The area will control the major highland aquifers, and oversee per capita national allocations.
    – The area will allow a transnational journey by either nationality. By passing through Jerusalem, an Israeli transits N/S, and a Palestinian travels E/W. This allows Palestine to have international borders with Jordan and Egypt, but not Syria or Lebanon, respecting current treaties and civilities.
    The area will be a duty/tax free area, and the allocated ownership will be dispersed to the “right to return” Palestinians, the displaced Israeli colonists, and all who have lost their homes. Internal agriculture (because of crowded conditions) will also be “eminent domained”, the owners compensated and they and the land are included in the allocation.
    The Jerusalem area should be as small as possible, hence the agricultural exclusion. The land should be Israeli or Palestinian, as much as possible.
    Jerusalem will be a service, marketing and manufacturing zone. Each family unit will be prorated by size, then entered into a lottery for both a plot of residential land and a plot of commercial value. The allocations will be random to negate ghettoes and insularity. The residential and UN infrastructure will be internationally funded and built immediately. The residents will have startup funding of some sort. The residents of Jerusalem will have ownership, equity, involvement, and potential.
    They, and the UN personnel, will not abide terrorism, and will self-police effectively. The key to controlling terrorism is to remove the cause and the base. This will do both. This is a step towards World Peace.


  7. Kathleen says:

    I love the idea of Peacekeeping forces being used to quell the violence and keep the peace in the Middle East and I think that when the newly elected Iraqi government presented a peace plan with an agreement by the Sunnis to lay down their arms if the US withdrew its forces within two years, the US should have accpeted this plan and called for relacing our troops with UN Peacekeepers to stabilize Iraq. Fortunately, they are in Lebanon.


  8. John says:

    It’s so refreshing to hear someone who kind of gets it. It’s so wonderful to hear that peacekeepers might be authorized to fire on IDF as well as Hizbullah for violating the cease fire.
    As Europe finds its way in leading effective multilaterism, I hope that they begin to recognize and utilize the enormous soft power that they possess. The mere suggestion of an EU economic boycott against any intransigent not possessing strategic resources could make it recognize the increasing cost of violence and motivate it to move the negotiating process forward.


  9. Jon Stopa says:

    I think Rice is a bigger problem then many would like to think. Important manipulaters of nations tend to keep their mouths under iron control. This Rice does not do: “This changes everything,” and “No one could have imagined using planes as weapons” and, most stupid, “We are seeing here the birth-pangs of the New Middle East,” (if I got these quotes right).
    One of her great flaws is that she seems to think she is a canny statesman of vast vision, when she is only half vast. (sorry) This is why I think that she may have a big part in the recent mess. Nothing she does seems to work out smoothly. What do you think? (or know)


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