Zapatero, a tus zapatos

Following yesterday’s tea with Equarorial Guinea’s loveable rogue of a dictator, Teodoro Obiang, President Zapatero has today followed up with yet more planet-saving exploits. 

At the Foro hispano-francés de la Sociedad Civil, held in Girona, ZP has managed to get French president Chirac on board to cobble together an initiative to sort out the problems in Palestine. Chirac, whose days at the Palais de l’Élysée are more than likely numbered and who might as well try whatever it takes to bow out on a good note, has suggested they give Roman Prodi a bell as well to see if he fancies it. Simple really.   

Whilst all very noble, there are shades of Aznaresque overreach here. What can these 3 nations really offer in terms of setting up a peace deal? They may be able to marginally improve the lot of the average Palestinian with infrastructure projects and aid, but a couple of slightly clownish Southern European presidents, one of whom doesn’t speak English, and an elderly statesman who’ll soon be packing himself off to the French equivalent of Bournemouth are unlikely to bring people to the table.

The only country with sufficient clout to make things happen is the US. With the 3bn $ of aid it supplies to Israel every year, it has the country over something of a barrel (or it would have if it weren’t for the likes of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish lobby groups which exert pressure on Congress, as well as Christian nutters who think the creation of Eretz Israel will be a prelude to the Second Coming).  

With Bush (strongly rumoured to be back on the slurps but on top form throughout the Mid-Terms) not being up for re-election, and having lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he may find Israel an issue to get stuck into in which he can garner enough cross-party support for any initiatives. More of an ego-boost than anything else, and he doesn’t have to worry about anything that might be viewed as too dovish losing him the odd vote here and there in the Republican heartlands; in fact, Rumsfeld’s departure might be indicative of a slight shift away from Neocon influence. So all in all this is probably just what he needs. Clinton went down a very similar route towards the end of his presidency and came reasonably close to pulling off a deal with the Camp David and subsequent Taba talks.

And a timeframe of two years to get something done is just about right. So, as he’s forced to wind down with his grandstanding on Iraq, Israel may well provide Bush with what he’s looking for to save a bit of face and avoid the fate of Lyndon Johnson, whose decision to up the ante in Vietnam led to him sloping out of the White House as one of the least popular presidents in American history.   

So why are the trio of European heads of state getting involved? Maybe they’re motivated by a genuine belief that they can do something, or at least get the ball rolling. Possibly it’s something of an agenda-setting exercise to pre-empt the US. Maybe the idea is to be on the scene and jump on the bandwagon when the Americans do get involved. Or it could just be about projection.

What’s clear is that whilst European powers remain divided on foreign policy, they are not going to get very far with the big issues and may as well stick to either unquestioningly following the US or having tea and crumpets with West African despots. 

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~ by Daniel on November 16, 2006.

4 Responses to “Zapatero, a tus zapatos”

  1. I don’t think Bush will do it – the Israeli government is only interested in a deal which gives them the best bits of the West Bank and I don’t think Bush is the person who is going to tell them they can’t have it. Also I think the bad result in the elections probably encourages less action on the issue rather than more, the Republicans need to keep their core support on board for the moment. I doubt that Bush will try anything with a significant risk of failure for the rest of his presidency, he’s already got enough problems if he wants to be remembered for something other than the disaster of Iraq.

    I’m sure Zapatero and Chirac are perfectly aware of their lack of influence over the process, it’s partly gesture politics and maybe just the hope that they can start a bit more movement on it.

  2. Alright Graeme,
    I’m a bit more cynical than you about the whole thing. Doesn’t it strike you as a bit opportunistic that ZP, having had a bad-image day after cosying up to a dictator, then decides to come out with this unilateral pledge for peace? I also think it’s irresponsible, as Solana has been plugging away at the Palestine issue for a while and does have influence in the region, so for a sub-group of EU countries to go off and do their own thing rather than getting behind a united front takes credibility away from a far more productive effort. Why didn’t ZP bring this up at the last EU summit a few weeks back so ideas could be properly formulated before any announcement was made? I notice that Israel has rejected the whole thing outright, which was what was to be expected (the fact it views France as an ‘anti-Semitic’ state doesn’t help matters here).
    Regarding what Bush will do, you may well be right and he’ll be reined in by the Republican big-hitters. But it is one of the very few things he can do, and he has made some noises about it in the past. With a budget deficit he’s got his hands tied and he needs to hit on an issue where he can get support from both sides of Congress. Israel is ideal in this respect, as if both sides get involved, the Jewish lobby can’t punish either party over the other (it would punish individual senators and representatives, however), and Jewish voters tend to go Democrat anyway. The pro-Zionist religious right is another matter, of course, but many see the religious nutter element as turning away the business and libertarian Republicans; and whether the US is genuinely interested in losing part of its “Muslim enemy” propaganda is highly questionable (though the 3bn$ plus the corresponding 2.5 bn$ given to Egypt are thought by plenty to get little return).
    As regards risk, I don’t see that there is much. If things don’t come off, you simply blame it on those pesky Arabs. Bill Clinton is remembered as someone who had a good shot at finding peace rather than someone who failed.

  3. Israel has always rejected European initiatives, unless it slots in with US policy as well. But they last thing they want is for Europe to take the lead on ths issue because they lose their influence. Moratinos, from his past history, probably has more influence in the Middle East than Solana – he certainly has been more involved in the region, which could could also explain the intiative they have taken. For Israel to view France as an anti-semitic state is a bit bizarre, because it has a significant Jewish population who are not badly represented comapred to other countries.

    Zapatero certainly looked uncomfortable with Obiang, as did everyone else – but it was a situation they created deliberately, Moratinos was in Equatorial Guinea a couple of weeks ago to set everything up and I doubt that they thought they would avoid criticism over the vist. So I don’t think the Middle East initiative has much to do with that, although it may influence the timing of the announcement.

  4. Graeme,

    Anti-semitic country sounds better than state, now you mention it. A couple of years ago there were accusations flying backwards and forwards after a wave of Jewish grave desecrations in France led to Israel trying to persuade French Jews to emigrate to Israel from France, where they were they were being ‘left to fend for themselves’ against French anti-Semitism. There was, understandably, a strong French reaction to this and things escalated.

    Regardless of Moratinos’ background in the Middle East, I still don’t see how this justifies yesterday’s outburst – which to me seems counterproductive – and not getting behind a wider EU effort, which would have far more chance of success. I was speaking to Solana’s spokesperson a couple of months ago (excuse the shameless namedropping) and she told me that they were doing a lot of work in the Middle East and that being constantly undermined by individual EU governments making their own statements was the one of the biggest problems they had.

    The whole thing seems so unplanned and ameteurish. As far as I’m aware they didn’t even inform the EU, let alone Israel and Palestine (being the main players here, it would have been polite to warn them that something was cooking). From my understanding of it, the idea to get Italy involved was a spur-of-the-moment suggestion from Chirac.

    I’ve got no real axe to grind with ZP – I’m quite happy to have him as president as it goes – but when he starts up with this sort of stuff I find I have to disagree with what he’s doing.

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