For centuries now, the Arab world has been tightly linked to Europe, such that the two regions have periodically influenced and been influenced by each other. The majority concur, however, that Napoleon's Middle Eastern campaign (1797-1801) constituted a watershed in the interaction between Europe and the Arab region that has prevailed to this day. This relationship with Europe has oscillated between the "Oriental question" in its various stages and the desire to dominate, contain and subordinate on the part of the two "blocs." A Levant that is retrograde, servile and rebellious are epithets that have been intermittently used by the Europeans in connection with the Arabs, and the coupling of terrorism with them has led Europe to identify more with international struggle than to look for elements of lasting interest to both sides. Where do the Arabs stand today in light of the waning European role vis-à-vis the United States and of the ebbing Arab performance that has reached its lowest in this century?
A history of the European position regarding the Arab world and its issues is beyond the scope of this discussion; instead, this article will present an overview of the European position regarding the most protracted, complicated and sensitive of Arab issues - the Palestinian question. And as today we are on the threshold of a new reality, we should note the variables that have affected both Europe and the Palestinian question throughout the latter's history, to draw conclusions about the stand Europe is likely to adopt regarding the Palestinian leadership's policies in the period ahead.

European Responsibility

Historically, the Arabs and Palestinians view Europe as largely responsible for the creation of the crisis in the region, in particular, and the Arab world as a whole, during the era of colonization, hegemony, control and trusteeship. Nevertheless, Arabs and Palestinians feel comfortable with the new developments in the European position, in spite of continued European insistence on the necessity of the recognition by the Arabs, especially by the Palestinians, of the right to existence of the entity that was established on the land of Palestine with full European backing. Thus, over the years, the European countries have made several attempts to bring together Palestinians and Israelis, especially after the 1973 war and the coming into prominence of the PLO as an Arab and international body after 1974.
In the case of Palestine, Europe has pursued an inconsistent policy since the beginning of the 19th century. The reason was to bolster the idea of the establishment of a Jewish state on the land of Palestine, an idea that was not counter to the desires of the majority of Europeans, in spite of the divergence of their respective interests on the eve of the First World War and after. Although Palestine came under British control after the war, Europe did not object to the consecration of the Zionist entity on the land of Palestine through its endorsement of the Balfour Declaration. The many changes that affected Europe at the beginning of the 1930s concorded with the Jewish desire to turn Palestine into a homeland for themselves, using to their advantage the situation prevailing in Europe regarding Jews and minorities. Thus, the biggest immigration wave to Palestine at that time took place under Nazi rule in Germany and in light of the German threat to Europe. This resulted in what can be termed as "the Palestinians and Arabs having to pay the price for the sins of Europe toward itself." This is what took place after the Second World War and it was underpinned by the unlimited support for the recognition of the Zionist entity in Palestine, whether through voting on the Partition Plan (U.N. Resolution 181, 1947) or through the recognition of the Jewish state and its admission to membership by the community of nations at the beginning of 1949. Given Europe's political and material support to the Israeli state, and especially its help in the area of military technology, conventional and unconventional, that led to a confrontation with the Arabs in 1956, when Europe stood in alliance with Israel, Arab fears grew regarding the European position towards the Palestinian question and other Arab issues.
With the growing role of the United States on the Arab scene in the 1950s and 1960s, several European countries retreated slightly from their previous policies, especially since this period also saw the intensification of the Cold War between the Western and Eastern poles, the decline of European capabilities on international and regional levels, the marked primacy of Arab oil and the strategic importance of the region with the growing challenges posed by this international polarization. The Jewish state became a "necessity" and a mainstay of American policy in the area. Israel, for its part, tilted more towards America than Europe, clashing frequently with European interests. The 1967 war became central to the European position leading to clear policy changes regarding the Palestinian issue, although never radical or at variance with the U.S.A. The majority of European states, nonetheless, rejected the 1967 Israeli occupation of Arab land. This manifested itself in the path the voting of European countries had taken in the United Nations and the Security Council pertaining to the legal status of the occupied territories, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Criticism of Israel

Europe embarked on its own individual course, pioneered by France as well as by other countries that were more susceptible to developments on the Mediterranean coast, those directly affected by stability or instability in the area. France, under the leadership of De Gaulle, declared the necessity of Israel's withdrawal from the land it occupied in 1967. De Gaulle stated this in a press conference held at the end of 1967 when he also announced the discontinuation of arms shipment to Israel. Germany found itself in the embarrassing position of having to adopt a stance unacceptable to Jews against the background of the German "guilt complex." The Italians, who had many interests in the Arab countries, and fearing the consequences of post-1967 developments, adopted a stand in line with the European Community, one especially close to the French position which was accused of bias against Israel. In fact, the beginnings of the 1970s saw rising criticism against Israel by some leftist parties in Europe. Britain, on the other hand, linked its position with that of the Americans and was not influenced by the European Community as it did not achieve membership until 1973.
As for the other European nations like Holland, Denmark and Norway, they showed great solidarity with Israel, although, in Sweden, an active movement was formed in protest against the 1967 Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. A review of the voting patterns of these countries in the U.N. after 1967 reveals that they wished to maintain their policy supportive of Israel, though the latter had embarked on changing the reality on the ground in the occupied territories in contravention of international laws and resolutions.
The 1970s marked a new era in the European position vis-à-vis some of the central issues of the Palestinian question, when a new and different discourse began to be heard in those countries. Reports of Palestinian movements started to occupy space in the European media alongside those of Israeli practices violating international law and human rights in the occupied territories through arbitrary and oppressive measures. In 1971, the European Community presented a document that emerged from the meeting of its foreign ministers in Paris, asking for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East based on U.N. Resolution 242. This formed a departure from its 1970 meeting which had shown a marked division among the European countries: on one side were France and Italy and on the other Germany, Holland, Denmark and Belgium, despite the members' concurrence that the Middle East crisis constituted one of the gravest threats to European interests, given Europe's geographic proximity to the region, and its economic and political ties with the Arabs. The year 1971, then, is considered the beginning of a movement when a lowest common denominator was reached between the two poles of the European Community that, under the leadership of France, began to be concerned with preserving Europe's interests in the region and safeguarding its security and economic projects there.
The year 1973 was another landmark in the twists and turns of the European stance towards Palestine and the Arabs, as the Europeans realized that they were the party that stood to suffer most on the economic, political and security levels in the wake of the 1973 war. Indeed, the use the Arabs made of their oil during that period was one of the main factors that brought home to the European nations the extent of their need of the Arabs and their oil. Moreover, changes started to take place on the international scene following the growing number of countries that had shaken off colonialism and had adopted their own individual position regarding the Palestinian problem. Thus, in addition to the role played by the Soviet Union in this respect, the Muslim, non-aligned, and Latin American countries formed a bloc supportive of the Arabs and the Palestinians.

Europe Divided

American policy regarding the Palestinian problem, on the other hand, was hardly evenhanded and, at the end of the day, could not be conducive to bringing the conflicting parties to the negotiating table. The European declaration made in October 1973 was to reaffirm their 1971 document, emphasizing the necessity of a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but without taking any concrete steps, as the European Community decided to leave the resolution of this problem in the hands of the superpowers. The Arab-European debate after 1974 was a testing ground for Europe as one of the main subjects under discussion was that of PLO representation in Europe. On that issue, the European Community was divided, with France, Italy and Ireland in favor of representation and Britain, Holland, Denmark and Germany against. The same division characterized the European position regarding the invitation of the PLO to the United Nations and Arafat's historic speech in the General Assembly in 1974.
In the case of General Assembly Resolution 3236 of November 22, 1974, calling for the affirmation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Norway and Iceland voted against the resolution, while Sweden, Britain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Holland abstained. Spain and Cyprus were the only European countries to vote in favor of the resolution, alongside several other non-European countries, totalling 89 votes. As for General Assembly Resolution 3210, inviting the PLO to participate in deliberations in the General Assembly, it was approved by the European countries, with the abstention of Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland and Britain; the other non-European countries voted in favor. Regarding Resolution 3237, giving the PLO observer status in the U.N., the European vote was as follows: Germany, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Britain, Norway, and Holland against; Sweden, France, Austria and Greece abstained.

Ups and Downs in European Policy

The years following 1974 saw several individual and general developments on the European scene, culminating in the Venice Declaration of June 13, 1980. The declaration called for active PLO participation towards a settlement of the Middle Eastern conflict. This came following the several statements made by leaders from Britain, France, Germany and Italy about the Palestinian issue and the necessity of dealing with it in a more comprehensive manner than the Camp David Accords. The growing role of the national Palestinian movement in the occupied territories, the intensification of Jewish settlement activity after the Likud came to power in Israel (1977) and the increased repression of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (especially the assassination attempts against the mayors, their deportation and dismissal in the early 1980s), led Europe to espouse a strong stand vis-à-vis Israel, and to consider its practices in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, those of an occupation power.
The 1980s, on the other hand, marked a cooling in Europe's attitude towards the Palestinian question. This was a result of several factors: the advent to power of Thatcher in Britain, Reagan in the United States and Mitterrand in France reconjured the specter of the Cold War, especially after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. On the Arab front, divisiveness reigned after the dismissal of Egypt from the Arab League in the wake of the Camp David Accords. The period was also marked by the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and the Iraq-Iran war. The change in the French position trickled down to other European countries after Mitterrand distanced himself from the stand taken by his predecessors - De Gaulle, Pompidou and D'Estaing - as well as from the European declarations of the 1970s. In his visit to Israel on 3-5 March, 1982, Mitterrand praised the courage of the young state, eschewing any criticism of its racist practices against the Palestinians living under occupation. On the contrary, he attacked the PLO and wondered how it could sit at the negotiating table with Israel without having recognized that state. Nevertheless, Mitterrand did not abandon the notion of an eventual Palestinian state, built on dialogue and negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
The Lebanon war of 1982 shocked Europe with the magnitude of the invasion, reviving the image of an unstable region, placing European interests in jeopardy, to the extent that the Bonn Declaration of June 9, 1982, hinted at the possibility of the use of sanctions against Israel. But Europe was unable to liberate itself from the clutches of the Reagan-Thatcher collaboration towards a toning down of the European stand regarding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This is what emerged in the Brussels Declaration of June 29, 1982, in spite of a European call for a rapid Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the affirmation of Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination.
Europe's higher policy regarding the Palestinian question remained, all along, hostage to that of the Americans, until the year 1986. On October 27 of that year, the ministerial council of the European Community adopted a proposal pertaining to the labeling of "Made in Palestine"of products coming from the occupied territories. Also the entry that year of Spain and Portugal into the Community enhanced the "pro-Palestinian" stream within it. Europe called for an international conference to debate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and for an improvement of the living conditions of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. This impacted not only on the official European position, but also on a popular level on public opinion, especially with the eruption of the Intifada (1987) that pushed Europe to the forefront of politics in the region.

Reappraisal of the PLO

The Intifada was a cause for a reappraisal of the role of the PLO, on the one hand, and for a heightened preoccupation of regional and international politics with a prominent Palestinian occurrence that could not, under any pretext, be ignored. During this period, Yasser Arafat visited several European capitals, among which was Rome, on 3-4 November, 1988, before the proclamation by the National Council of its recommendations and important resolutions on November 15, 1988, which included a Palestinian peace initiative, alongside the declaration of independence. Europe's response to this was one of encouragement as spelled out in the Brussels Declaration of November 21, 1988. Subsequently, several European capitals received Arafat - Madrid in January and Paris in May, where he met with Mitterrand. With this the Palestinian-European relations entered a new and important phase. In this connection, one cannot ignore the role Sweden played in opening channels of communication between the PLO and Jewish American groups in the U.S.A., nor the role played by the PLO membership in the Socialist International and its relations with the European socialist parties, a fact which also helped break the ice between it and the leaders of the Israeli Labor party.
Europe formed the bridge that was ultimately to lead to those Palestinian-Israeli meetings that had considerable impact on the core of the Palestinian question. In spite of the Gulf War in 1990-1, which could have led to a cooling in the European stance regarding Palestine, the European Community, its passive role notwithstanding, was supportive of the Palestinians in the Madrid Conference of October 30, 1992. Thus stood the situation at the time of the Declaration of Principles (Oslo) in September 1993. A "new" Europe had entered the secret-contacts race between Palestinians and Israelis, initiating contacts that are said to have started in London before moving to Norway, but whose real beginnings took place in Stockholm in 1988. After the signing of the peace agreement in Washington, Europe took upon itself great commitments: it is considered one of the biggest donors to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
The defeat of the Israeli Labor party in the 1996 elections, following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, prompted the adoption by Europe of a firmer stand towards Israel. This was expressed in several areas, such as the United Nations, and in the show of solidarity with the Palestinians by providing financial assistance to the PNA. The problem with the European position is that it is more acceptable to the Palestinians, but is rejected by Israel, blocking Europe's attempt at an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

A More Independent Position

Today, Europe receives Arafat on its soil in an official capacity, gives millions in financial assistance to the PNA and helps diffuse tension in the area during periods when the United States has other priorities. Nonetheless, Europe has failed to accede to the role of a major mover or partner in developments that are shaping a region so close to it. Europe, which in the past was incapable of taking a stand of its own in the face of the United States in matters pertaining to European issues (like former Yugoslavia), will again be unlikely to adopt an independent position on the Middle East in 1999 - and certainly not one that would be considered extremist or radical by Israel and the United States. Thus Europe is trying to consolidate its role in an attempt to avert the moment of embarrassment that threatens the future of the peace process in the area, capitalizing on the quality of its relationship with the Palestinians, as well as their weakness and, occasionally, their financial needs.
Europe has in 1999 adopted a more positive policy vis-à-vis the peace process in the region, the right of Palestinians to self-determination and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Berlin Declaration of March 1999 crystallizes the European stand regarding a Palestinian state and calls for the necessity of reaching a permanent settlement before year's end. In a similar vein are the resolutions and recommendations of the European parliament relating to this topic, as well as the decision by the Republic of Ireland to upgrade the level of Palestinian representation and to open a representation office for it in Palestine. For the European Community, much will depend on the formation of the new Israeli government and the unfolding of its agenda.

Sources used in addition to newspapers, radio and TV

1. Khader, Bishara. Europe and the Arab World: Closeness and Proximity. Trans. Abdallah, Joseph. Beirut: Center for Studies of Arab Unity, 1993.
2. Al-Az'ar, Mohammad Khaled. The European Community and the Palestinian Question (Arabic). Amman: Dar Al-Jalil Lil Nashr, 1991.
3. Institute of Palestine Studies. United Nations Resolutions Pertaining to Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1947-1974, Vol. I.