Europe’s Dangerous Banalities

JERUSALEM – Europe’s vocation for peacemaking and for international norms of behavior is bound to become the base upon which Barack Obama will seek to reconstruct the transatlantic alliance that his predecessor so badly damaged. How fast America’s new president addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict will be of paramount concern to Europeans in this effort.  For to them, Jerusalem has always mattered more than Baghdad, but George W. Bush refused to listen.

Europe’s inability to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict does not stem from its positions on the core issues, which are only microscopically different from those held by the United States. Its impotence stems, instead, from its attitude toward the Jewish state. In essence, dialectic of attraction and rejection is embedded in our collective conscience as Jews and Europeans. Europe, as Denis de Rougemont put it in 1946, is “la patrie de la memoire,” a tormenting and tormented memory, one must admit.

The old continent suffers from two guilt complexes that have much to do with Israel: the colonial and the Jewish complex. The Palestinian tragedy is directly affected by this European affliction.

Israel was born as a state out of the gravest crisis of the European conscience. For Europeans, Israel’s creation was to compensate for the sins committed against the Jewish people. But the price that was supposedly paid by the Palestinians touched another neuralgic lobe in the European mind. Because Europe remains entangled in this seemingly insoluble conundrum, Israelis see it as trying to compensate for its lack of political effectiveness in Middle East diplomacy with unbearably self-righteous and moralistic talk.