March 30, 2005.
Europeans attach quasi-mythical dimensions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Solve that, the thinking goes, and the region’s problems will magically
So one would think that putting Hezbollah on the EU terror list would be a no
brainer. The Lebanese-based terrorist group, bent on the destruction of Israel
and the Middle East peace process, is now the main sponsor of Palestinian
terrorists who’ve lost their support at home since the death of Yasser Arafat.
Yet, 22 years after the group pioneered suicide bombings by killing 251 U.S.
marines and 62 French paratroopers in Lebanon, Europe can’t bring itself to act
on Hezbollah. France, together with Spain, Belgium and others, argues the
group should be kept off the list because it is also a “political force.”
Curiously enough, Europe’s domestic terrorists don’t get the same free pass. By
and large, their “political parties” are routinely banned and exposed for what
they are. Just last week, a Spanish court outlawed Aukera Guztiak, claiming
they were a reincarnation of the illegal Batasuna party, which itself was banned
two years ago for its ties to ETA, the Basque terrorist group.
Much lesser offenses can get EU parties black listed. In November, a Belgian
court declared Vlaams Blok, the most popular party in Dutch-speaking Flanders,
as racist, forcing it to disband. French interior minister Dominique de Villepin
last month announced moves to break up violent neo-Nazi groups, saying they
are “a danger and a threat.”
Hezbollah apparently isn’t a danger or a threat — at least not to French
interests. Is that because Paris has more confidence in Lebanese society’s
ability to “integrate” Hezbollah than in its own people’s to withstand the allure
of neo-Nazi thugs? Hardly. The double-standard is no compliment to Arab
democratic credentials. In the French-led view, the EU should continue to
appease and nurture Hezbollah as a power broker in Lebanon because Muslims,
and Arabs in particular, probably aren’t fit for democracy.
While French President Jacques Chirac backs American efforts to get the
Syrians out of Lebanon, what happens afterward apparently doesn’t much
worry him. “We observe that it (Hezbollah) is a political party and that’s a fact,”
a French foreign ministry spokesman said earlier this month. The EU’s inaction
derives from that didactic assumption.
If the EU is looking to raise its profile in the Middle East, it could take no
stronger step than ban Hezbollah. That would send a powerful message that
the Europeans are sincere in their opposition to terrorism and support for
democratization. The impact would be more than symbolic. Hezbollah leader
Hassan Nasrallah himself last month spelled out the consequences of a ban:
“The sources of funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and
material support will be destroyed.”
If that is true, a barrier to Lebanese democracy and peace between Palestinians
and Israel could be fatally weakened with the stroke of a pen. If the Hezbollah
“party” should seize power in Beirut, by contrast, Lebanon would become a
pariah state. Even ignoring its dabbling in terrorism for the moment, the group
buys its influence with Iranian funds as well as the resources that the Syrian
overlords squeeze from the Lebanese people. Free elections in Lebanon are
unthinkable as long as Hezbollah militias control large swathes of the country.
In the Palestinian territories, the group is filling the void left by Arafat. In spite
of all that, Mr. Chirac stubbornly refuses to act.
Much has been made recently in Europe about President George W. Bush’s
alleged overtures to Hezbollah. But Mr. Bush said nothing that would contradict
his policy of pushing democracy in the region. “We view Hezbollah as a terrorist
organization, and I would hope that Hezbollah would prove they’re not by laying
down arms and not threatening peace,” Mr. Bush told reporters two weeks ago.
That’s the same clear message that the U.S. has sent to the Palestinian
Arabs for years. The new Palestinian leaders have heeded it, helping revive the
The EU is also staying on message. Just as it called Yasser Arafat the
“legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people, Hezbollah is a “legitimate”
Where President Bush calls on Hezbollah to choose between
terrorism and democracy, Europe says: No problem, you don’t have to.