The early 1970s saw a dramatic increase in the EC’s diplomatic and economic activity in the Middle East, as well as three new members: Britain, Denmark and Ireland. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Britain took up a position between France and Germany; neither wished to be considered
as either clearly pro-Palestinian or clearly pro-Israeli. Instead, and contrary to both France and Germany, Britain has historically tried to function as a bridge between the EU and the U.S., believing that American involvement in the peace process was crucial (Müller 2006:14). The admission of Britain complicated the decision-making processes still further, although it was clear from the outset, even before Britain joined, that the EC had severe problems in moving beyond issuing declarations, to active implementation of its policies.
After the October 1973 war, another watershed event in the history of the Middle East, and the subsequent Arab oil embargo, the foreign ministers of the by now nine members of the EC met on 6 November 1973 to discuss the situation in the Middle East. The meeting resulted in a declaration that again emphasized the need for Israel to end the territorial occupation in line with UNSC 242 and the newly issued UNSC 338. For the first time in an official EU declaration the term “Palestinians” was used and “the Palestinians” were explicitly recognized as a party to the conflict (Bulletin of the EC 10-1973:106). Furthermore, the declaration went on to recognize “the legitimate rights of the Palestinians” (Bulletin of the EC 10-1973:106).
Terminology like “the legitimate rights of the Palestinians” had, prior to this declaration, been language used only by the Arab states (Dosenrode &
Stubkjaer 2002:86). This declaration was viewed by the Arab side as a satisfactory response, revealing a positive attitude towards understanding Arab demands in the struggle with Israel. Consequently a few days later OPEC declared an end to most of the oil embargo against the members of the EC (Dosenrode & Stubkjaer 2002:86).
The 1973 declaration signaled a major discursive shift in the EC’s relations with Israel and the Palestinians, and it also constituted the first major transformation in how the EC conceptualized a just peace in the Middle East. From not having mentioned the Palestinians at all two years earlier, the 1973 declaration asserted that “in the establishment of a just and lasting peace account must be taken of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.” (Bulletin of the EC 10-1973:106) The reactions from Israel were not slow to come. Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban bluntly responded that the declaration meant “Oil for Europe” and not “Peace in the Middle East” (quoted in Greilsammer & Weiler 1984:135). After the 1973 declaration, Eban formulated the three points of criticism which still constitute the standard reply by Israeli governments whenever the EU issues declarations which displease them: that they are counter-productive; that
they are ill-timed; and that if the EU wants to be relevant, it should stop dictating the conditions for peace (Greilsammer & Weiler 1984:135).
5.3.1 The EC and the oil crisis
The October 1973 war between Israel and two of its neighbors, Egypt and Syria, came as a surprise for the then nine members of the EC and brought to light the internal divisions among EC members. The EPC framework proved totally inadequate to deal with the situation and the following Arab oil embargo had a shock effect on the EC (Greilsammer & Weiler 1987:12).
According to Panayiotis Ifestos
It [the oil embargo] made Europeans brutally aware of their vulnerability in both economic and political terms; it changed the pattern of relationships with both Israel and the Arab world, and brought about a dramatic shift towards more pro-Arab attitudes; it revealed the extent of European external disunity and generated calls for more integration as a result of this experience; it had economic effects not imaginable before the crisis; and last but not least, it brought to the surface the uneasy nature of Euro-American relations. (Ifestos 1987:421)
The nine EC members were dependent on energy supplies from the Middle East, both when it came to stabilizing the price of oil and to ensuring its supply (Dosenrode & Stubkjaer 2002:85). At the time, the major European states imported between 30-60 per cent of their oil from the Arab states (Britain 30 per cent, West Germany 38 per cent, France 53 per cent, Italy 60 per cent), figures far higher than that of the US (only 4 per cent), which was relatively independent of energy supplies from the Arab states (Miller 2011b:37). By 1979, over 60 per cent of West Europe’s total oil imports came from the Arab states (Miller 2011b:78).
In addition to energy, the EC member states had a growing interest in the region as a trade partner. In 1972, EC exports to the eight Arab members of OPEC were valued at $2.97 billion. By 1979, they were valued at $27.7 billion, an almost tenfold increase in seven years (Garfinkle 1983:8). While there should be no doubt that energy and trade considerations played a significant role in shaping EC policy towards the Middle East in the 1970s, it is too simplistic to believe that these were the only factors that mattered for the EC there. As early as the 1970s, the members of the EC had expressed a
genuine disapproval of Israel’s continued occupation and particularly of the construction of settlements on occupied territory, which the EC/EU has always perceived as illegal under international law.
The Palestinians and other Arabs have historically always tried to use the EC/EU as a political force against Israel. This was particularly the case after the 1973 oil crisis, with the establishment of the “Euro-Arab dialogue”
in 1974, which sought to establish a special relationship between the EC and the Arab states. While the EC primarily was interested in its economic dimension, the Arabs wanted to use it as a political force against Israel, which they largely failed to do. This led to clashes between the EC and the Arab states and in the end not much came out of the Euro-Arab dialogue (Musu 2010:37).
5.3.2 The uneasy nature of EC-U.S. relations
The EC’s declarations on the conflict in the early 1970s took place against an unprecedented backdrop of West European estrangement from the United States over the Vietnam War, monetary and trade policies and strategic defense issues in the light of détente. The period of détente (1969-1979) had enabled the EC to become more of an independent actor in the context of the Cold War superpower rivalry. During the October 1973 war and the subsequent oil embargo, these developments found dramatic expression when every EC member, along with the rest of Western Europe other than Portugal, refused to assist the U.S. effort to resupply Israel militarily (Garfinkle 1983:2-3).
After the oil crisis was over, the EC in December 1973 launched the
“Euro-Arab dialogue” which, as already mentioned, sought to establish a special relationship between the EC and the Arab states. As no non-EC members had ever previously been admitted to an EC summit, this unprecedented event caused considerable resentment in the U.S. and critics saw it as fawning at the feet of Arab leaders (Musu 2010:33). President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, led the critical American response to the EC’s launch of the Euro-Arab dialogue, President Nixon declaring that
Now, the Europeans cannot have it both ways. They cannot have the United States participation and cooperation on the security front and then proceed to have confrontation and even hostility on the economic and political front.
And until the Europeans are willing to sit down and cooperate on the economic and political front as well as on the security front, no meeting of heads of government should be scheduled…Because I can say one thing: I have had great difficulty in getting the Congress to continue to support American forces in Europe at the level that we need to keep them there. In the event that the Congress gets the idea that we are going to be faced with economic confrontation and hostility from “The Nine,” you will find it almost impossible to get Congressional support for continued American presence at present levels on the security front. Now, we do not want this to happen. That is why I have urged my friends in Europe, our friends in Europe, to consider this proposition. It does not mean that we are not going to have competition, but it does mean that we are not going to be faced with a situation where the nine countries of Europe gang up against the United States--the United States which is their guarantee for their security. That we cannot have. (Nixon 1974)
The essence of what Nixon said in 1974 is still valid today: the EU, and Europe more generally, is dependent on American protection for its security, which in turns means that it is hard for either the EU or individual European countries to advocate policies which run significantly contrary those of the U.S., especially in matters related to security and defense issues.
A year later, in 1975, Kissinger told the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that “the PLO seemed to be a European obsession”, and added that the U.S. “had nothing to discuss with the PLO until the PLO accepted Israel’s right to exist” (quoted in Miller 2011b:58). In addition to the uneasy relations between the EC and the U.S. during the first half of the 1970s, this period was also a stormy time for Israel at the UN where the Arab states and their Communist and third world allies tried to delegitimize it. The best known example is a 1975 UNGA resolution equating Zionism with racism (UNGA 3379), which was revoked in 1991 (see UNGA 46/86).