Adventures in Soft Power Negotiating

EU foreign ministers today decided to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority. The move comes just after the EU’s MidEast envoy, Marc Otte, explicitly confirmed a point I have been arguing for some time (see here, here, and here) that the Hamas government could meet the EU’s three conditions (that it recognize Israel, renounce violence, and adhere to the Palestinians’ previous treaties with Israel) by purely rhetorical means.

According to Otte, Hamas could meet the EU’s demands in "word or deed." In explaining what he meant by this, Otte actually diminished the EU’s expectations even further:

"In ‘word or deed,’ Otte explained, meant that the organization might be considered to have fulfilled these requirements if it were, for example, to agree to negotiate with Israel, something that would imply recognition; if it continued to abide by its ‘truce’ and not carry out terrorist activity, a good indication that it had renounced terrorism; and if it implemented conditions of previous agreements, an implied sign of accepting these agreements."

"One senior European diplomat said no one really expected to see Zahar or PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh jump on a soap box and say that they were ‘burning everything they once held dear.’ Yet, he said, actions were a good indication of intent, and something the EU was carefully watching."

In other words, the EU no longer expects that Hamas will even rhetorically agree to the conditions, which the EU does not believe Hamas will adhere to anyway. Now, Hamas can merely "agree" to negotiate with Israel instead of recognizing it; prolong its truce while keeping the option of future violence; and implement some stipulations from a past treaty instead of adhering to all the treaties.

The EU reminds me of Bette Midler’s pathetic kidnappers in the movie Ruthless People who react to Danny DeVito’s refusal to pay a ransom by repeatedly slashing their monetary demands (exasperated by the kidnappers’ irresolution, DeVito finally declares "dare you to kill her!").

The EU’s performance here makes me doubt the wisdom of putting them in charge of negotiations over Iran?s nuclear weapons program.

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