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Europe: Allies Seek To Emphasize Causes Of Terrorism

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The European allies of the United States have expressed their full support for America in the fight against terrorism following the devastating attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September. But this does not necessarily mean the Europeans share all the same views as Washington on related policy issues -- most notably, the Middle East. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke speaks to European-based commentators on whether the U.S. stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to complicate the task of building a united front against international terrorism.

Prague, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Amid the tumult of emotion unleashed by the terrorist attacks on the United States, there have been calls for Washington to take stock of how its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is linked to the broader issue of terrorism.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says that Israeli-Palestinian violence is a possible cause behind the terrorist attacks on the United States. He says a feeling of injustice among Arabs may have led to the 11 September assaults, in which thousands of Americans died.

Similar comments have come from the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who says that international terrorism cannot be eradicated without a "just and permanent" solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

London-based political analyst Steven Everts of the Center for European Reform says that even Arab moderates believe something is "badly wrong" in relations between the United States -- and more broadly, the West -- and the Muslim world:

"As we go forward, calibrating our response to the tragedy and outrage last week, we should think about the broader Arab opinion toward the West and how we can reach out to the moderate forces in the Arab world and bring them on our side."

Everts says within Europe, the dominant feeling now is one of solidarity with the United States. But he says there is also the sense that what is needed is "a strategy to deal with terrorism, and the causes of terrorism, and not a crusade":

"Eradicating terrorism means two things. It means, first, looking at the capabilities of the terrorist networks and how we can take them out. But at the same time one looks at the underlying causes of terrorism and this vicious anti-Western sentiment together, [so as] to re-engage those countries, and bring them back into the international system and show [them] that playing by the rules is also advantageous to them."

Warsaw-based analyst Alexander Smolar of the Stefan Batory Foundation does not believe there is a strong link between the terrorist attacks and Arab resentment about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But he says it may nevertheless have had some influence on events:

"There are a sufficient number of reasons for terrorists to attack the country which is considered by the terrorists as the foundation of the order in today's world, [that is, the United States]. But at the same time, the moment of the attacks was probably somehow influenced by the situation in the Middle East, by the conflict which started its latest period -- the second [Palestinian] intifada -- [in] September one year ago".

Smolar goes on to say it will not be easy for Washington to build a united front against international terrorism. He says Arabs and Europeans alike see the need for stronger U.S. engagement in the Mideast, as well as a stance which is perceived as even-handed:

"With the arrival of the new [U.S.] President George W. Bush, there was the feeling of a certain withdrawal of the U.S. from the search for peace in the Middle East. And I think that it's inevitable that the United States should take a more active role in the Middle East [again], and such a role would imply the adoption of a firmer position not only to the Arabs or Palestinians but also toward Israel and the policy of [the Prime Minister], Mr. [Ariel] Sharon."

In Paris, however, Guillaume Parmentier, the director of the French Center for the Study of the United States, says Washington must not be seen in any way to bow to the will of terrorists:

"Certainly, if U.S. policy needs to be changed -- and that is a possibility -- it certainly should not be changed in the present circumstances and under that sort of pressure, to me that is quite clear, and I think there is no suggestion that the U.S. should change its policy because of this abominable series of events".

Parmentier goes on to say that he does not foresee too many problems for the U.S. in building an international coalition to fight terrorism:

"It does not seem to be the case at the moment [that there will be problems]. Arab countries seem to be rather keen on joining [the coalition]. Syria, which is an arch-enemy of Israel, has said that it would join. The only country that is standing out is Iraq, which is not entirely surprising."

Another analyst, Brussels-based Natalie Tocci of the Center for European Policy Studies, says the tragic events of 11 September create a difficult situation for Turkey, a key Muslim but pro-Western country on the strategic south-eastern flank of Europe.

She says events have intensified the internal debate about the handling of Kurdish extremism and Turkish adherence to Western norms of human rights. Turkey, an EU candidate state, often comes under foreign criticism for its handling of rights matters:

"Turkey could go both ways. You see it actually in the internal debate going on, where there are some people saying hey, the West now realizes the problems we are facing in this very unstable region, and it should now understand the methods we have used so far to deal with this problem. And on the other hand [other] people are saying, now wait a moment, it is fundamental for us not to forget that our priorities should be democratization and economic development, because that is the only way to address the causes of these problems, it's not by shooting down PKK [Kurdish Workers Party] terrorists that you get rid of the PKK instability, nor of Kurdish resentment."

One thing is certain: the terrorist events of 11 September will have consequences in many fields and in many countries, the full extent of which cannot yet be foreseen.