Where does Japan stand on the Middle East?
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Europe is very confused as to where Japan stands on George Bush Jr.'s plan (or lack there of) for the Middle East. After his meeting with Bush at the G-8 Summit in Canada, Japanese prime minister Koizumi "lauded" Bush's plan as one that demonstrated "leadership, a commitment to engage actively, and vision". Europeans frankly don't know what Koizumi is referring to. From the European perspective, no element of leadership, vision or decisive action can be found in Bush's speech of June 25. In addition to this, Europe is puzzled about Japan's stance (or lack there of) on the demand that Arafat step down. The Japanese foreign ministry has always maintained, like the Europeans, that Arafat is essential to any peace deal in the Middle East. However, ever since the desire to get rid of Arafat was made official by the US, Japan has remained ambiguous on the issue. With Japanese foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, having just announced her country's desire to get fully involved in the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many in Europe hoped that Japan's contribution would consist of something more than finance and lip service to any US proposal. It was hoped that Japan would offer creative solutions instead of blind support to a disastrous policy. I do not mean to suggest that the Europeans have all the answers, however, when it comes to Bush's latest flop, Europe sees two things much more clearly than the US and Japan. The first is that Bush's latest "vision" has created a "vacuum" in the Middle East. The second is that only the Palestinian people have the right to choose their leaders.
Europeans were thoroughly dismayed by President Bush's latest speech on the Middle East. They criticized the US for inventing a ridiculous concept calling for a "provisional state" in Palestine with no basis at all in international law. Europeans were disappointed by the fact that Bush's speech put the idea of a Middle East conference on the back burner. They insisted that it would create a vacuum because it set no clear timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state and reneged on the fundamental principle that any solution be based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. What Bush said on June 25 effectively aimed to throw out all that had been negotiated and agreed upon as the preconditions of any peace deal since efforts towards conflict resolution began. It did not call for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory by the IDF, it did not condemn settlement activity and claim their illegality, it did not speak of the right of Palestinian refugees to live in dignity and justice, it side-stepped the issue of Jerusalem and finally it retracted on the commitment to create a sovereign and permanent Palestinian state. Throughout European capitals, Bush's speech was received as one that destroyed any hope of a peaceful settlement in the near future.
Most criticized was the concept of a "provisional state". The Independent's Robert Fisk characterized this US invention as fatalistic. In his article of June 24 he stated, "a provisional state is an innovation no one has ever heard of before. It's a state unrelated to its land or to its people. All other states are permanent. But the Palestinian state will be a stopgap, according to President Bush, and thus its role or existence can be ended in a day or a year if its usefulness comes to an end. It does not need to find territory after all, it is only interim and permanent institutions such as an army (perish the thought), the luxury of independence, or sovereignty, or an economy, or foreign relations will be denied. This will be Israel's luxury". The destruction of the very foundation upon which peace was envisioned has thus, left a vacuum in the Middle East and from the European perceptive has done nothing more than opened the way for further bloodshed, turmoil and destruction.
All are in agreement, however, that the Palestinian Authority is in dire need of reform. This is no new issue, Europe and Japan called for increased transparency back in 1999 when Japan hosted the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Tokyo. However, widespread disagreement exists on the idea that Arafat needs to be removed as part of this reform package.
A rare breach was revealed between Britain and the US when prime minister Blair and foreign secretary Straw openly rejected US demands that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, resign. According to The Guardian, prime minister Blair stated that, "it is up to the Palestinians to choose their own leaders". The Danish prime minister, who will take over the EU's rotating presidency on Monday, also rejected Bush's call emphasizing that, "we will not demand that Arafat or any other leader in the region is removed". France's foreign minister Domminique Galouzeau de Villepin agreed stating that, "only the Palestinians themselves can choose their leaders".
The European rationale behind this principle is threefold: (1) democratic rights and results must be respected; (2) the removal of Arafat may give Islamist extremists an opportunity to rise to power; (3) Arafat is thought to be the only one that could persuade his people to accept difficult concessions for peace. Although, the notion of Islamist extremists rising to power and Arafat's monopoly over the ability to convince his people to accept a peace deal is up for debate, the notion that the results of free and fair elections must be respected is unquestionable in our world today.
Traditionally, Japan stood behind these principles as well. However, as of late, its stance on the matter seems to be wavering. Although, Japanese unease at Bush's demand that Arafat be removed was reported, no clarification was made as to what extent Japan objected to this notion. No public statement has been issued by the foreign ministry as of yet, neither has prime minister Koizumi took a stance on the matter. As a result, from Europe, Japan looks to be supporting everything that Bush said in his speech. From the European perspective, Japan seems to be lauding a disastrous policy. There is room for Japan to play an important role in this conflict, however, this objective will only be met if all parties feel Japan has something more to contribute than money. As it stands today, Europeans are not sure if Japan has more to offer.