How Israel Should Approach Austria’s Right-Wing Populist Government

Austria’s newly formed governing coalition includes the Freedom party (known by its German acronym FPO), which was founded by an ex-SS officer in 1956 and has long been a magnet for bigots, quasi-fascists, and Nazi apologists. Yet, argues Isi Leibler, the party has changed a great deal since the departure of its longtime leader Jörg Haider in 2005, and it would be foolish for Israel to shun Austria because of the FPO’s past:

With the broadening of support for the FPO, [its current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache], seeks to . . . purge it of the anti-Semites and fascists and concentrate on becoming a popular anti-immigration party. In fact, Strache openly courts Jews and Israel.

The coalition government’s program, published jointly by the FPO and [Prime Minister Sebastian] Kurz’s Austrian People’s party, . . . proclaims that combating anti-Semitism in Austria is one of the government’s principal objectives and that Nazism was “one of the greatest tragedies in world history.” The country that, until recently, claimed to be a victim of Nazism now vows to commemorate those who underwent “terrible suffering and misery” arising from the Anschluss, Austria’s 1938 unification with Nazi Germany.

The new government also explicitly commits itself “to Israel as a Jewish state”—a major departure from previous Austrian policy—and calls for a “peaceful solution in the Middle East, with special consideration for Israel’s security interests.” . . .

Israel does not need to endorse the policies of the Austrian government or the FPO. . . . Other than the East European states, Israel has no allies in the EU, which is now notorious for its shameless bias and double standards against the Jewish state. Under such circumstances, subject to the Austrian coalition government’s adhering in practice as well as in word to its policy statements concerning Jews, Israel should maintain relations with the Austrian government.

Read more at Word from Jerusalem

More about: Anti-Semitism, Austria, EU, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood