Shock Waves From Madrid

By Adar Primor

Published April 02, 2004, issue of April 02, 2004.
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Colin Powell was fuming. While he was made to wait some 45 minutes for a scheduled meeting last week with Spanish prime minister-elect Jose Luis Zapatero, the latter was engrossed in an amiable talk with another, more important personality — French President Jacques Chirac. Journalists who followed the events last week in Madrid, where the ceremony in memory of the victims of the terror attack was taking place, kept running into jubilant French diplomats, who hadn’t experienced such pleasure in quite some time: Zapatero chose to meet with Chirac before Powell, who threatened to leave, and was placated only after Zapatero’s meeting with Chirac was suspended in his favor prior to its conclusion. On an overall time scale, Powell recorded less than 15 minutes of Zapatero-time. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who went in right after Powell, got an entire hour of the Spaniard’s time.

The shock waves of the earthquake that occurred in Madrid reach far and wide. The first seismic ring encircles the domestic arena: Spain’s election results, seen by some as a victory for terror, are viewed by others as an outright victory for democracy. Zapatero wants to prove the veracity of the second theory by working toward consensual politics, for the most part. He will have to mend the rifts with the autonomous communities — the Catalan and the Basque, deal with separatist demands and exhibit determination in the fight against domestic terror. Such is the way to understand his decision to quickly place a call, following his election victory, to the Basque prime minister, who had been cut off from Madrid since 2001; and such is the way to understand his parallel decision to reject a proposal from the Basque underground movement ETA to negotiate a new cease-fire. “I will not talk to them before an end to their armed struggle,” he declared.

In the European arena, Jose Maria Aznar’s Spain could turn out to be the support column without which the entire structure of “the new Europe” — the one that was conceived in the corridors of the White House — comes crashing down like a house of cards. The victory of the Spanish socialists is good news for Germany and France, and bad news for Britain, Italy and Poland; it’s good news for the federalists and supporters of the European constitution, and bad news for the Euro-skeptics and constitution rejecters. Zapatero will seek to return Spain to the era of Felipe Gonzalez, in which it affixed itself to Europe’s hub.

The removal of Spain’s veto and, in its wake, the agreement reached at the weekend with regard to moving forward the European constitution, are perhaps a first sign: In Poland, Prime Minister Leszek Miller announced his resignation after party deserters set up a rival faction with pro-European views; in the Czech Republic and Hungary, according to The Economist, one can already hear diplomats expressing regret over the decisions of their countries to support the war in Iraq; and the Italian government, too, is facing a vociferous opposition whose motives resemble those of Aznar’s opponents.

In the international arena, Zapatero is rewriting the rules of the game. He is coming out against Washington’s “unilateral policy” around the world, against Aznar’s “blind” support for this policy, and in favor of a multi-polar world in which international law takes precedence. He is demanding that Washington’s notion of a “preemptive war” be abandoned in favor of focusing on a “genuine” campaign against terror. The man who is nicknamed “the Spanish Chamberlain” wants to show that he is locked onto “the true objective”: He will pull back his forces from Iraq, if the foreign presence there does not win U.N. backing, but will bolster the Spanish military presence in Afghanistan, which is the real source of international terrorism and in which, unlike Iraq, the foreign presence has international support.

As for the Israeli angle, opinions in Jerusalem regarding the significance of the events in Spain are divided. For some, the ramifications are “dramatic,” almost catastrophic. Those holding this view predict that “the crawl of Zapatero’s government into the French-German bosom will go hand-in-hand with a concerted effort to restore Spain’s traditional ties with the Arab world, with much emphasis on the Palestinian issue, as well as increased flak and a cooling of relations with Israel.”

Thus, some are hoping for the appointment of the European Union’s high representative for foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, as Spain’s next foreign minister. Powell’s friend, known as someone who always looks for the trans-Atlantic middle road, could somewhat sweeten the bitter pill of the Spanish revolution. By contrast, the appointment of the leading candidate, Miguel Moratinos, would complicate things: In his former position as the E.U.’s special envoy to the Middle East, Moratinos worked at maintaining ties with the Palestinian Authority and its chairman, and thus Moratinos is marked as “an Arafat lover” in Prime Minister Sharon’s circles.

This analysis is perceived by others in Jerusalem as over-dramatization. Despite the pro-American stance of the Aznar government, despite the understandings vis-à-vis Iraq, and despite the chemistry between the Israeli and Spanish foreign ministers, Silvan Shalom and Ana Palacio, this was not a new Golden Age. Spain’s political line did not deviate from the standard European parameters: In the end, when it comes to the Middle East, the gap between conservatives and socialists in Spain amounts merely to nuance. As for Moratinos and Solana, both suffered humiliation in our region, and both are fed up to the same degree.

Adar Primor is the international news editor of Ha’aretz,, where this article originally appeared.

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