“If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.” The words of Heraclitus. Life was probably simpler in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, leaving plenty of time for Greeks to philosophise, but in the divine comedy that is the modern world, the unexpected seems ever present, whether serached for or not. At least, this is perhaps what the Polish prime minister thinks as he considers the unexpected results of last week’s conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, jointly organised by Poland and the United States.
Mateusz Morawiecki has said that he will not attend the meeting of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on 18th– 19thFebruary. This decision follows the spat over comments allegedly made by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu during the conference. His comments, which were widely reported, were interpreted as suggesting Polish complicity in the Nazi German persecution of Jews during the Second Word War.
Netanyahu’s office said that the Israeli prime minister “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland. This was misquoted and misrepresented in press reports and was subsequently corrected by the journalist who issued the initial misstatement.” Speaking to Polish Radio on Saturday, the head of the Polish Prime Minister’s Office, Michał Dworczyk, said:“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office clarified the matter in a statement, denying the report contained in the Jerusalem Post. I think this statement closes the issue”. If only events were not so unexpected.
For hot on the heels of Nethanyahu’s remarks came the remarks of Israel’s newly appointed foreign minister, Israel Katz, who reportedly claimed that Poles “suckled anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.” Morawiecki said of this comment by Katz: “This is an example of racist anti-Polonism.”
Addressingjournalists on Monday morning, Morawiecki said: “At the moment we are waiting for a firm reaction to the reprehensible, unacceptable and simply racist words of the newly-appointed foreign minister of Israel.” He added: “If there is no such reaction from the other side, we will wish them the best possible meeting, but [Foreign] Minister Jacek Czaputowicz will also not attend the meeting in Israel.”Czaputowicz had been due to go instead of the prime minister.
For some commentators this and the danger of creating bad relations with Iran - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “We see what’s happening in Warsaw, it’s an empty result, nothing” - is exactly the sort problem that might have been expected by the Polish government’s allowing itself to be bounced into hosting the conference with the United States. And the US Vice President’s unexpected and outspoken criticism of EU member states’ approach to the US sanctions on Iran (please see here) is more grist to their particular mill.
However, as Czaputowicz himself said, the deepening diplomatic collaboration between Warsaw and Washington D.C. was one of the advantages of the conference, as was the opportunity to contribute to peace in the Middle East and thus fulfil the country’s role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. As to allegations of exacerbating strained relations between Warsaw and Tehran and putting Poland’s safety at risk, Czaputowicz said that the view that Iran is a country causing problems was shared by the European Union.
It is difficult not to have some sympathy with the Polish government, whose position is no different from that faced by all hosts whose guests step out of line. For Poland, continuing and strong relations with the United States make eminent sense and, as other close allies will testify, not least the United Kingdom, the occasional embarrassment and hurt feelings is par for the course. US exceptionalism also extends to diplomatic niceties, especially under the current presidency.
Be that as it may, Poland ploughs on, no doubt hoping that last week’s conference has indeed brought it some US goodwill. Thus, Polish defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak is hoping for the best in talks underway with US officials about establishing a new permanent American army base in Poland. Speaking on Saturday, after meetings with US Senate Armed Services Committee officials in Germany during the Munich Security Conference, he said: “We are discussing details, and I think we are on the right track to achieve success. My yesterday’s meeting with [acting US Secretary of Defense] Patrick Shanahan is a proof for that”. He did not disclose any timeframe for the project. “This is of course a process. I don’t want to set any deadlines for that process to end … I hope for a success,” he added.
Perhaps fools do rush in where angels dare to tread, especially in relation to Middle East diplomatic minefields, but let’s end as we began with Heraclitus: big results require big ambitions.