A general view of the "E1" settlement area, situated between...

A general view of the "E1" settlement area, situated between Jerusalem and the Israeli West Bank in Maale Adumim, West Bank. (Dec. 9, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

More than 40,000 people have been slaughtered in Syria and the death toll rises daily. The European Union does not appear to be particularly concerned.

North Korea's rulers have launched a three-stage rocket, moving closer to their goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM, and they're sharing nuclear weapons technology with the world's leading sponsors of terrorism in Iran. The EU does not seem to be worrying about that, either.

Israel is considering building homes on barren hills adjacent to Jerusalem. The EU's 27 foreign ministers said they were "deeply dismayed," and warned Israel of unspecified consequences if the plan is carried out.

The European Union -- recent winner, I should note, of the Nobel Peace Prize -- has its priorities. So let's talk about what the Israelis are doing to so distress the EU.

The area in which Israel may build covers 4.6 square miles. For the sake of comparison, Denver International Airport is 53 square miles. Known as E1, this area lies within a territory that has a much older name: the Judean Desert. Might Jews think they have a legitimate historical claim to the Judean Desert? This question is rarely asked.

For Israeli military planners, E1's strategic value is more germane than its history. Developing it would help in the defense of Jerusalem, a city where Jews and Arabs live for the most part peacefully, with both populations growing. Hamas, however, vows to forcibly expel every Jew from Jerusalem. Such threats of ethnic cleansing also do not trouble the EU too much.

People forget, or perhaps choose not to remember, that Israelis always have been willing to give up land for peace, including the land they've acquired in defensive wars. Israelis gave up Gaza and the Sinai, and have offered to give up at least 97 percent of the West Bank, retaining only those areas absolutely necessary for national security.

Israelis do want something in exchange: an end to the long conflict they have been fighting against those who insist that the Jewish people, uniquely, have no right to self-determination, no right to independence, no right to self-rule within their ancestral homeland.

What Israelis have received instead: missile and terrorist attacks and, last week, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Gaza proclaiming that "jihad," armed struggle, will continue until Israel is defeated, conquered and replaced -- every square mile -- by an Islamic theocracy.

"Since Palestine is ours, and it is the land of the Arabs and Islam," he said, "it is unthinkable that we would recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. ... Let me emphasize that we adhere to this fundamental principle: We do not recognize Israel. ... The Palestinian resistance will crush it and sweep it away, be it Allah's will." He added: "Jerusalem is our eternal capital. We cling to her and we will liberate her inch by inch, quarter by quarter, stone by stone. ... Israel has no right to Jerusalem."

Within the EU, there was a debate about whether to comment on that. Eventually, pressure from Germany and the Czech Republic led the EU to issue a mild rebuke to Hamas -- a single paragraph in a three-page statement focusing on Israel's "dismaying" behavior.

Mahmoud Abbas, regarded as a moderate Palestinian leader, did not suggest that Mashaal's latest threats were wrong -- or even unhelpful. Instead, Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior official in Abbas' Fatah organization, described Mashaal's speech as "very positive."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman laments that "the Europeans in general, and the European left in particular, have so little influence" in Israel. He is puzzled as to why that is. He insists that "it's incumbent on every Israeli leader to test, test and test again -- using every ounce of Israeli creativity -- to see if Israel can find a Palestinian partner for a secure peace ...." Only by so doing, he adds, can Israel "have the moral high ground in a permanent struggle."

If "creative" Israelis were to find such a partner, would Friedman be able to arrange a life insurance policy for him? And between those threatening their neighbors with genocide -- which is, without question, what Hamas as doing -- and those offering to negotiate peace with its neighbors -- which is what Israel is doing -- can there really be ambiguity about who holds the moral high ground?

Evidently, there can -- at least for Friedman and the EU and, I'm afraid, lots of other folks around the world. Israelis, and their few friends around the world, may just have to learn to live with that as best they can.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.