The Status of EU-Israel Relations
By Sarah Ann Haves
It took the EU five days to issue a statement condemning the recent kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. That was five days longer than the Israeli government had hoped for or expected.
The relationship between Jerusalem and Brussels has been strained over the last five years and is based on past achievements and not new developments. This is the opinion of one diplomat who spoke at a roundtable discussion titled, “Navigating Through Storms: The Future of EU-Israel Relations”, which took place during the 14th Annual Herzliya Conference earlier this month.
This writer was invited to the closed session, based on the Chatham House Rule, meaning that what is written is not directly attributed to any particular person who participated in the session.
The roundtable was a forum for strategic dialogue that brought together top decision makers, elected officials, and policy experts from Europe and Israel, with the goal of trying to improve this unique relationship.
|The association between
the EU and Israel
has not gone well…
The association between the EU and Israel has not gone well, politically; but trade, commerce, scientific operations and cultural exchanges have faired better.
Some of the participants at the roundtable felt that the key problem has been misconceptions, which turn both sides in different directions. For example, when things get tough, diplomatically, Israel turns towards the U.S. This is due to mistrust in EU policies, which seem to be based on a continual pro-Palestinian position by member states.
Currently, the overall political dialogue between Israel and the EU is considered weak and needs to be reinforced if it is to be a tool of collaboration in other areas of this strategic partnership.
At the roundtable, one participant tried to point out the positive aspects of cooperation – shared values, democracy, respect for human rights, and market economy principles.
EU ministers apparently have been eager to develop a mutually beneficial alliance with Israel. One example brought up in the discussion was that during Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, an offer was put on the table that there would be a special unprecedented privileged partnership with the EU, offered to both sides, in case of a breakthrough in the conflict. It would have taken Israel to a higher level in relations with EU member states — a status similar to that of countries like Norway and Switzerland. But, peace talks failed in March 2014, and that special EU offer is no longer on the table.
Though Israel is a key player in Europe, and has a strong interest in the region, there is a tendency on the part of European diplomats to assess the strategic relationship by focusing only on the peace process. Israel faults the EU for this approach.
European diplomats disagree, stating that Israeli leaders tend to forget all the other areas that the EU has taken care of safeguarding Israel’s key interests. For example, negotiations on Iran (an agreement that there will be no deal if there is a bad deal); expending billions of Euros in trying help millions of refugees suffering from the Syrian civil war; and, providing support for nations like Jordan and Lebanon in order to keep these neighboring countries stable.
One diplomat pointed out that there were other areas that the EU was working on that had Israel’s security interests in mind.
However, the obstacle in the development of the relationship between the EU and Israel continues to be the bump in the road of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As long as there is no progress in that effort, the possibility of furthering the relationship between the EU and Israel will be constrained. The Europeans have used a veiled threat to pressure Israel which was obvious during the roundtable discussion. They stated that if the peace negotiations are not picked up again soon, which Europe would like to see happen, along with the strong support of America, then there will be further economic disengagement from Israeli settlements.
Israel faults the Europeans for using Israeli settlements as the one single issue that formulates EU foreign policy towards the Jewish State. Settlement construction in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and building in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, remains an irritant and frustration for EU ministers. They continue to vocalize their opposition to settlement expansion saying it is very counterproductive to any attempt to bring about a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The EU is using these threats as leverage because member states know that Israel doesn’t want to face greater isolation in the European community, or lose out on trade relations and scientific grants in the coming years. Already, EU countries are cutting off economic partnerships beyond the Green Line.
This issue is causing problems within the strategic dimension of Israeli-European relations. And, it affects the topic of security. While Israel expects EU member states to understand the fundamental need for safety for Israeli citizens, the Europeans want to deal with the matter another way. They see Israel as a regional actor and part of the “southern neighborhood” of the Europeans. Also, the EU is trying to be an influential actor in the realm of international politics. EU member states have formed a common security policy which isn’t necessarily in Israel’s best interest.
According to the understanding of diplomats at the roundtable discussion, for Israel the issue is about self-defense and the use of force as a normal instrument of power. If Israel needs to take pre-emptive action against its enemies, then Israeli leaders expect EU member states to accept and support that policy. However, this does not always happen.
Meanwhile, Israel does not see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an overall priority, but for the EU it is a very high priority. As peace negotiations have broken down, several EU ministers have talked about more boycotts. This would hurt Israel financially, because the EU is the Jewish State’s closest economic and cultural partner in the Mediterranean.
A majority of the diplomats in the room considered Israel an important military ally for the EU in the Middle East region; and, that relationship is crucial in deepening strategic defense and security cooperation. Israel continues to engage in military exercises with EU countries. Finding ways of building greater trust in future bi-lateral discussions will be a key for that alliance to continue to grow and mature.
EU diplomats pointed out that time is a factor, pressuring Israel to go back to the peace negotiating table. Israeli diplomats pointed out that the EU‘s aggressive policies and retribution against settlement activity is causing the relationship to sour.
While there has been a decline in Israel’s image in Europe, there has also been a decline in Europe’s image in Israel. Some in the room felt that Israel and the EU were headed towards another low point.
|The worse case
scenario for Israel
would be increased
isolation in Europe.
The worse case scenario for Israel would be increased isolation in Europe with firms cutting back on trade, citing political pressure from NGO’s, lobbies, and European institutions. The best case scenario is that, over the next five years, there will be trends towards European innovation and new business deals integrating Israel’s expertise in telecoms and technologies.
As the discussion moved on to specific scenarios of solving problems between the EU and Israel, most of the participants acknowledged that the “Open Skies” agreement in the airline industry would enable diplomats to see each other more often. However, the Europeans concluded that they would continue to travel on Easy Jet. The Israelis were mum because, despite it being more expensive, El Al is Israel’s main carrier. So, sadly, even in flying over the Mediterranean the only point of consensus between Israel and the EU may be that on-going discussions can resume somewhere in the skies between Israel and European destinations.
Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
(c) 2014 Messianic Vision all rights reserved. This article is not reproducible except with permisson from Messianic Vision.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.