Article on Europe and Israel (1): a complicated relationship…

From a few years ago, but still relevant.  Raises an interesting issue about the European Left, which loved pre-1967 scrappy, little Israel surrounded by nasty enemies, but now hates an Israel it views as strong and oppressive of the Palestinians, ignoring the surrounding Arabs and Muslims.  Same Israel really, different European view. Some might say that Europeans prefer their Jews weak…

Narrowing gaps

Since the establishment of the European Economic Community in 1957, Israel and Europe have been playing a double game of economic passion and political hostility.

 Our split personality here in Israel is reflected in the Israeli admiration of “classical Europe” (yes, the same “old Europe” from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famous speech) in the realms of culture, gastronomy, sports, economics and tourism, alongside its chilly to militant and aggressive attitude towards the political aspect of Europe.

While Christian Europe’s personality split is reflected in its worship of the Holy Land and admiration of Israel‘s science, defense and hi-tech industries, along with the fact that 59 percent of the residents of the European Union consider Israel to be the country that poses the greatest threat to world peace and to their own peace. The key to understanding this love-hate relationship may be found in the fact that Jewish blood courses through Europe‘s veins while “the hostile anti-Semitic continent” courses through our own veins.

Israel, which looks up to distant America and keeps a political distance from nearby Europe, behaves as if it were an island in the Atlantic Ocean rather than a Mediterranean nation in the Mediterranean basin, despite Israel’s special status in the EU, a status that grants Israel extensive rights in many areas such as research, development and economics.

Just recently we learned that Israel is in first place, ahead of Belgium and the Netherlands, among the countries participating in EU research and development projects. Israeli trade with the “hostile anti-Semitic continent” is of a much bigger volume than its trade with “our great ally” the United States.

When Europe expands in May 2004 Israel and the EU will become neighbors, and Nicosia, Cyprus, our business and sports city of refuge here in Israel, will become one of the 25 European capitals that comprise the European puzzle.

Ahead of the EU’s expansion towards Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, it declared a new policy in March 2003: the Wider Europe Neighborhood Policy. This policy presents a new model of relations with the countries neighboring the EU. According to it, Europe will be surrounded by “a ring of friends,” 14 countries “from Russia to Morocco,” including, of course, Israel.

As part of this policy, the neighboring countries will be invited to participate in the European project, except for its institutions. In other words, Israel and the Union’s other neighbors are invited among other things to participate in Europe’s internal market and in the future also in the EU’s Four Freedoms: the free movement of people, goods, services and capital.

This is all contingent on the neighboring country’s development and its fulfillment of various conditions. The “wider Europe policy” is based on a differential program that allows each neighboring country individual progress according to its abilities and will.

AT LAST November’s discussions of The Association Council EU-Israel the EU announced that Israel was the top priority for upgrading relations as part of the “wider Europe policy.” Foreign Minister Shalom, who upon taking office declared that his ministry would act to tighten the Israel-Europe relationship, understood that the European initiative had great advantages for Israel and he is currently working vigorously to shape an Israeli policy on the matter. The “wider Europe policy” will allow Israel to break free of the vice it was forced into as part of the Barcelona Process launched in 1995, the Union’s policy towards the 12 Mediterranean countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Malta, Cyprus, the Palestinian Authority, and of course Israel) for the enhancement of its political-security, economic and cultural ties with the entire Mediterranean region.

For the first time in nine years Israel faces the possibility of advancing its relationship with Europe on a bilateral track and breaking free of the regional and multilateral isolation forced on it by the Barcelona Process.

It is clear that the European initiative involves complex and sensitive questions, beginning with Israel’s Jewish identity, through weakening sovereignty and adopting external legislation and foreign legal principles such as the principle of the supremacy of EU law, to the system of foreign relations with an emphasis on the special relationship with the US.

But since it is a differential plan tailored to the size of each neighboring country, Israel will be able to select the elements of the European project that suit its interests, such as the possibility of upgrading trade relations, cooperation in the areas of policing and law, recognition of the Israeli standardization system, the environment and contacts between non-government organizations while canceling the elements that could undermine Israel’s stability and security, such as the free movement of people in the expanded European region.

Developed relations between Europe and Israel are valued by Europe and considered even more important and worthwhile by Israel. The double romance between Israel, the Jewish state, whose right of self-determination certain European circles do not recognize, and the “hostile continent,” is yet to see many ups and downs.

But in view of the political-economic strengthening of the EU, its central role in shaping the international agenda and the fact that in about five months a new neighbor is going to knock on Israel‘s door, all those undoubtedly signal positive developments towards Europe, Israel‘s despised eternal passion. The writer, a lawyer, adviser and lecturer on EU affairs at Ben-Gurion University’s Center for the Study of European Politics and Society, is a research fellow at the International and European Research Unit at Ghent University, Belgium.


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