Gerusalemme, 08 Ottobre 2015
How to build political Alliances between Israel and Europe.
- Is it more effective for Israel and Europe to form Alliances at national or EU level?
- Who in Israel and Europe will have the responsibility for reaching out and building these Alliances?
- Can forums on, for example, immigration, innovation, security and protecting Democratic values bring together Europeans and Israelis who share common interest in these areas?
- Who would fund and organize these forums?
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- Is it more effective for Israel and Europe to form Alliances at national or EU level?
To somebody coming from Mars it may seem strange that sixty eight years after the foundation of the State of Israel and sixty after the Treaty of Rome we should still be thinking about strengthened political ties between Israel and Europe.
It was in fact since the very beginning of their existence that both Israel and the EEC felt that they had a common destiny, having been born out of the same anxieties, the same quest for peace, human values, freedom and security for all in Europe and in the Jewish world.
Professor Sharon Pardo gave some months ago a presentation at the Middle East Institute in Washington on his research concerning “perceptions” between Israel and Europe. He recalled that in 1957 thanks to the impulse of David Ben Gurion Israel was on its way to full membership in the European Community. The following year it was the first Country to establish formal relations with the EEC. According to that research, over many years the “perceptions” have been reflecting the fundamental importance of the relationship. The EU was in 2014 the top trading partner of Israel on an almost equal footing with the US: goods for 30 bln E were exchanged with the 28 Europeans, and 28,5 bln E with the Americans. The EU is the second biggest source of R§D funding for Israel.
The European neighborhood policies have increasingly been influenced by the disappointment of the European public and political environment in Israeli- Palestinian negotiations. Their stalemate was generally attributed, in a biased way, more to Israeli than Palestinian responsibilities. Brussels has declared time and again that the further strengthening of the neighbourhood policy vis a vis Jerusalem had to be seen in the broader context of the Palestinian issue, while no parallelism or conditionality was ever stated in similar terms for the Palestinians.
The offer was made for a SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP. But the offer was left without a clear and specific content.
Still, over the past decade Israel’s public perceptions vis a vis the Union were not particularly affected insofar the benefits of a closer relationship with the Union were concerned. The idea that Israel could possibly join the Union in a foreseeable future remained alive. Even if deep rooted anti Israelis sentiments and antisemitic attitudes in some European realities have discouraged those who believe in the “European perspective”. It should be noted that between 2009 and 2013, in coincidence with the upheavals of the Arab Springs and with the poor record of European and Western countries in addressing instability in the South and Estern Mediterranean, 69% of Israelis supported the idea of joining the Union; in 2011 there was even a peak of 81%.
One reason relates to the profound cultural and personal attachment of many Israelis to the countries their ancestors, parents, families and themselves came from. According to some estimates, 9% of Israeli citizen hold also an European passport; while 47% consider themselves potential European citizens because of their ancestry. A second reason can be explained because of values for which the EU is a staunch supporter and promoter. A third explanation could be the knowledge many Israelis have about European convictions about Israel: as an indispensable and vital part of pour civilization; the only real democracy in the entire region and the only stable nation from Morocco to Pakistan; that huge benefits exist in each step towards closer EU-Israel relations; that Israeli ingenuity provides not only the best laboratory for many of our innovations; it is the think-tank to understand realistically what is happening in the region and the best Ally to guarantee a peaceful and prosperous Middle East.
Other factors show however that perceptions are all but linear. In 20013 for example, even in the midst of conflicting positions between Washington and Jerusalem on Iran, Palestinian negotiations, a poll confirmed that a large majority of
Israeli, 67%, considered the US a more vital partner than the EU, and 69% that cultural affinities are closer with Americans then with Europeans. Two “sore points” with the EU have been:
1) antisemitism, which is increasing according to almost every poll in Israel and among jewish communities in Europe;
2) the “delegitimization campaign”: the assault against the right to exist as a Jewish-nation State; the attempt to undermine its duty and right to exercise self defense; the will inflict economic and financial damages on Israeli, and consequently European business interests: although financial experts recognize that for all the mobilization and activity in the social media in support of the BDS movement no serious impact exists on trade and financial transactions. But it has an impact on Israel reputation. There is an insidious, hard to spot form of de-legitimization because many of those engaging in it fiercely deny they are doing so. A form in danger of growing, may be not as much at the “supranational level” of the European institutions, as a “local” phenomenon. The BBC World Service’s international rating survey repeatedly ranks Israel the fourth most negatively perceived nation.
2. Who in Israel and Europe will have the responsibility for reaching out and building these Alliances?
The concept of “SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP” SHOULD BE TAKEN UP AS CORNERSTONE OF A TRI-DIMENSIONAL STRATEGY, WITHIN EU INSTITUTIONS, MEMBER STATES, CIVIL SOCIETIES.
The EU Commission and the EU Councils in all their configurations, Foreign affairs, Justice, Interior, General Affairs should be engaged on political, security and social issues which can benefit of a deeper cooperation with Israel. Like minded Permanent representatives should co-ordinate on regular basis, individually and collectively, with the Israeli Mission in Brussels in view of preparing the play-field and advance concrete proposals.
Commission’s services active in the intelligence, security, immigration should be encouraged to reinforce their cooperation with the appropriate Israeli counterparts. In the current circumstances there would be many opportunities for the EU to “fill the gap” of a dangerous emptiness of European and western role. “Informal coordination” among like minded Envoys should aim at “structured cooperations”. I foresee an activity, at least in an initial phase, “below the radar”: not different from the format already experienced in Brussels and Luxembourg by some EU partners with third parties, such as Turkey, or in Washington among some EU Ambassadors and the Us on Asian security.
Such an approach will also have a value in raising with the various UE bodies awareness that EU security strategies can be enormously helped by a deeper and systematic understanding of Israeli potential. At the same time it could be useful in order to shed a more pragmatic light on the Peace process and to dilute pre-conceived opinions felt at various floors of the Justus Lipsius and Berlaymont HQ.
3. Can forums on, for example, immigration, innovation, security and protecting Democratic values bring together Europeans and Israelis who share common interest in these areas?
Over the last two years the Us and the EU have been put on back foot by Russian intervention in Ukraine, Crimea annexation, Russian and Iranian support to Assad and Al Maliki, Iranian nuclear program, Teheran destabilizing activities in the whole region, Palestinian maneuvers at the UN, attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah. A widespread narrative has been disseminated within our countries to weaken and confuse public opinion and leaders. In many instances a mixture of obfuscation, disinformation and surprise has prepared and accompanied aggressive behavior and use of force. Fight against jihadist terrorism like Isis has been hindered by conflicting agendas among those actors, and other regional players which oppose Western interests and values.
More then ever before since the end of the “cold war” the need is felt for an effective coordination between EU, Nato and Israel on the use of information warfare. Putin presides over a command center that includes the general staff and virtually all arms of government, from media and internet regulators to supervisors of sanctions and transportation. Similar efforts are undertaken by the Iranian Government, the Syrian regime and non state actors like Daesh. They operate trough a vast, sophisticated, well funded web of agencies, NGOs, think-tanks, media organizations, individuals whose common denominator is anti American, anti European, anti Israeli with frequent hinges of antisemitism and hate propaganda. This vast web of “influencers” has been so successful that nowadays Putin is one of the most respected leaders for large segment of the European public opinion. Rouhani and Khamenei are seen as moderate, reformist leaders, and even Assad as a viable answer for the future of Syria.
There are positive examples on how the West must and can react. The Friend of Israel Initiative (FoII) has just issued a Report “An assessment of the 2014 Gaza conflict” written by a fully independent High Level Military Group made of eminent military personalities. The Report examines the Operation Protective Edge carried out by the IDF against Hamas in Gaza as a telling example of the serious challenges and threats the West has to face when we need to defend ourselves. No case better than the 2014 IDF operation in Gaza demonstrates the perversion of legal arguments by adversaries who try to abuse norms and procedures, through a “Lawfare” aimed at the judicialization of International institutions.
4. Who would fund and organize these forums?
We should not be overly concerned by low numbers of think -tanks, media outlets, scholars, intellectuals willing to re-establish a more honest and truthful narrative on Israel as a SPECIAL PARTNER of Europe. On the contrary, it wouldn’t be too difficult – and I am talking about my country – to involve a good number of entities in a communication strategy with op-eds, round tables, conferences, academic programs, and – most important – social media specialists and bloggers who could sustain this effort at the NATIONAL LEVEL.
It cannot be denied that the present state of the affairs in the EU and the “enlargement fatigue” increasingly felt over the last decade would make it harder now, then it was at the beginning of the years 2000, to pursue an “European perspective” leading to full accession. However this long term perspective should be taken up again and as frequently as possible. On both sides, in Israel as in Europe, this idea has been repeatedly voiced at the highest level and from different aisles of the political spectrum.
May I recall FM Lieberman underlying in 2010 that “as regards culture, economy, values we feel part of the European Union”; and years before Benjamin Netanyahu asking that Israel “achieves the goal of joining the Union”. Those were the years when PM Berlusconi, visiting Israel in 2003, did advocate Israel’s full membership in Europe as ” my biggest dream” and a number of Italian members of the European Parliament and in the national Senate in 2006 moved motions aimed at the accession of the State of Israel to the Union. Marco Pannella, leader of the Radical Transnational Party was and still is the staunchest advocate of Israel in the Union. Positions which were also reiterated by other EU members, like the Lithuanian FM in 2010.
The atmosphere surrounding the path toward a “special partnership” leading in the longer term to accession seemed to evaporate in July 2013 when the EU Guidelines established the ineligibility of European funds for Israelis in the Territories; and again in 2014 when an European Court removed Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations; while European criticism against new constructions in the West Bank came up again drawing acid remarks from the PM, FM and Minister Bennett: such as “Israel is strong and simply doesn’t need Europe” or ” the EU Court decision will make Europe irrelevant”. The shock provoked last January by the atrocious massacre at the Hypercacher and Charlie Hebdo, the raising number of antisemitic events, the appeal launched by PM Netanyahu encouraging french Jews to emigrate to Israel, added new tones to a cooling trend vis a vis the Union.
The “SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP” concept needs to be put at the center of the EU- Israel relations: at the multilateral and at the national level. It is time to give substance, in this framework, to security and political objectives defined by our common national interests. Scientific and technical cooperation represent, in my view, the immediately available stepping stone. European and Israeli researchers and scientist have fought hard in order to bring Brussels and Jerusalem to the signature of the agreement associating Israel to Horizon 2020-Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The agreement not only provides Israeli researchers, universities and companies with full access to Horizon 2020 Programme. It represents also a major step for European researchers which can find in joint projects with Israeli counterparts the best tool for access to EU funds. That is true especially for countries which have a number of competitive project higher then the EU average, but a lower rate of return.
The opportunity provided by the Israeli EU cooperation in the most innovative fields emerges clear from the latest Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum. “Innovation ” and “sophistication” factors put Israel at the very top positions in the list of 144 countries, with n. 3, one place above the US in “innovation” and n. 8 when the two factors -innovation and sophistication- are combined.
Nine EU members rank among the top twenty most competitive world economies. There is already an evident, tremendous interaction between the most advanced, highly educated, competitive sectors of the European and Israeli societies. They should constitute the best play-field for rooting a deeper and more widespread understanding of our common values and interests.