Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- Britain’s exit, or Brexit, from the European Union is first and foremost a severe British domestic problem that its leaders alone must solve with diligence and as soon as possible.
- Although EU leaders have indeed reacted with disappointment and bitterness, after the initial shock they appear to be recuperating. Europe as a whole is slowly regaining its composure. The EU will not come apart quickly. It will apparently continue to represent 27 united countries, in which close to half a billion humans live, with an average GDP of over $30,000 per capita.
- Three cardinal issues led the British to leave the EU:
- The cumbersome administration and rigid bureaucracy in Brussels.
- The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and, more recently, of refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
- The terror attacks committed by European subjects who are inspired by Islamic organizations such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.
- There is only one issue on which the European community demonstrates unanimity, namely, solving the Palestinian problem. The new French initiative, with the accompanying international conference, is especially indicative of the European approach to resolving the conflict.
- Britain’s exit will not change Europe’s policy in our region, and Israel must prepare itself accordingly. Unlike Britain, which has managed to cope with large-scale crises by itself, Israel cannot allow itself to be isolated and will always need real friends and alliances.
- Brexit should not damage Israel’s relations with Europe or its exports to it.
Britain’s exit, or Brexit, from the European Union is first and foremost, a severe British domestic problem that its leaders alone must solve with diligence and as soon as possible.
The EU leaders were taken aback by the British decision. Trusting in polls, they had confidently believed that the majority of the British people would demonstrate responsibility and solidarity by remaining in the EU, just as their Prime Minister David Cameron wanted.
Although the EU leaders have indeed reacted with disappointment and bitterness, after the initial shock, they appear to be recuperating. Europe as a whole is slowly regaining its composure.
The newspaper headlines that foretold a worldwide financial earthquake and even went so far as to make historical comparisons with the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany will be quickly forgotten. Most of the horrified reactions and prophecies of doom have receded, and the markets and stock exchanges are already more stable.
It is clear to all that the EU will not come apart quickly. It is still alive and kicking, and it will apparently continue to represent, at least in the short and the medium term, 27 united countries in which close to half a billion humans live, with an average GDP of over $30,000 per capita.
The History of the European Common Market
Understanding what actually took place means putting Britain’s move in its real proportions and weighing the likely consequences, for better or worse, for our region and particularly for Israel in the near and distant future. To begin with, these facts must be kept in mind:
The idea of creating a “zone of peace and stability” in Europe arose after the Second World War and was articulated in a public declaration on May 9, 1950, by the then-French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman.
Only on March 25, 1957, was the first European Community established with the signing of the Treaty of Rome. Britain was not one of the founders and builders of the EU. Its efforts to be accepted under certain conditions were rejected out of hand, and in 1967 General de Gaulle cast a veto. Incidentally, this was the same de Gaulle who, during the Second World War, after being sentenced to death for treason by the Vichy regime, had escaped from France and found political refuge in London. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “A state is the coldest of all cold monsters.” Interests are all that matters.
It was only after wearisome negotiations lasting many years and after a referendum was conducted in 1975, that Britain was accepted into the Common Market.
Britain, however, remained outside the Eurozone, continuing to use the pound sterling currency. It did not sign the Schengen Agreement on abolishing borders and customs, was not a member of the institutions dealing with the continent’s legal and social affairs, and strongly opposed the joint discussions on European security despite being a full member of NATO. Clearly, then, Britain always pursued a certain separatism, and indeed was only a member of the immense European Free Trade Area.
Britain’s exit from the EU, then, will undoubtedly entail less economic damage than was initially believed. At the same time, it is clear that Europe has been weakened diplomatically, and that the special weight of its role will be very much missed when Europe arrives at major decisions.
Why Britain Left
Apart from the factors related to domestic English politics, three cardinal issues led the British to leave the EU:
The cumbersome administration and rigid bureaucracy in Brussels, in which unelected clerks from 28 different countries and various committees assume excessive powers and take important decisions in every sphere, especially those connected with personal security.
The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and, more recently, of refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
The terror attacks committed by European subjects who are inspired by Islamic organizations such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. The attacks in Brussels and in Paris exposed a lack of coordination and conflicts of interest between the security services, and a complete failure of the intelligence services.
Moreover, thus far the EU has failed completely in the domain of foreign policy. These are the main instances just in recent years:
Europe’s encouragement of the ouster of Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, respectively, along with its support for the Arab Spring, has fostered crises and upheavals that still beset the whole of the Middle East and the Maghreb, as well as, indirectly, Europe itself.
The indifference about finding a solution to the civil war in Syria, along with President Assad’s ongoing slaughter of his people and the empowerment of the Islamic organizations including the emergence of the Islamic State, has led to the mass emigration of millions. Instead of solving the problem when the time was appropriate, the Europeans are now confronted with uncontrolled immigration and a danger of terror attacks.
It should also be stressed that the U.S. administration has given the Europeans a cold shoulder and has persistently failed to find workable solutions. Indeed, Britain’s exit from the EU constitutes a sharp rebuff to the Obama administration. In his recent visit to London, the U.S. president himself called on Britons to vote to remain. His voice, however, went unheeded.
The crisis in Ukraine and the unnecessary tension with Vladimir Putin caused by the sanctions on Russia.
Europe Looking for Itself
At present, Europe is confused and in search of itself. Amid the immigration concerns and the multiplying terror attacks, it is indeed waging a fight for the home front. The threat of terror is constant. The European leadership’s helplessness and inability to find solutions to the many problems are reminiscent of the dangers that arose in the 1930s, as Hitler took power in the run-up to the Second World War. The terror attacks have induced a mood of emergency, panic, and uncertainty about the future.
The British, for their part, did not want to follow along behind a failing leadership; they preferred to deal with the problems on their own, without help from the outside. Britain has overcome crises in the past, and it is capable of dealing with the present crisis.
In the 1980s, immigration from Muslim countries was not seen as entailing any problems; the Europeans needed working hands. The left-wing parties that were then in power easily agreed to allow family unifications. Yet, despite all the predictions, 30 years later the Islamic revolution has accelerated remarkably, and religion, instead of the secular ideology, has assumed prominence in Europe. At the same time, as the Islamic influx intensified, Islamophobia has grown.
As long as the Muslims do not internalize the fact that they, like the Jews in their time and all the other immigrants, must acclimatize and accept the rules of the host countries, the situation will get even worse. Most Europeans are not prepared to grant the Muslim community a status that is separate in all regards from Western civilization.
On foreign policy issues, great frustration still exists in Europe, which took root at the time of the joint French-British-Israeli “Kadesh Operation” in 1956 and the relinquishment of the colonial lands. From a standpoint of conservatism and the Old World order, it is difficult for some to cope with the technological and social innovations of the era of the internet and the smartphone.
The EU has made several strategic errors over the years. The first was to widen the Union to include anyone who desired to join in it. Five additional countries, including Turkey, have officially submitted their candidacy. Clearly, it makes a huge difference whether a united Europe functions with 9 or 12 countries, or with 28 or more. Another mistake was the abolishing of the borders, which put an end to trade protectionism and facilitated an influx of goods from China, leading in turn to the closing of European enterprises and growing unemployment. The removal of the border checks and of the borders themselves gave rise to the free immigration of foreigners.
One Issue United Europe for Now
There is only one issue on which the European community demonstrates unanimity, namely, solving the Palestinian problem. The new French initiative, with the accompanying international conference, is especially indicative of the European approach to resolving the conflict.
Britain’s exit will not change Europe’s policy in our region, and Israel must prepare itself accordingly. Unlike Britain, which has managed to cope with large-scale crises by itself, Israel cannot allow itself to be isolated and will always need real friends and alliances. Some in Israel claim that, from this point onward, Israel should focus on the attractive Asian markets and abandon Europe because of its pro-Palestinian policy. This approach, however, is mistaken; even today, despite its weakness, one should not underestimate the European community’s economic power. It will continue to constitute an important economic and diplomatic power for Israel, one that is umbilically connected to us, from geographic, historical, and cultural standpoints.
It should also be noted that Europe is not of one cloth, and there are substantial differences between Western and Eastern Europe. Israel has bilateral relations, and in all spheres, with every one of the countries. With some of them relations are closer and friendlier; with others, they are less so and there is room for improvement. Brexit should not damage Israel’s relations with Europe or its exports to it. Israel is indeed a member of the important and well-respected Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is a signatory to many agreements and has common interests with Europe in all the economic domains, science, and energy. It will also continue to be an active member of Project Horizon 2020, the EU’s massive, seven-year research and innovation program. And now, for the first time, Israel has opened a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
It can reasonably be hoped that Israel’s bilateral relations with Britain, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, will be further strengthened, despite the calls that are made by far-left organizations and BDS activists in the UK.
Incidentally, it should be emphasized that the election of Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, as mayor of London has not harmed the Jewish community and has indeed prompted a fascinating and important dialogue with the leaders of the moderate Muslim community.
Meanwhile, extreme left-wing or right-wing organizations must be prevented from exploiting Britain’s exit for ultranationalist, populist, and racist agendas. These are likely to focus at first on Muslim immigrants and foreign minorities, and later on the Jews and, indirectly, on Israel.
In sum, Brexit will give Britain greater diplomatic and economic room to maneuver. London will no longer answer to the whims of Brussels bureaucrats when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian problem. Israel must pursue a wise diplomatic approach, ensuring that it will maintain this valuable asset of Europe.