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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Europe’s One-Sided View of Israel, and Why it Needs to Change

Filed under: Europe and Israel

The eternal discussion is the glass half full or half empty? I would basically argue that both are correct. It’s a complex relationship, and both indeed explain very well the reality. We’ve talked about the trade. We’ve talked about scientific cooperation, security cooperation, but on the other side the very different view that the EU takes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on Israel’s security concerns, the public criticism, and if you look at opinion polls simply in in Europe, Israel has a very negative image. But it’s not just a very negative image, as has also been discussed. Some of the views cross a line into outright anti-Semitism in Europe, and the conflation between the European Jewish community and Jews in general, and Israel is something that simply can’t be over overcome. But even if one were to take the view that the glass is more half-full, even if one takes a more optimistic view, I’m worried that the downside risks are much bigger, and that’s because all the positive elements of this relationship are strictly compartmentalized. Take trade. Israel is not a big producer of consumer goods. Most Europeans are not even aware that the telephones, computers, or the drugs that they are taking are made in Israel. Or security cooperation. That just really is only known to a very few handful of specialists, and the general public is not aware how many European lives have been saved thanks to Israeli intelligence, and I would, though in this case, say there is a big failure of European leadership. It should be interested in improving the image Israel has in Europe, and instead of the Israeli prime minister having to say that we’ve saved European lives, I still haven’t heard a single European head of state expressing his or her gratitude for something like this.

But, on the other hand, while this positive part is compartmentalized, the conflict is being played out right in the open, every day in the newspapers, in EU Council conclusions, and that of course creates a vicious circle. It feeds the negative sentiment that Europeans have anyway, and then creating the pressure that European politicians will always cite. You know, “We’re getting so many complaints from the public, so we have to be more critical of Israel.” The overall problem between the EU and Israel is that the entire relationship that that Europe has with Israel, even the positive element, is viewed almost exclusively through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and within that prism it’s a very one-sided view. So, even the positive elements, such as scientific cooperation, must include the so-called territorial clause making sure that, God forbid, none of the benefits may somehow benefit any of the settlements.  This one-sided view of the conflict, basically to generalize it, simplifies Israel as a stronger party. Israel is the occupier, and therefore has a greater responsibility, supposedly, but also the greater opportunity, supposedly, to solve the conflict, and that has been exemplified by the 2009 decision by the EU Council to freeze the upgrade of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, making it dependent on improvement in the peace process. In other words, the EU Council decided that apparently really Israel can by itself bring about dramatic improvement of the peace process, denying the very basic truism that it takes two to tango. One side, it only takes one side, to make peace. You need one side to make war, but you need two sides to make peace, and giving therefore Palestinian intransigence a veto power over the entire EU-Israel relationship. The problem is, because the EU is a community of law, this very one-sided view of the conflict has now been ossified. It’s part of the acquis, as I call it, using the French term and that stands in the way, not only of the EU-Israel relationship, but it stands in the way of what any healthy foreign policy needs, namely at least a periodic review, a periodic evidence-based review of, is our foreign policy working? What are the real reasons that 25 years after Oslo, we still don’t have peace? Is it really just the settlements? Is it really just Bibi? Is it really just the Israeli Right wing or are there other elements?

Yossi mentioned something that I need to reiterate even if we are pressed for time because this is so important. The Europeans always complained, “We are payers but we are not players.” But the main reason the Europeans are not players is that they refused to touch the Palestinian ball. This is where they have potentially the most leverage. The EU is the Palestinians’ most important financial supporters, most important diplomatic supporters, but they refuse to use any of that leverage in order to steer the Palestinian government and society in a more constructive direction. The whole thing is viewed as a zero-sum game. If I criticize a Palestinian, somehow that’s anti Palestinian, and somehow also in the minds of many Europeans that’s against peace. But the prime example really is the salaries paid by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists. Seven percent of the budget that – 60 percent depends on foreign donations. That is not only a crime against Israelis by encouraging terrorism. It’s a crime against the Palestinians, depriving seven percent of scarce resources. It’s impossible in my view to imagine a policy more at odds with stated EU values and ideas and the stated goal of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and yet it is even equally impossible to find public condemnation of this policy, let alone real concrete efforts to put an end to it. The Europeans have a serious problem with settlements.  They have devised serious policies in order to counter it, labeling the EU guidelines to name just the two prominent cases. Name me one concrete policy designed to really address this issue. This is just unconscionable. It’s impossible, in my view, to explain, let alone justify it. It feeds Israeli suspicions about the EU. It makes it very easy for Israelis to dismiss all criticism of Europeans because they can just point to these and other policies and say, “Look how one-sided they are.” So it deprives actually Europe of any real influence, also in Israeli society, and it is ultimately not in the interest of the Palestinians. It’s against the interests of Palestinian peace and the EU-Israel relationship.

So let me conclude here because I know we are a pressed for time. The moment we see in Europe such a real evidence-based review of their foreign policy, and that doesn’t mean simply accepting everything Israelis say. It doesn’t mean accepting settlements, but really looking equally hard at the obstacles on the other side of the equation and finding real concrete policies. You see responses. Whether it will succeed, I don’t know, but at least give it a good college effort to address those aspects of the problem.  That day will be, I think, where we may have again a greater hope for a resolution of the or at least progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that may be also the day when we will stop asking whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Europe takes the liberty of not just taking positions but exerting tremendous influence that is vital to Israel’s security, from Iran, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to how it should defend itself properly or not properly. Israel is not putting out statements and pushing for resolutions on whether or not Belgian fighter jets may have bombed the wrong target and possibly committed a war crime, or whether French intervention in Mali is a violation of international law, or whether the emergency legislation in France after the terror attacks is in line with international human rights, and whether administrative detentions, and it’s not calling for independent investigations into all sorts of military intervention that Europeans are now actually also participating in. There are reports of French and British kill lists in Syria and Iraq, of extraterritorial, extrajudicial executions as Europeans called that when Israel did it, but in this case of supposedly French and British citizens, and they’re not very eager to take back their own citizens of foreign fighters. Is that in line with international human rights? On all these positions, Israel is not taking part, is not criticizing. When Yossi said we all have the same values, but we are interpreting them differently, well we used to interpret them differently because moral man is tested in immoral times, and Israel had the unfortunate luck to be born in and to have been living some very immoral times, and I think it has done pretty well. Post-war Europe had the great luck and fortune, and I benefit from it, to have lived and to continue largely live in peaceful times. But as soon as times are not so peaceful, Europeans are also confronted with some very harsh choices, and they are not always in accordance with what the same NGOs that the Europeans support when encamp comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are thinking about European policies.

Take the positions now on immigrants and what should be done, and so forth. So I think taking a step back, being a little bit more humble, but also realizing that the entire framework is completely one-sided. So there’s nothing Israel could do. It couldn’t stop it. There’s nothing Israel needs to stop doing to harm Europe. It’s all about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and so therefore I would hope that and I agree Europe because this whole was focused on the EU in a relationship. It sounded like we may have inadvertently inflated the importance and the centrality of Europe. Of course, it’s not the only obstacle and it’s not mainly an obstacle, but there are policies and in our humble view are obstacles despite the good intentions everybody has. Nobody is suggesting that the Europeans are actively trying to complicate things, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I think it’s important for everybody to take a step back and review their policies, and I believe that’s really, really missing, not just on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but because of the structure of the EU that’s very difficult. It’s the acquis, that’s our position. We can’t change it. Whether it’s right or wrong, whether 20 years here, maybe we’ve come to the wrong conclusion 20 years ago. But now we have unanimity. We can’t change it but we still need to find a way to get around it.