Looking back - Israel and the EU


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To mark the beginning of a new academic year, Dr. Sharon Pardo, a Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies and the co-author of Uneasy Neighbors: Israel and the European Union, has written a short article for Europe in Israel – a FB special. Click on "full screen" (on the lower right hand side) to read:
Note: the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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Looking back - Israel and the EU

  1. 1. Looking Back: Israel and the European UnionSharon Pardo* Israel’s relations with the EU stretch back to the early days of the Communityand the signing of the treaty of Rome in 1957. In April 1958 it became the thirdcountry, after Greece and the United States, to request the establishment of adiplomatic mission in Brussels, the “capital” of the newly established EuropeanEconomic Communities (EEC). In February 1959, Israel and the EEC formallyestablished full diplomatic relations. From that point, Israel and Europe havedeveloped an increasingly strong network of political, economic, scientific andcultural ties. Those relations have, however, consisted of a number of conflictingtrends. A thriving economic partnership, the EU has become Israel’s most importanttrading partner (total trade value in 2010 surpassed €20 billion). But the relationshipat the political level has been marked by disappointment, frustration and, at times,anger. The ties between Israel and Europe go beyond simply a matter of trade andscientific cooperation. Israelis are attracted to European history, tradition, lifestyleand culture and attach importance to the cultural and sporting links with Europe.Europe and its cities have become a favored destination for Israeli holidaymakers.With the 2005 and 2007 eastern enlargements of the EU, about 40 percent of Israelisare identified as eligible for EU citizenship, and many are taking up the newopportunity afforded to them. From the outset, Israel has displayed a genuine desire to strengthen its tieswith Europe and to be included as part of the European integration project. Today,there is widespread support, cutting across party lines, for developing closer ties withthe EU. Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s foreign minister, has often referred to thenecessity of Israel joining NATO and entering the EU. As foreign minister in theOlmert government, Tzipi Livni, was the driving force behind Israel’s push forupgrading ties with the EU in 2008. And Binyamin Netanyahu, who as prime ministerin 1999 had denounced European leaders for their support of Palestinian statehood inthe Berlin declaration, has suggested in the past that Israel should consider linking itseconomic future to the Eurozone. Such support is not confined to political elites. According to the Pardo 2011national survey of Israelis attitudes toward the EU and its member states, 45 percent
  2. 2. of Israelis hold a favorable view of the EU. Even more surprising is the large numberof Israelis who support the idea of Israel joining the EU. An overwhelming majorityof 81 percent of the Israeli public either “strongly supported” or “somewhatsupported” the idea of an Israeli accession to the EU. Statements by Israeli and European leaders have placed great emphasis on thedepth of the friendship between their countries, frequently referring to their sharedheritage, culture and values, and their common strategic interests. EU leaders havetalked of their desire to develop a “special relationship” with Israel and to affordIsrael a separate standing from other countries in the Middle East. This has led to aseries of diplomatic initiatives over the years aimed at putting substance to thosesentiments. At the 1994 Essen European Council meeting, European leadersdetermined that Israel should be granted a “special status” in its relations with the EU,though both EU and Israel have not given much thought since that point to what sucha status might entail in practice. More recently, in November 2003, the EU announcedthat upgrading relations with Israel would be a priority within the framework of itsEuropean Neighborhood Policy. And in June 2008, Europe’s leaders agreed to worktowards upgrading Israel’s formal standing with the EU, though discussions on theformal upgrade of relations have been suspended since the launching of operationCast Lead at the end of that year. Without question, it is the differences over the resolution of the Arab-Israeliconflict that have most soured relations. Those differences have brought Israel andEurope to loggerheads over the years and to periodic crises in their relationship. Thedesire of EU member states to carve out a distinct and common stance towards theMiddle East, independent of the superpowers, and to promote a collective role inbringing about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, can be tracedback to the early 1970s. Member states saw the Middle East as a region ripe for EUpolicy coordination, and efforts to draw up of a common set of principles towards theArab-Israeli conflict comprised a central feature during the initial years of EuropeanPolitical Cooperation (EPC). One of the first key official declarations on the Arab-Israeli conflict wasissued on 6 November 1973 in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. The declarationcalled on Israel to end its occupation of Arab land and underlined that the legitimaterights of the Palestinians needed to be taken into account in any settlement of theconflict. Subsequent statements and declarations, most notably the Venice declaration
  3. 3. of June 1980 and the Berlin declaration of March 1999, expressed growing support forPalestinian self-determination and statehood. EU member states have been united intheir condemnation of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza andIsrael’s annexation of east Jerusalem. They have been equally critical of Israeliactions in the occupied territories and by what they perceive as Israel’s overrelianceand, at times, the disproportionate use of military force to ensure its security.European leaders and civil society have been frustrated by the lack of progress in thepeace process. They have been resentful of the way in which Israel has marginalizedthe EU’s role and deny it any direct involvement in the negotiations with thePalestinians. Israel’s reaction to European positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict has beenharsh and uncompromising, oft-times evoking memories from the Shoah and theJewish experience in Europe. Its retort to the November 1973 declaration set the tonefor subsequent Israeli responses to future European initiatives and statements. Israeliforeign minister Abba Eban famously derided the declaration as “oil for Europe” not“peace in the Middle East” and bluntly informed the Europeans that if they wanted tocontribute to a negotiated settlement they should refrain from issuing suchdeclarations in the future. Europe’s positioning on the conflict has been viewed byIsrael as reflecting a long-held bias for the Arab world and an underlying Europeanantipathy to Israel’s security concerns. In particular, Israel has accused the EU offailing to acknowledge the policy dilemmas it faces in trying to protect its citizensfrom Palestinian terrorism and not recognizing fully Israel’s hostile strategicenvironment, the nature of the short- and long-term threats it faces, and the measuresneeded in order to counter those threats. Many of the exchanges between Israel and EU on the peace process haveconsisted of finger-pointing and apportioning blame rather than finding areas ofcommon ground. The discourse often appears to be more intent of addressingunfinished business from the past, ignoring the substantive links of trust that havebeen built up within European and Israeli civil society, business, academic, scientificand security circles. Until it is resolved, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continueto have a determining effect on the nature and the future direction of Israel’s relationswith the EU.*Sharon Pardo is a Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies and the co-author, with Joel
  4. 4. Peters, of Uneasy Neighbors: Israel and the European Union (Lexington Books, 2010).Pardos and Peters new book, Israel and the European Union: A Documentary History(Lexington Books, 2012) will be published in December 2011.