In the shadow of the Goldstone Report and concerns about how Israel is perceived overseas, the Knesset and members of an EU delegation laid the groundwork Wednesday for a partnership to improve ties between Israel and Europe.
Three representatives of the EU parliament's permanent delegation for relations with Israel - the chairman and two vice-chairmen - met with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Kadima MKs Yohanan Plessner and Nahman Shai to formulate a work plan.
"The EU representatives see themselves as responsible for learning the issues facing Israel and conveying them back to the EU parliament," said Shai. "The discussion was very encouraging in light of the currently prevailing world sentiment regarding Israel."
The EU representatives and the Knesset members decided, according to Plessner, to tackle two main issues: promoting cooperation in fields such as science, technology and finance, and addressing political and diplomatic questions. First, said Plessner, who is in charge of coordinating Knesset relations with overseas parliamentary groups, the EU delegation will work with its Knesset counterpart to examine "the challenge of dilemmas of human rights that emerge from the need to fight against terror."
"One of the derivatives of the debate is the Goldstone Report," explained Plessner. "The EU representatives understand that there is a need to raise to public discourse the questions of norms of modern warfare, and the fact that current norms maintained by international courts and world bodies are incompatible with the needs of democracies to fight and defeat terrorism."
He added that "the EU delegation members are beginning to learn about the issue, studying the security challenges and international legal perspectives to come up with practical steps that can be taken."
Plessner said that when the entire 22-delegation came to Israel in February, their Knesset counterparts would hold a full program devoted to that issue.
"Hopefully, at that meeting, we will discuss legal and security aspects of how the defense environment has changed, and finally, based on that, we will develop a work plan of how to raise awareness of the issue in European discourse as well as placing it on the agenda of the EU parliament," he said.
The current EU delegation was appointed following the recent EU elections, and will serve until 2014.
Previous delegations, said Plessner, had "more superficial relations," but the Kadima MK said he had taken the initiative to improve the level of relations between the Knesset and other parliamentary groups. Rivlin, he said, was a strong supporter of the concept of parliamentary diplomacy, and had "made himself completely available and backed me up fully" in efforts to establish such relations.
With the support of Rivlin, the Knesset has begun appointing official chairpeople to coordinate ties with parliamentary bodies. Shai, for instance, will coordinate the interaction between the EU delegation and a parallel group within the Knesset. MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) will coordinate similar efforts with the NATO parliamentary organization, and other MKs from Kadima, Labor and Israel Beiteinu will perform like roles.
"I don't take anything for granted," said Shai. "It isn't sufficient just to say that because people support us, we don't need to work with them as part of our public diplomacy. Sometimes the fact that people are our friends doesn't mean that they don't have hard questions for us that they need answered."
One of Israel's greatest challenges, even among its supporters, is "convincing our friends that we are promoting peace," said Shai.
"As Kadima MKs, we may have political differences with the Likud, but even Likud members want peace. Somehow, instead, we are being portrayed as an obstacle to peace, which is one of the worst things I have encountered in a long time," he added.