EU-Israel ties in 2018 – managing expectations

A US that is looking inward is not good news for any peace-and freedom-seeking democracy in the world.

THE NEW normal. German soldiers stand guard next to Israeli, German and EU flags at the Chancellery in Berlin in 2012. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE NEW normal. German soldiers stand guard next to Israeli, German and EU flags at the Chancellery in Berlin in 2012.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a lifelong advocate for closer strategic ties between Europe and Israel, and for mutual investment in developing these relations, I acknowledge that now is not the time. Stepping into 2018, Israel and its allies should lower expectations regarding what the EU can currently provide to secure Israel in a more peaceful Middle East.
After two decades in the service to this cause, building and leading organizations to promote closer EU-Israel ties, I admit the present circumstances are not encouraging. At the moment, the EU and Israel have nowhere further to go.
Invited to assist in planning a large, public pan-European gathering in Hamburg, Germany, scheduled for February 2018, I was confronted headon with a reality I had already sensed from afar – a European elite that has grown tired of the European project and lost faith in it. “Everything is amazing but nobody is happy” was a prevalent sentiment. The question, “Is the EU a blessing or a curse for our children?” was repeated and reiterated.
And this comes from a select audience of well-educated Europhiles, not from the growing, popular Eurosceptic movement currently engulfing increasingly larger parts of Europe.
Although I believe Europe will overcome its current crisis, it will take time.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is weaker than ever after disappointing election results. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s crumbling government and tragic Brexit keep her deeply entrenched at home. French President Emmanuel Macron, as I predicted immediately after his election, is not at all interested in playing a greater role outside Europe, let alone helping Israel.
Other, smaller, but still significant countries leading the EU are not faring better – Spain is torn inwardly, unavailable to attend to any Middle East shenanigans in the foreseeable future. Poland, an outcast in the EU, and with good reason, evades responsibility for the Holocaust – not a good starting point for helping the Jewish state. Italy awaits elections after which it will not be more available for external dealings.
US President Donald Trump’s conduct leaves very little room, if any, for EU maneuvering or motivation to act in the region. One prominent example would be the alarming European reaction to Trump’s statement of recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. More than anything, it demonstrated EU paralysis and frustration. It by no means led to a significant policy shift toward a more constructive or active European role in the Middle East.
More importantly, a US that is looking inward is not good news for any peace-and freedom-seeking democracy in the world. Europe and Israel are not excluded. It is now harder to imagine joint American-European efforts to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and anyone who has ever dealt with such efforts appreciates that such a partnership is necessary.
At the pre-conference I attended in Hamburg in preparation for the large pan-European event in February, some people suggested a controversial headline: “Imagine the world without Europe.” I told them that the Netanyahu government already perceives reality that way. The first visit in over 20 years by an Israeli prime minister to Brussels, an event for which I was a vigorous advocate in the past, couldn’t have been conducted less effectively or in a less forward-looking manner.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snuck in the back door and did not propose a role for Europe, or specify a vision for the future. Instead, his visit added to Europe’s frustration and disbelief with him and his policies.
When Ze’ev Jabotinsky, one of the fathers of revisionist Zionism, said clearly, “We are of Europe,” he articulated a sentiment still shared by many Israelis in their core values, referring to and aligned with mainstream, liberal and progressive Europe. Jabotinsky did not mean such radicals as those currently leading Hungary, Slovakia, Poland or the Czech Republic.
In the coming year the EU will not admit new members. It will look inwardly to survive, heal wounds and integrate new populations.
Israel and its allies, as well as organizations such as those I created across Europe in the past decade, will become obsolete unless they manage to reach top leadership and shift gears in Europe. Others will be merely preaching to the choir, selling their “feel good” events and atmosphere to those interested. Not very encouraging indeed.
Supporters of Israel ought to hold tight and wait patiently for better times: maintain and develop deep contact with the mainstream, coalition and opposition in Israel, the PA and Europe, and spend funding and energy only on constructive moves that unite rather than further divide and separate Israel, the Palestinians and Europe.