The elections in Israel are arousing great interest around the globe, including on the European continent. However, despite the fact that the European Union is an umbrella organization of all EU member states, it appears that on issues related to the Middle East in general and to Israel in particular, they do not hold a unified position. Thus, while a majority of EU member states wish to place more pressure on Israel, the Visegrad Group (V4) – which includes Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, countries that find themselves in disagreement with the EU regarding some foreign policy issues and regarding migration policy – aim to support Israel.
In fact, since 2017, the V4 and Israel have developed some shared views and values on international politics, and show a greater willingness to cooperate economically. Most importantly, the Visegrad Group states aligned themselves with Israeli viewpoints on issues such as migration, security, and threat perceptions, all of which are disputed within the EU.
There are two main issues concerning Israel that concern the EU: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program. Firstly, the EU has clear positions regarding a future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. On borders, the EU endorses that the future border between the sides will be based on the June 4, 1967, lines with equivalent land swaps as may be agreed between the parties. On refugees, the EU supports a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the refugee question. And on Jerusalem, the EU endorses the city as the future capital of both states.
In parallel, the EU has harshly criticized Israeli policy regarding the settlements. As recently as December – following rumors of the US administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the “Deal of the Century,” which according to publications tends to the Israeli side – eight prominent EU countries (Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Holland, Poland, Sweden and Belgium) warned US President Donald Trump that the plan must be based on the 1967 lines, or it would be destined for failure.
HOWEVER, while all EU states agree on the outline of a future agreement based on the two-state solution, they do not hold a unified opinion regarding some other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump administration’s decision to transfer the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and the recognition of the city as the capital of Israel, illustrated this very well. Thus, while most EU countries opposed the American move arguing that it would not contribute to stability in the region, the Czech Republic and Hungary supported the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Moreover, the aforementioned states together with Romania have also blocked a collective statement by the EU that would have expressed a serious concern over Trump’s move. Nevertheless, unlike the American administration that has a prominent role in endeavors to solve this conflict, European countries in general, and the EU in particular, have, in fact, very limited impact.
THE SECOND issue is Iran’s nuclear program, which is ultimately linked to the EU’s overall interests in the Middle East. In essence, the EU’s interests pertaining to Iran are mainly to maintain stability in the Persian Gulf region. This continues to be vitally important for global oil supplies and prices, and in diversifying EU energy supplies by increasing Iranian imports and reducing Europe’s significant energy dependence on Russia. In addition, in order to prevent further refugee movements toward Europe in the wake of instability and failing states, the EU wishes to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East, in which Iran plays a prominent role.
Again, the Visegrad states aligned themselves more with the Trump administration. Symbolically, this was represented by the recent Middle East conference in Warsaw, which received only very low key support from Western European countries, such as France, Germany and the UK. Poland, however, supported this initiative strongly, symbolized by its hosting of the event. Within major European capitals, this initiative was perceived as a continuation of Donald Rumsfeld’s famous “old Europe versus new Europe” distinction in the wake of the Iraq invasion of 2003.
In Israel, there is a conceptual difference between Netanyahu and Benny Gantz regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The former is more determined to reach a territorial compromise with the Palestinians, and if necessary, to conduct unilateral steps to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. However, there is a consensus between the two that Iran should not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.
As a result of their respective political views on the aforementioned significant issues, it appears that the EU, at least as far as Western Europe is concerned, would prefer the center-left Gantz to form the next Israeli government. Yet, despite the EU’s desire to be a central player in the Middle East region, any government in Israel established after the elections in April will recognize American superiority as the central player in the international arena.
Therefore, Israel will continue its policy, which politely ignores the recommendations of the EU – while it is perceived in Israel as a pro-Arab organization that does not fully understand Middle Eastern politics.
Christian Kaunert is a professor of policing and security, director of the International Center for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, and holds the Jean Monnet Chair of EU counter-terrorism.
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, a former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
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