ViewPoint: EU: Proactive, pro-Israel, pro-peace

The EU maintains unparalleled intimate relations, based on shared challenges, values and interests with Israel.

EU: Proactive, pro-Israel, pro-peace (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
EU: Proactive, pro-Israel, pro-peace
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
It is no secret that EU-Israel relations have been strained in recent months. Charges made in Israel against the EU have included its alleged obsession with singling out Israel for criticism on settlement building, its alleged attempts to predetermine Israel’s borders and, perhaps most serious of all, its supposed irrelevance.
Much of the comment on our relations has been based on misperceptions or inaccurate information, so, as EU ambassador-designate to Israel, I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight.
First, let’s take a snapshot of our relations today. Successive EUIsrael agreements coupled with Israeli participation in many EU programs and projects mean that the EU has established a set of relations with Israel that is unparalleled outside of Europe.
Here are just a few examples of what this means in practice: some 30 billion euros per year in trade between Israel and an EU single market of 500 million consumers; visa-free travel for Israelis to Europe and soon, thanks to our “open skies” agreement, cheaper flights too; thousands of talented Israeli scientists involved in hundreds of joint research projects under Israel’s unique participation in EU research programs; cooperation in rural development, energy, statistics, higher education, the battle against anti-Semitism and more.
The EU “irrelevant” to Israel? Hardly. Intimate relations, based on shared challenges, values and interests? Definitely.
But what about the EU’s insistent support for a two-state solution and its criticism of settlement building, simplistically misconstrued as “pro-Palestinian”? Indeed, the EU, as Israel’s friend and close neighbor, has many reasons to want progress in the peace process. Not least because without permanent and recognized borders it is hard to see how Israel can achieve its aspiration to flourish as a Jewish and democratic state.
And certainly because we believe that, ultimately, the establishment of a democratic, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace with Israel is the best possible guarantor of Israel’s security – not to mention the most effective weapon against those who would delegitimize it. Hence the EU’s investment in responsible Palestinian state-building – for example by working with the PA to create professional Palestinian institutions or an effective police force – while listing as terrorists organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The EU, like the United States, takes a critical position on settlements, first because international law deems them illegal, but also because they undermine negotiations and raise troubling questions as to Israel’s good faith. Hence, as the settlement enterprise has expanded, so has Europe’s determination not to support it with EU funds.
Consequently, it should not have come as a surprise when all EU Member State foreign ministers and the European Parliament called on the European Commission to explicitly ensure that EU agreements with Israel do not apply to the areas that came under Israeli administration in June 1967. Actually, since they only codify longstanding practice, the commission’s funding guidelines will have minimal impact on EU funding in Israel. Nor will they determine Israel’s final borders. Only the parties can do that.
While sometimes accused of having little regard for Israel’s security, it is important to point out that the EU is not exactly sitting idly by when it comes to confronting the turbulence affecting the region. Witness the crucial impact of EU sanctions on Iran and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton’s leading role in the negotiations to ensure that that Iran cannot be allowed to have a military nuclear program. Look at the massive EU humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and the EU’s efforts for stability in Egypt.
At the same time, while some argue that the present volatility in the region militates against resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU shares the belief that there is no better time than the present. While deeply aware of the challenges and sacrifices involved in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are no less conscious of the potentially disastrous consequences – for both sides – if this vital opportunity is lost.
EU policy therefore reflects a deep and close friendship with Israel along with respect for international law and strong support for a viable, negotiated two-state solution that, among other benefits, would finally provide Israel with fully recognized borders.
If this is the EU’s crime, we plead guilty.
Danish diplomat Lars Faaborg-Andersen is the EU Ambassadordesignate to Israel.