Europe is wait­ing

Isaac Her­zog writes an out­line to upgrade Is­rael’s ties with Europe

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By ISAAC HER­ZOG (Reuters)

As Is­raelis we of­ten suf­fer from a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with Europe. Our demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has ab­sorbed the best of Euro­pean val­ues and cul­ture and we en­joy eco­nomic, sci­en­tific and strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion. But al­ways etched in our mem­ory is the dark his­tory of the Holo­caust and of an­ti­semitic per­se­cu­tion, and we are frus­trated when Euro­peans do not rec­og­nize our le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity in­ter­ests, and when they side with the Pales­tini­ans against us.

But right now, a unique win­dow of op­por­tu­nity has opened for Is­rael to upgrade our re­la­tion­ship with Europe, on a strate­gic level that will en­hance our se­cu­rity and econ­omy for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Un­for­tu­nately, Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu risks miss­ing this op­por­tu­nity with Europe. Plans to upgrade EU-Is­rael re­la­tions have been frozen since Ne­tanyahu came into of­fice as prime min­is­ter in 2009, due to the on­go­ing ero­sion in Europe’s per­cep­tion of his com­mit­ment to a two-state so­lu­tion.

For sure, much of the blame for the on­go­ing dead­lock be­tween us and the Pales­tini­ans lies with Pales­tinian re­jec­tion­ism, stub­born­ness, in­ter­nal frag­men­ta­tion and their con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence and in­cite­ment. We can­not peace­fully re­solve the con­flict on our own. But Europe, and es­pe­cially its lead­ing pow­ers, want to see at least that we are se­ri­ous about reach­ing a so­lu­tion to the con­flict, whether grad­u­ally, or through an in­ten­sive ef­fort.

The prob­lem is, the ones pay­ing the price for the stale­mate in our re­la­tions with Europe are first and fore­most the cit­i­zens of Is­rael. We need to en­ter into a far-reach­ing di­a­logue with Europe. The EU faces un­prece­dented chal­lenges in an un­sta­ble and un­pre­dictable in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment. Against that back­drop, we have a lot to of­fer, and a huge amount to gain.

With many Euro­pean economies strug­gling with low growth and high un­em­ploy­ment, Is­rael’s dy­namic and en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy makes for an at­trac­tive part­ner. With Europe fac­ing un­prece­dented in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity threats, Is­rael can bring highly val­ued tech­no­log­i­cal, se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence knowhow. With Europe’s sta­bil­ity di­rectly af­fected by the tur­bu­lent events in the Mid­dle East, Is­rael is an im­por­tant strate­gic ally. We even of­fer an in­valu­able al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source – in the form of nat­u­ral gas – for a con­ti­nent keen to diver­sify its en­ergy sources. Now more than ever, the chaos in our re­gion, which is felt di­rectly in Europe, un­der­lines the val­ues we share with the West.

This, there­fore, is ex­actly the right mo­ment for a re­spon­si­ble and clear-sighted Is­raeli lead­er­ship to en­ter into an in­ten­sive di­a­logue with EU lead­ers aimed at broad­en­ing our co­op­er­a­tion and deep­en­ing Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal sup­port for Is­rael.

The agenda for up­grad­ing our re­la­tions with Europe will nec­es­sar­ily con­tain a long and sig­nif­i­cant list of is­sues, in­clud­ing block­ing anti-Is­rael moves by the Pales­tini­ans at the UN, de­vel­op­ing a joint strat­egy to dis­man­tle the BDS move­ment and se­cur­ing Euro­pean sup­port for our le­git­i­mate de­mands re­gard­ing the two-state so­lu­tion. Among these de­mands are recog­ni­tion of Is­rael as the na­tion state of the Jewish peo­ple, the set­tle­ment blocks, and of course Is­rael’s se­cu­rity de­mands – at the core of which is en­sur­ing a long-term Is­raeli pres­ence in the Jor­dan Val­ley. Now more than ever Euro­peans are likely to rec­og­nize the dan­ger of a po­ten­tial se­cu­rity vac­uum from the East, and will want to upgrade co­op­er­a­tion with us in the bat­tles against crime and ter­ror­ism. At the same time, we should be build­ing a uni­fied front against Sunni Ji­hadist forces and the rad­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties of Iran in our re­gion.

On the eco­nomic level, we should strive to­gether to upgrade our re­la­tions by pro­vid­ing greater ac­cess for the Is­raeli econ­omy to the Euro­pean mar­ket and deep­en­ing our co­op­er­a­tion in the fields of health, ed­u­ca­tion, science, re­search and en­ergy, in ways that will im­prove the lives and op­por­tu­ni­ties of ev­ery Is­raeli.

We should be con­struct­ing a fu­ture in which Is­rael sits at the heart of se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Europe and mod­er­ate Arab states, con­fronting the shared threat of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism. We should as­pire to a fu­ture in which we en­joy a piv­otal eco­nomic role as a state with ex­cep­tional lev­els of in­te­gra­tion with the EU and ever-in­creas­ing eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with our neigh­bors – the mod­er­ate Arab states, es­pe­cially as the Arab world is chang­ing be­fore our eyes, with a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers pre­pared to co­op­er­ate with Is­rael.

To seize this op­por­tu­nity, we need a di­plo­matic process. This does not mean we have to reach a per­ma­nent agree­ment to our con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans to­mor­row. Euro­pean lead­ers are aware that the Pales­tini­ans are gripped by chaos, in the midst of a tough in­ter­nal dis­pute, and of their re­spon­si­bil­ity for the sit­u­a­tion. But we can show we are se­ri­ous about a two-state so­lu­tion by lay­ing out a cred­i­ble, long-term Is­raeli plan to move in stages to­wards a two-state goal, in­clud­ing an ini­tia­tive to launch re­gional ne­go­ti­a­tions based on the prin­ci­ples of the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive, and con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures in the di­rec­tion of sep­a­rat­ing from the Pales­tini­ans.

All our ad­van­tages – our ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion; our de­vel­oped and en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy; our high level of eco­nomic and cul­tural in­te­gra­tion with Europe; our spe­cial eco­nomic and se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship with the US; and our large Arab-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion – give Is­rael the po­ten­tial to be­come a piv­otal state be­tween Europe and the Mid­dle East. Add to this our flour­ish­ing eco­nomic re­la­tions with China and In­dia and it be­comes clear that Is­rael can en­joy the best of all worlds.

If we miss this win­dow, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Is­raelis will pay the price. De­mo­graphic trends in Europe are work­ing against us. The younger gen­er­a­tion in lead­ing Western Euro­pean states is less fa­vor­able to­wards Is­rael. The mem­ory of the Holo­caust and its les­sons are less prom­i­nent with the pas­sage of time and the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in Europe is grow­ing. Do­mes­tic pres­sure in Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal sys­tems is li­able to push to­ward the iso­la­tion of Is­rael if we do not act now.

The proof of this, as men­tioned, is that since 2009, for eight years now, Is­rael has suf­fered from a pro­longed stand­still in de­vel­op­ing the wider strate­gic frame­work of its re­la­tions with Europe.

So here is the op­por­tu­nity. The po­ten­tial is great. We must read the map and ad­vance in­stead of ar­gu­ing. We must move with courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion, be­cause Europe is in­deed wait­ing for us.

The writer is leader of the op­po­si­tion and an MK for the Zion­ist Union and La­bor Party.

FRENCH PRES­I­DENT Em­manuel Macron es­corts Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu after their meet­ing at the El­y­see Palace in Paris in July.

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