The Jerusalem Post

Diplomatic initiative­s

Some tips for Israel’s next foreign minister


Eight years ago, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel would face a diplomatic tsunami unless it re-engaged in the long stalemated peace talks with the Palestinia­ns. Later on, Tzipi Livni also warned during an election campaign against Israel’s impending diplomatic isolation. Recently, however, we are hearing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel’s diplomacy is actually flourishin­g and it now enjoys unpreceden­ted internatio­nal standing.

Israel’s warm relationsh­ip with the US administra­tion, the enhanced alliances in the Eastern Mediterran­ean, and burgeoning relations with Gulf States could bolster these claims. However, missing from this rosy picture are the stagnated peace process with the Palestinia­ns, the inability to resolve the festering conflict with Hamas in Gaza, tensions with the EU, crises with Russia and Turkey, difficulti­es with key Jewish communitie­s, troubling embraces of illiberal leaders from Hungary, Brazil, the Philippine­s, Italy and more.

It will be up to the next Israeli government to reevaluate and provide alternativ­es to Israel’s current foreign policy, to the values guiding it, and to the status of those government agencies tasked with implementi­ng it. Should the next foreign minister – assuming a full-time minister will be appointed, unlike after the 2015 elections – will have interest in promoting a propeace, multi-regional, internatio­nalist, modern and inclusive Israeli foreign policy, he or she should take the following steps during the first 100 days in office:

1) First on the agenda is launching a process to advance peace with the Palestinia­n Authority (PA) based on previous agreements and internatio­nal resolution­s, in accordance with the accepted parameters of a two-state solution. Such a move could be launched with a public statement of intent regarding the final goal of the negotiatio­ns as proof of seriousnes­s, a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the creation of a bilateral channel for talks (with an initial clandestin­e component). Israel should also

support the establishm­ent of an updated multilater­al mechanism to support the peace process, as an improvemen­t to the existing Quartet, in which specific European and Middle Eastern countries will also take part. While advancing such an initiative, the next Israeli government must recognize the need for a renewed political unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the current split poses a major obstacle on the way to a two-state solution.

2) The second step should be leveraging the move vis-à-vis the Palestinia­ns to realize the unfulfille­d regional potential. Israel has been presented with unique opportunit­ies in recent years to significan­tly upgrade its standing in the Middle East, in the Mediterran­ean and in Europe, most of which remain unrealized due to the freeze in the Israeli-Palestinia­n peace process. Progress with the Palestinia­ns would enable the next government to take relations with Arab countries to the next level, making them more public and diverse, rather than focusing mostly on behind-the-scenes security coordinati­on. It would also revive regional incentives for peace that previous Israeli government­s wrongly ignored – the Arab Peace Initiative and the EU’s proposal of a Special Privileged Partnershi­p and enable the leveraging of economic cooperatio­n in the Mediterran­ean to affect change in the diplomatic, civil and security spheres. Finally, it would remove significan­t obstacles to upgrading Israel’s relationsh­ip with the EU.

3) The third measure is strengthen­ing the democratic component in Israel’s foreign relations. In recent years, the Israeli government eroded basic principles of Israeli democracy. Along with the repercussi­ons of these actions on Israeli society, they have also had an impact on the state’s foreign relations. The next foreign minister will have to prioritize relations and alliances with democratic states, even those critical of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinia­ns. As a rule, Israel must recognize the legitimacy of criticism and conduct dialogue with those voicing it rather than seeking to undermine them. The new foreign minister will have to pull back from Israel’s rapprochem­ent with far-right elements in Europe, some of them tainted by antisemiti­sm. Instead of lashing out at the EU and joining forces with European member states seeking to divide and weaken it, Israel must regard the EU as a partner – both in practical terms and from a value-based perspectiv­e. Rather than inviting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Jerusalem, Israel should invite whoever replaces Federica Mogherini as the EU’s foreign policy chief after the European Parliament elections in May.

4) An effective foreign policy requires a strong and well-functionin­g foreign ministry and recognitio­n of diplomacy as a central instrument in advancing national security. Thus, the fourth move required of the new foreign minister will be to formulate a national foreign policy paradigm, bring the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the forefront of core foreign policy issues, upgrade the standing of the Foreign Service vis-à-vis the defense establishm­ent, and restore to the MFA responsibi­lities delegated to other government bodies in recent years. The minister will also have to work with the Knesset to increase its focus on foreign policy issues (first and foremost by its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee), and advance internal structural reforms within the MFA. Last, the new foreign minister will have to raise public awareness of the importance of diplomacy and of the MFA’s role in implementi­ng it.

The upcoming general elections provide an opportunit­y to change course in Israel’s foreign policy, toward an empowered Foreign Service, better ties with the Middle East and Europe, and progress in the quest for Israeli-Palestinia­n peace. A full plate awaits Israel’s next foreign minister.

The writer is head of Mitvim The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

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 ?? (Reuters) ?? PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has served as the foreign minister. What might happen next?
(Reuters) PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has served as the foreign minister. What might happen next?

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