by Esther Yen
Israel may not be a part of Europe, but as important participant and active collaborator and contributor it certainly has its special relationship with this continent. With this thesis Prof. Shai Arkin opened the roundtable titled, “Carrots, Sticks and EU-Israel Relations”. The rewards and punishments of this relationship were discussed in the Truman Research Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at a panel discussion hosted by the Department of International Relations and the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israeli Association for the Study of European Integration (IASEI) and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel (FES).
The audience was greeted by the Vice President for Research and Development of the university, by Dr. Tal Safeh, Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University and also co-president of IASEI and by Dr. Werner Puschra, director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel. The roundtable was moderated by Prof. Guy Harpaz from the Law Faculty and Department of International Relations at Hebrew University, with the participation of Amb. Lars-Faaborg-Andersen, Head of the European Union Delegation to the State of Israel, MP Achim Post, Member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag and Secretary General of PES, the Party of European Socialists and Prof. Alfred Tovias from Department of International Relations, Hebrew University and Co-President of the IASEI.
Examining the topic from three different perspectives
During the first part of the event each participant had the opportunity to state their view on the title and topic. Amb. Lars Faaborg-Andersen commented that the roundtable’s title is not fitting for the harmonious and consensual relationship between EU and Israel, which he views as “the strongest relationship with any third (non-European) country in the world”. Still, he points towards areas of difference being the EU’s full support of the two-state solution and its will to push against any steps by either party, both Palestinians and Israelis, that undermine a solution, most especially the settlements of the last five, six years. Finally he defines this difference as one between different policies, instead of as a stick, and instead points out the EU’s possible willingness of even offering future full membership for Israel and Palestine as “the most beautiful carrot”.
EU Envoy to Israel Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson. Photo: Moti Milrod
MP Achim Post pointed out two problems in the relations, the lack of European public interest in Israel and the lack of involvement. During the last summer especially Europe was not only focused on the conflict in Ukraine, but was also occupied with the rise of right-wing xenophobic forces. Furthermore, Germany as Europe’s biggest leader faces the danger of being isolated within the EU due to its opposition to the recognition of Palestine. Still, he emphasized his hopes for a change in the upcoming Israeli elections and closed his statement with the positive conclusion, that despite all problems, the relationship is a long and successful one in not only trade and science, but also politically, evidenced by the joint efforts of fighting against terrorism and anti-Semitism.
German MP Achim Post.
Prof. Alfred Tovias said that the partnership between Israel and the EU being long-term and trusted is a well-known fact, but that there are three obstacles right now. Firstly, he mentioned the process of losing the European public opinion, with the Holocaust becoming less significant for the younger generation. Additionally he pointed out the critique of the occupation and the European point of view of seeing an occupation as a paradox for a democratic state. Lastly, public opinion is in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state. Therefore Prof. Tovias anticipates sanctions of the EU in order to bring about a change. He suggested that there will be boycotts by the public, rather than governments, and opposes anyone who wants to demonize these groups, calling for thinking before speaking.
Professor Alfred Tovias who convened the panel on the occasion of his retirement. Photo: ynet
Challenging the panelists
Prof. Harpaz asked each of the participants two questions. Amb. Lars Faaborg-Andersen was asked to defend the EU’s position towards the proposed Association Agreement with Israel not being a sanction and towards the position of settlements being illegal. The Ambassador said that the growth of the BDS movement is evidence of the public’s attitude towards the current situation in Europe. He then criticized the Israeli government its settlement policy, and said that the policy of the EU is not one of boycott and isolation except towards settlements. He explicitly emphasized that the EU does not want to punish settlers, since they “do not go after individuals, but after policies”.
MP Achim Post was asked whether the gap between the German leadership and the society’s view on Israel can be maintained. Furthermore there is the question of how Germany can claim to be a loyal friend of Israel while comments about the situation in Palestine being compared to the Holocaust and calls to remove the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization go unchallenged by the German government.
Being criticized that harshly, Post saw the need to explain the complexity of German society being not as homogenous as implied by the critique. Since the West Germans were considered responsible for the Holocaust according to East German/Soviet propaganda, this already led to two different views after the unification. Furthermore Germany is a country with a strong immigration, 18 million of 80 million citizens have immigration background. They ask “Why should they be responsible?” Recent polls claim, that only 35% of Germans feel responsible for Israel.. Regarding Hamas, Post stated that is the responsibility of the European Parliament, and we are waiting to see what the ICC rules on the eligibility of Palestine to bring charges before the court.
Prof. Tovias was asked to what degree he considers Israeli society to be European. His response was that a differentiation should be made between the center and the periphery. In the center, people are more aware of the outside world and the Israeli-European relationship. People living in the periphery think they are dependent on the national centers, giving Tel Aviv and Haifa an overwhelming weight. Therefore he concludes that Israeli society is more globalized rather than Europeanized.
Questions from the Audience
During the last part of the event, there was time for questions from the audience. Amb. Lars Faaborg-Andersen was challenged by some members of the audience. As a representative of the EU he was accused of a double standard, not focusing enough on other bloody conflicts and the fact, that the the Venice Declaration of 1980 happened long ago. The Ambassador emphasized the fact that the Venice Declaration was the first official support for the two-state solution and any cooperation with the EU will always also be based upon common values. “The EU is a normative power and force, the only way to reach sustainable peace is through values,” he said. Another challenge from the audience was that the EU does not try to use its influence to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially in comparison with the U.S. The Ambassador responded that the EU tries to develop neighborly relations in the region, though he admitted that it is hard to overcome the unwillingness on both sides, and that the problematic results of the Arab Spring have to be taken into account, with Jordan and Egypt being exceptions. When asked about where the EU stands on the fact that Palestine has joined the ICC, Amb. Lars Faaborg-Andersen pointed out that the ICC is an independent body that makes its own decisions.
The roundtable closed with a statement by MP Achim Post. He said that “The EU is the success story. Who would have believed that only 70 years after World War II, 28 nations are working together with Germany? Willy Brandt’s policy of ostpolitik has been realized, via small, pragmatic steps.”