Despite the resounding voices of the skeptics, 2013 showed that Israel has strategic partners in Europe. Alignments were illustrated by France’s tough stance on Iran; enhanced EU-Israeli economic ties, academic and scientific relations; and the re-election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany for a third term.
Traditional skeptics cite centuries-old distrust and demographic and economic realities; however as Israel embraces 2014, facts on the ground further emphasize the necessity, and potential to overcome the traditional misgivings about European-Israeli relations.
Perhaps the single most important geopolitical development of the past 12 months for Israel has been the Iranian diplomatic process. While the final agreement signed on November 23 remains problematic in many areas, France’s willingness to invest significant political capital in forcing Iran to clarify its nuclear program for non-military purposes only, improved the agreement.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saluted French President Francois Hollande on November 18 at the outset of his three-day visit to Israel, saying “Your support and your friendship is real. It’s sincere. You were one out of six” referring to the six world powers participating in talks with Iran. France publicly stated a view unwaveringly closer to Israel’s strategic interests, than its historical supporter, the United States.
In the economic realm, the past year saw Israel continue as a major consumer of European products. In the last decade alone since 2003, Israeli EU imports have increased by nearly 50 per cent. Little Israel now imports from Europe half as much as Australia and about 60 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s rate of importation. In 2012, Israel imported 46 per cent more from the EU than it exported back ($26.7 vs. $18.3 billion); and so enhanced trade between Israel and the EU is actually creating more jobs in Europe than in Israel.
Similarly in the academic and scientific field, 2013 saw Israel become the only non-European participant country in the Horizon 20/20 program. Israel will receive 500 million Euros over the next few years for scientific research and development. This result derives from Europe’s understanding that it has much to benefit from closer research and technological ties with innovative Israeli institutions and booming hi-tech industry.
Germany’s elections in September 2013 saw the re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel for her historic third term in office. Chancellor Merkel’s firm support of Israel is illustrated by Germany’s provision of subsidies of over one billion dollars for six second strike capable nuclear submarines. However, much work remains to ensure that the new German coalition and the 250 new members of the German parliament remain dedicated to enhancing strategic ties with Israel.
And finally to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – a movement that cannot be ignored despite indeterminate chances of success. Dormant now for three years, attempts are being made to renew partnerships toward a resolution of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. On the American side, US Secretary of State John Kerry has made no less than ten trips to the region in the past year and is pushing the US-authored “framework agreement”.
From the European angle, the European Union’s foreign ministers recently announced that the EU is ready to provide Israelis and Palestinians with “unprecedented” financial, political and security assistance, creating a “Special Privileged Partnership” with Israel and the future state of Palestine, if the parties reach a final peace agreement.
Although Europe has historically been portrayed as an unfair mediator, undoubtedly it has the capacity to play a role in the promotion of Israel’s strategic interests. In this sense, Europe is an important strategic partner for Israel. No doubt there are obvious issues that create obstacles for enhanced relations, however in acknowledging and understanding these issues as well as working with friendly factors in Europe, we can continue producing results on the ground.
Raanan Eliaz is the Co-Founder and Director General of ELNET, the European Leadership Network, an organization promoting closer relations between key European Countries and Israel. For more information about ELNET and its work visit www.elnetwork.eu