Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should visit Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.
America’s principal role in the Middle East has led to Israel’s dependence on her. The current global shift in power and the lack of political stability mean that Israel’s reliance on the United States has become unsustainable for Israel and a weighty burden on America – a burden which could be shared. The European Union (EU) is the only global force strong enough and with enough interests and influence in the Middle East, to partner with America and provide responsible leadership in this complex and fragmented region.
The EU should be a close natural ally of Israel. Although there are warm relationships between Israel and major European countries, ties between Israel and the EU itself are often characterized by mutual frustration and neglect. In fact, the last time that an Israeli head of government visited Brussels, the very heart of the EU, was in November 1995 when the then acting Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, visited shortly after the late PM Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination.
Historically, the considerable reticence on both sides to foster the relationship was not of major concern: the EU was a secondary player on the diplomatic stage and America’s support for Israel was bipartisan and unwavering.
However, today it is clear that Israel and Europe are paying a heavy price for this neglect. The current US administration is limiting American involvement in the Middle East and Israel seems to be losing some of America’s previously steadfast bipartisan support. It also seems that America’s affection for Israel is currently cooling off, much as Europe’s has done over the past forty to fifty years.
The recent conspicuous and dramatic shift in the division of labor between the EU and the US with regards to the Middle East is, in part, a result of these changes in attitude towards Israel as well as a broader American withdrawal from the region.
The EU has already taken significantly more responsibility than ever before on issues affecting Israel, including the monitoring of Iran’s implementation of the agreement, as well as its nuclear activities post-agreement. In addition, the EU’s Council of Ministers recently indicated its desire to revive the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, create a new framework which will add a number of Arab countries to the “Quartet” and reintroduce the Arab Peace initiative.
The time has come for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Europe. Not as part of a trip to one or two individual countries, but as an official visit to the EU’s headquarters in Brussels. Not a visit that places Netanyahu on the firing line, but one where real discourse takes place on subjects close to Israel and Europe’s hearts, including the economy, cyber security, immigration, counter-terrorism and other issues.
Israel can share its security concerns and better explain its stance on the Iranian and Palestinian issues; Europe can strengthen its borders by learning from Israel’s experience and expertise in counter-terrorism and intelligence; and America can continue to reap the benefits of its influence and relationships, while bearing less responsibility and suffering less internal conflict.
For the EU to play this significant role, it needs to recognize the strategic importance of Israel and what the country offers as the only true democracy in the Middle East – a country with similar ethics, values and institutions as the rest of the western world, and a leading regional power with an advanced economy.
Demonstrating a measured reaction to the lifting of sanctions on Iran, instead of rushing to Tehran to develop new business opportunities, will help Europe. Not only for the obvious reasons of global security and stability, but also because it will better position them to play a meaningful role in helping Israel and the Palestinians get back to the negotiating table.
A visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to the EU will serve as a springboard to strengthening the Israel-EU relationship. Strengthening this relationship will create a win-win situation, serving both their interests and those of the US, and will help to provide a fresh approach to a diplomatic burden that is not getting lighter.