If Israel got a ”sucker´s deal” last week in Geneva, that is nothing new. The very existence of the modern state of Israel is based on what French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius may call ”sucker’s deals”, in that its enemies and the international community as a whole have taken great advantage of their superiority.
But one should not lose heart: Jewish self-restraint and moderation have helped Israel survive and excel in the family of nations.
Ben Gurion once noted ”The Jews have never been masters of their own destiny; they are defenceless when the majority of nations turn against them.” Although things may have changed since those early days, the logic is clear. When the choice for Israel is between a ”sucker’s deal” and no deal at all, the choice is easy.
This was the case as long ago as 1947, when weary Holocaust survivors and kibbutz farmers were left to fight for the creation of their new state. The UN Partition Plan was anything but ideal, but it was still accepted by a broad majority of the Jewish leadership. Pragmatism and self-restraint had won over idealism and heroism.
But willingness to compromise has done little to help Israel win over its enemies. No bad deal has been good enough for those who ultimately wish for the destruction of the Jewish state. The 1947 Partition Plan could have created two separate states and prevented the bloodshed of the next 60 years if it had been accepted by the Arab states. Instead, they decided to fight for Israel´s destruction.
European relations with Israel have not been marked by military threats but its demands for concessions have been just as grim. When the European Community formulated its Middle East policy in 1973, it did so by copying and pasting the Arab League’s demands for ”withdrawal from all land acquired in the Israel-Arab war of 1967.” Its conclusions were not based on law and justice but on European lust for oil and security. The modern notion of the EU as a ”community of values” is a travesty when one looks at the cold facts of European power politics towards the Jewish state over the last 40 years.
Last week was no exception. During the course of just a few days, Israel got what some may call two ”sucker’s deals,” engineered by the major European powers. Two days after the interim deal on Iran in Geneva, (when Israel was not even present), Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to strike a deal with the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. This was to avoid risking Israeli participation in the 70 billion EU flagship programme for research and innovation, Horizon 2020. Israeli academics had warned that being left out in the cold would harm Israeli ability to compete and risk losing out on 500 million in grants. Instead of playing hardball with the EU (one EU leader had said publicly that Europe needs Israel more than Israel needs the EU) the Government reluctantly accepted the EU guidelines, even though they prohibit EU funding in the West Bank, the Golan and East Jerusalem.
My point is not to blame the Israeli leaders for accepting bad deals. This is usually the fate of a people less numerous than its protagonists. The aim of pro-Israel advocacy around the world should be to prevent Israel from being isolated when presented with new suckers’ deals. To put it simply, Israel should not be forced to make existential decisions with a gun pointed at her head. Last week, EU officials once again pointed their gun at the head of the Israeli Government. They demanded that Israel accept its guidelines in the disputed territories if it wanted to be part of the lucrative EU research programme. Preventing Jews from living in the territories was apparently more important to the EU than strengthening European competetiveness by allowing Israel to join on its own terms.
But Israel will no doubt survive, even after having been forced to accept the EU guidelines. Pragmatism and self-restraint are what have historically saved the Jewish state. The acceptance of a sliced up mini-state in 1947 was better than no state at all. The acceptance of a Horizon 2020 deal with pre-1967 Israel is better than no deal at all – despite the fact that it will further weaken Israel´s claim to the disputed territories. Israel´s pulling out of South Lebanon and Gaza may have caused Israeli society to suffer huge emotional scars and financial losses, but it has demonstrated to the outside world that the Jewish state is willing to make painful concessions in order to achieve peace with her neighbours.
Suckers’ deals or not, Israel has survived. When Europe is going through its toughest financial crisis in a generation, Israel is being rebranded as a ”start up nation.” The fact of the matter is that Europe needs Israel more than Israel needs Europe. As a European one can only be happy that Israel does not need to prove the point.