What is the future of European Union policies towards Israel? Tensions between the EU and Israel have grown as a result of declining confidence in the possibility of reaching a two state solution – a keystone of EU policy – in part because of the rightward shift in Israeli policies.
This tension in Europe’s relations with Israel is exacerbated by attitudinal trends: younger people in Western Europe tend to be more critical of Israel, whilst growing Muslim minorities identify with the Palestinians. Yet EU measures to pressure Israel have remained limited. Drawing on interviews with officials from the EU, its member states, and Israel, this paper explains this in terms of four interrelated factors.
First is underlying differences of interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within and between EU members shaped by political culture and ideology.
Second is turmoil in the Middle East, which has triggered security and migration spill-overs into Europe; catalysed closer cooperation between Israel and Arab states; and changed European perceptions of Jihadist violence.
Third is economic and political instability within Europe itself, focusing EU priorities on its own citizens’ welfare, and fueling populist nationalism which identifies with Israel in the face of Islamism.
Fourth is Israel’s growing strength as an economic and strategic power, and potential gas exporter.
We conclude that these geopolitical trends have opened an opportunity for deeper cooperation between Israel and Europe, but this could be squandered as draining confidence in a Palestinian state and Israeli democracy further alienates key EU members.
Dr Toby Greene is BICOM’s Senior Research Associate and Professor Jonathan Rynhold is the deputy head of the Political Studies dept. at Bar-Ilan University and as a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies
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