By HERB KEINON, JPOST—
No Israeli government official would dare say it, but a weakened EU is not necessarily a bad thing for Israel diplomatically.
Economics might be another issue. The specter of the EU falling apart, and what kind of forces that will unleash, is also a separate matter.
But on the very narrow issue of the diplomatic impact of the move on Israel, the fact that the EU house is now being shaken is not something necessarily inimical to Israeli interests.
Or, as one source put it, clearly the EU will pack a lesser punch when it makes statements about Israel and the Middle East. And that is not something that will cause many in the government to shed tears.
The British vote shows that the EU is now in serious trouble, with other states – starting with the Netherlands, and perhaps even including France – likely to question their membership in the union.
If that is the case, the Europeans will need to spend more time and energy trying to keep their own house in order, rather than trying to fix what is happening in homes in other neighborhoods.
An EU with 28 countries packs a lot of power. But with Britain pulling out, and some other countries either likely to do so or beginning the processing of checking into a divorce, it will have a more difficult time presenting itself as a major power.
Which doesn’t mean that the EU will pull back from the Israel-Palestinian issue. It just means that its ability to impact affairs, including its ability to get everyone inside the EU to tow one line, will be diminished.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, during a pre-Brexit vote address to the British Jewish community last, said that it was important for Israel to have a pro-Israel British voice on issues such as boycotts and divestment inside the EU.
But in Jerusalem there has been a sense for some time that more than London influencing Brussels on Israel-related issues, Brussels influenced London, with a case-in-point being the settlement labeling issue, which started with Belgium and then was adopted and implemented by London.
In addition, the past couple of years has been extremely challenging to the EU: from the Greek economic crisis, to the massive challenges posed by immigration, to coping with Islamic terrorism, to the run-up to the Brexit vote.
In this environment there existed a certain dynamic inside the EU that led countries to hold onto a unified position on other issues, such as the Middle East. For instance, if there were countries inside the EU unhappy with the bloc’s position on Israel-related question, they could be convinced to muffle their voices, not wanting to create additional problems for the union already buckling under the mass of weightier problems and challenges.
The British exit may provide an opportunity to promote a new direction for peacemaking with the Palestinians that goes outside the usual EU box. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been promoting the idea of an approach that relies more heavily on the new-found cooperation with the Arab world. But that approach has not found much traction inside the EU, which still very much takes a Palestinian-centric view to Middle East peace.
Britain’s exit may lead to a more openness to Alternatives, non-EU sanctioned approaches; there may be more of a willingness to question the EU orthodoxy on the matter.
None of this, however, will happen immediately, as the break-up is a long process. Nevertheless, that the EU will in two years not be what it is today will definitely hover over how Jerusalem looks at the importance of EU resolutions and declarations.
There is no doubt that Israel will lose a friend when Cameron steps down, as he announced he will do on Friday. He has been a true and consistent friend of Israel who has shown his mettle, such as standing up to those during the 2014 Gaza war who wanted to see stronger denunciations of Israel coming from London.
However, if Cameron will be replaced by former London mayor Boris Johnson, or even Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, two leading candidates to replace Cameron as Tory leader and as prime minister, then Israel will not have lost any ground.
Johnson is a strong supporter, who during a visit here in November 2015 was boycotted by some Palestinian groups who refused to meet him in the Palestinian Authority after he called British supporters of BDS “corduroy-jacketed, snaggle-toothed, lefty academics, adding “I cannot think of anything more foolish” than to boycott Israel.
Israel, he said, is a “country that when all is said and done is the only democracy in the region, the only place that has in my view a pluralist open society.”
And Osborne is also considered strongly pro-Israel, someone who – together with Cameron – was instrumental in pushing crippling sanctions against Iran.
“We are friends of Israel. And we welcome Israelis to Britain,” he said at a Jewish community event in 2012. “Our coalition government has legislated on universal jurisdiction to make sure that Israeli officials and ministers can come to this country free from fear of politically motivated attempts to arrest them. And it was right that we did so.”
During that speech he advocated more balanced reporting about Israel, urging the media not to just “speak about bombs, terror and arms.”
“Tell the story of the technology, the hospitals, the creative work,” he said. “Never forget the enterprise, liberty, prosperity and caring – they are all part of the story of Israel, too.”