Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Europe: Why economic and strategic cooperation have never been better

Via Foreign Affairs:
(...) Imports from Israel to the EU hovered steady between 2011 and 2016 at around 14.8 billion dollars—a historic high—and last year, European governments bought record levels of defense equipment from Israel. Israel’s reputation as the so-called start-up nation is much admired on the Continent, as are its energetic academic and creative exports. All of this has helped restore some of Israel’s soft power.
What’s more, for all the bluster from Israeli ministers that anti-settlement measures constitute a discriminatory boycott, the EU’s focus on settlements promises to leave most of Israel’s economy and population untouched. Less than two percent of Israel’s exports to Europe come from settlements. More important for EU members’ trade balances, Israel is an increasingly important market, with imports from the EU growing from 14 billion euros in 2006 to more than 21 billion in 2016. (...)
Even in countries where there has been a long-term decline in affections for Israel, this sentiment has not been accompanied by a broad embrace of the Palestinian cause. For many political leaders and much of the neutral public the Palestinian national movement is associated with chaos, corruption, and violent extremism, underlined by the consequences of Israel’s pullout from Gaza, which led to Hamas-rule and thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians. Although surveys in most European countries indicate more people are sympathetic to the Palestinians than with the Israelis, more still are either equivocal or indifferent.
Political leaders who have opposed Israeli policies have found their ideological positions tempered by material interests. Greece’s far-left party Syriza, for example, was deeply hostile to Israel while it was in opposition, but has deepened Greece’s economic and strategic cooperation with Israel since taking power. Greece needs trade and tourists, and covets a deal to pipe Israeli gas to European states that currently depend on Russian energy exports. It also values defense ties with Israel, thanks to its strained relations with Turkey. The interest in partnering with Israel’s military spans the continent. In November, Israel will host an air force exercise involving France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Poland. (...)
What was once a zero-sum game for European countries—in which warmer ties with Israel would harm relations with Arab states—is now a thing of the past. Israeli and European interests are aligned in shoring up Western-aligned Sunni Arab states and containing anti-Western extremist forces. Today, Israel is a rock of stability not only for Egypt and Jordan, but even for the Gulf states with which it has no formal ties. Terror attacks in European cites, searing images of Islamic State butchery, and waves of Syrian refugees pouring into Europe have made it harder to sustain the idea that Israel is the source of Middle East instability, or the poison in relations between Islam and the West. European states especially value Israeli intelligence on the threats posed by Sunni jihadist groups (and to a lesser extent, on such Shiite militant groups as Hezbollah.) Moreover, when jihadists target European cities, it bolsters the Israeli narrative that frames Palestinian violence as driven by ideological extremism, as opposed to grievance at the occupation.  
The jihadist threat is also one of the factors behind a recent populist right resurgence characterized by disenchantment with federalism and renewed nationalism. This creates some strange looking political alignments. For leading European right-wing populists, a pro-Israel stance is simultaneously a badge of opposition to Islam and an attempt to defray accusations of lingering anti-Semitism. Although the Israeli government keeps its distance from these parties, some Israeli right politicians have been ready to welcome them. Meanwhile, British officials have leaned toward some Trump administration positions on Israel: British officials vetoed a French initiative on the peace process opposed by Israel in December; in March, they “[put] the Human Rights Council on notice,” as UK Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Julian Braithwaite put it, for its disproportionate focus on Israel’s actions. 
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