Israel and the EU

On Ben Piven's blog(I assume that is the name of young man who maintains this clever and cool blog), devotes a long post to the possibility of Israeli membership in the EU, an issue that I've discussed in the past, for example here here and here here.

He writes that:
The question has long loomed on the political horizon. Will Israel ever become a full-fledged member of the high and mighty European club? This problematic of international convergence encompasses a plethora of diplomatic and geographic considerations that render Israel insecure about its future position among the various supranational blocs.

Currently, the political relationship between Israel and Europe is governed by the EU-Israel Association Agreement, as part of the network of Euro-Mediterranean Partnerships, designed to bring the EU closer together with its southern neighbors.

For now, the world's lone Jewish state finds itself accepted only by a limited number of its neighboring governments. By ironing out better relations with the Arab republics with which Israel shares borders, Israel would also condition itself for a more intimate and profound relationship with the EU. A serious improvement in Arab-Israeli relations would undoubtedly be concurrent with a warming of Israel's ties with Europe.
Israel has always struggled to feel a sense of belonging in many international circles. However, its predominantly Western identity and cultural infrastructure highlight the shared European values that have been only been accentuated in the past several decades. Israel already participates in the Top 16 in basketball, the European Championship in football, and the Eurovision song contest. This common cultural heritage is borne out by youth exchange programs, film grants, and extensive tourism links.

In the economic arena, research, hi-tech, and trade ties render Israel squarely in the European camp, especially due to the advanced position of Israel’s domestic tech industry. The endless list of products that have been developed in Israel and the sheer volume of tech firms that have offices in Israel would buttress European economic rigor. In addition, Israel's recent invitation to the OECD tops of the list economic justifications for accsession.

Financially, joining the EU would mean that Israel would ultimately use the Euro. Perhaps Israelis would have no problem ceding control over their currency. Yet, in many other domains, the Israeli desire for wholly sovereign self-rule would highly reluctantly, if at all, concede control over many facets of national life that are entailed in EU membership and convergence.

The roots of Israeli nationalism and the renaissance of Jewish national expression in the brazen dreams of Theodor Herzl emerged in the context of the dissolution of Europe's grand empires. In the belly of European Christendom, the Jewish political consciousness ripened.
Yet, the distinctly Hebrew culture of Israel renders it unapologetically Semitic, characteristic of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Oriental moeurs – albeit in a somewhat hybridized manner. There is something as yet untamed and forever untamable about the pioneering Israeli spirit that would horribly frustrate European attempts to bring Israel in from the figurative cold of Near Eastern strife and civilizational clash.

Generally, there are three documents that govern the EU accession process. First is the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which outlines geographic and other general political guidelines - which in and of itself would not pose too much of a problem. Second are the three Copenhagen criteria, posing far more difficulty. Third is the specific "framework," which varies depending on the particular status of the applicant nation.

The geographic extent of the EU has not yet been pushed to the farthest potential territorial reaches of expansion. While being located in "Europe" is an obvious prerequisite, it is not a sufficient condition. But according to the Maastricht Treaty, any nation that adheres to European standards is allowed to apply for membership. The definition of "European" is rather vague and could apply to any number of ethnic, historical, and/or cultural criteria. Israel, as a developed, industrial nation with significant historical ties to most of Europe, would be fit to join under this criterion.

Notable geographic exceptions include Cyprus, Georgia, and French Guiana. Cyprus, though geographically considered a part of Asia, is already a member of the EU. Georgia, though not yet a member, is considered eligible, despite its “Asian” location. French Guiana, as a French overseas department in South America, is the westernmost and southernmost part of the EU.
Undoubtedly, Israel's most difficult task would be to pass muster with the three Copenhagen criteria in order to gain acceptance to the EU.

Two parts of the political criteria pose serious problems. First, Israel could not join with its current human rights record. Europe would force Israel to meet stringent European legal and ethical standards in order for Israel to become a member of its club. The ongoing Palestinian question is the essence of this stumbling block. It has been suggested that that EU would offer Israel membership once a peace treaty is signed and a final settlement reached.

Peace with the Palestinians could be negotiated within the context of accession to the EU. The international reputation of the EU would provide viable strategy for withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces. EU stance on Israeli occupation of territories is less than positive, despite Berlusconi’s firm and optimistic suggestions that an expanded EU could include Israel.

Second among the main political problems is the fundamental notion of the Jewish state. Ethnic preferences are not terribly tolerable under the EU rules. Israel would have to renounce the Law of Return and then dismantle theocratic basis for much of its government. It would also need to establish a constitutional framework, which does not yet exist in Israel (or in the EU as a whole).

Recent steps towards NATO accession are encouraging, in terms of the integration of Israel into Europe. Maybe NATO membership is a bit more likely than EU membership.
Israel is already developing somewhat of a Euro bubble of protection – in Rafah and with UNIFIL in South Lebanon.

There are not really any other states in the world that are not members of a regional alliances. Europe perhaps feels compelled to guarantee Israel's security in light of the Holocaust. The Italians have offered to crack down on Hamas in Gaza. While this is unlikely, it is inevitable that international peacekeeping forces will soon be on the ground to provide buffer zones in north Gaza, east Jerusalem, and perhaps certain locales in the West Bank.

Notwithstanding accusations of Eurabia, the expansion of Europe into Israel would largely depend on Euro-nationalist center-right groups who have similar experiences contending with restless Muslim populations.

Cooperation in dealing with anti-Semitism and counter-terrorism is already commonplace in the military and legal arenas. Political compensation for Holocaust might materialize to an even greater extent. The so-called genocide credit takes the form of continual restitution – both tangibly and intangibly. Will Israel grow to become a protectorate of the European empire?

Is Israel too much of an American vassal state for this to occur? Security, economic, and civilian ties to the United States perhaps prevent Israel from becoming too close to the EU. If Israel became part of Europe, would it be moving away from the American imperial relationship in favor of a more palatable arrangement with Europe?
Turkey also has very intimate ties with the U.S. and is generally considered to be closer to EU membership that Israel. Is it feasible, that Turkey, with its relatively impoverished, vast Muslim population, would join the EU sooner than Israel?

A study conducted by German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in early 2007 revealed that 75% of Israelis would support EU membership.

6% of Israelis already hold a European passport. Another 14% with European-born parents are eligible for EU papers if they so desire.

The above study also found that 11% of Israelis would move to Europe if they could.
In addition, half of Israelis have visited Europe in the past three years – with France and Italy capping the list of destinations.

Would EU accession be a surrender to accusations that Israel is truly a European-derived Zionist-imperialist ethnocentrist-colonial entity? Would such a move allow European ambitions to trump Israel's ability to acclimate itself in the Middle East? What would Arab resistance amount to in such a scenario?

European resistance is most likely the biggest factor in terms of the opposition. A recent BBC poll revealed that Israel is perceived internationally as the biggest threat to world peace. Unpopularity at a level on par with North Korea, Iran, and the U.S. meant that around half of European countries ranked Israel as the least popular country in the world. This is not promising for an EU aspirant nation.

If Israel were to emphasize that it seeks to remain a Jewish state in cultural and linguistic terms, rather than in an ethno-religious sense, then it would be able to remain so within the EU framework.
It would also have to adhere to minority rights standards, which pertain to the massively crucial Palestinian predicament.

Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have openly advocated for Israel's accession to the EU.

Leon Hadar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, stated that "conditioning Israel's entry into the EU on its agreement to withdraw from the occupied territories and dismantle the Jewish settlements there, would strengthen the hands of those Israelis who envision their state not as a militarized Jewish ghetto but as a Westernized liberal community. The tragic fate of the European Jewry served as the driving force for the creation of Israel, and welcoming the Jewish state into the European community makes historical and moral sense.”

Notably, Italian MEP Marco Pannella proposed Israel's accession in the aftermath of the 2nd War in Lebanon: “It is a real intellectual, anthropological scandal that the European Union and Israel, with the concurrence of the United States, have not already corrected this pathological situation: that the only strong democracy of a territory – of which it occupies 0.2% – under an illusion and therefore choosing the instrument of absolute national sovereignty, is led to a survival logic necessarily armed, military and in a constant state of exception. Therefore it is urgent that Israel operate within the judicial, civil, political framework of the European Union, as a frontier region – for now, we stress: for now – of an institutional community of half a billion people, with its rules, laws, jurisdictions, its democratic parliament and its executive power (certainly imperfect and inadequate, but nevertheless corresponding and legitimated by its constituent treaties).”

Top Israeli diplomat Oded Eran said, "Since 1967, Israel puts its trust solely in Washington in all matters pertaining to security, relations with Arab nations, and, to a great extent, economic issues. It is certainly time for an Israeli prime minister to visit Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Even as a stop on the way back from a visit to Washington. It's hard to remember the last time that an Israeli prime minister visited Brussels or the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Europe is not on our policy map. We missed a number of opportunities as a result of the lack of any serious deliberation by the government to date, of our desired relations with the EU. Increased terror in Europe, the growing conflict with some European, Muslim communities, and the need to grapple with the Iranian nuclear threat contributes to greater understanding of Israel's position and balance in the European position...It is permissible to define the EU as a power. The Second Iraq War taught Americans a lesson in the limits of power. Now, the U.S. is prepared to involve the EU, in the context of the Quartet - though Sharon denied and ignored its existence - and in the battle against Iran's nuclear program. That contributes additional importance to the EU and creates the need to seriously relate to its foreign policy in issues relevant to Israel."

Famously, far-right demagogue Avigdor Lieberman's ambivalence on the question baffles observers. While he fully supports his country’s membership in NATO and EU, he bemoans that Europe is willing to sacrifice Israel for its own economic self-interest. The strange fact is that Israel's far-right party is pro-EU, unlike in Europe, where the far-right bloc is generally Euroskeptic, always unable to concede that cooperative international bodies are good for ethnically and culturally shifting states.

The “Wider Europe” policy pushes Israel closer to Europe by virtue of its high economic and political attainment, not by virtue of the geographic considerations that are the basis of the Mediterranean Basin concept.

In this framework, non-European states are not eligible for full membership but can develop relations with the Mediterranean Basin as part of the Barcelona Process laid out by the European Neighborhood Policy.

The likelihood is relatively low that Israel will accede to EU anytime soon. However, relations will gradually become more intimate as part of the European neighborhood policy.

I think that Nicolas Sakorzy's plan for a "Mediterranean Union" which I discussed here here could become the institutional framework under which Turkey could become the locomotive helping to drive Israel, and eventually Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine into membership in the EU.


Anonymous said…
Will they still be able to spit on/behind Christians?

If not, I don't think they will go for it.
Anonymous said…
It does raise a lot of issues. For example, could Israel preserve:

Not allowing Jews to marry non-jews within the country?

Not allowing a Cohen to marry even a convert?

Prohibiting proselytizing.

Allowing certain land owning institutions (the JNF) to sell only to Jews?

And what about haredi practices such as forcing women to sit on the back of buses, modesty squads, etc?

Can these be allowed to persist?

And finally, can Israel openly vow to preserve its Jewish majority and still be in the EU?

All interesting questions.

BTW, joining the EU would require Israel to let in all numbers of immigrants, no? I am not sure about citizenship, however...
Leon Hadar said…
Interesting points. Indeed, as the author of the post suggested, an entry into the EU would require Israel to do some of the things you mentioned, including abolishing the "law of return." In fact, Greece and Ireland, where religion and state have been quite close had to go through that process. As far as opening the gates to all immigrants from Europe and elsewhere -- I don't think so.
Anonymous said…
Not elsewhere, just Europe. For example, anyone in the EU can work and live anywhere else in the EU.

When they can vote is less clear to me, but certainly a lot of Muslims would be able to freely travel to Israel if this was the case.

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