Commission wants closer EU-Israeli ties
By Khaled Diab
During a visit to Israel earlier this month,
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Union’s ex-envoy to the
Middle East, suggested that Israel be granted what amounted to virtual EU
Then, last week, the Commission announced a
breakthrough in deadlocked talks with Israel surrounding the new European
Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which offers countries bordering the EU the
prospect of access to a free trade zone and greater political, security,
economic and cultural cooperation with the Union.
“For Israel, the ‘everything but institutions’
concept is an idea that could fit well from both Israeli and EU standpoints,
but, for the EU, only with the important proviso that the
peace process is satisfactorily completed,” said Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies. “This idea can develop and a more modest version can be pursued until the conflict is resolved.”
Haim Assaraf, spokesman for the Israeli mission
to the EU, says that “Israel sees the action plan as a very positive
development, since it has created a platform to develop policy in various
fields”, such as the economy, the peace process, education and research.
“This process has created a better atmosphere
between Europe and Israel,” he added.
Israel is one of seven nations – the others are Moldova, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – chosen to lead the way in the EU’s new policy.
The stalemate with Israel had revolved around
the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and EU mediation in the
“Israel clearly acknowledges the role of the EU
in the Quartet [EU, the US, the UN and Russia] and the need to take into
account the viability of a future Palestinian state in counter-terrorist
activities,” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the external relations commissioner.
“The same applies to the commitments Israel has
entered into concerning WMD.
“Israel has never [before now] been willing to make such commitments in writing to any other partner,” she added.
But despite this minor diplomatic coup, some
question whether the EU should be dashing to offer Israel its best silver.
A few countries on the ENP shortlist caused
raised eyebrows, including Ukraine and Tunisia, where human rights abuses are
widespread. But it is Israel’s candidacy that stirs up the most controversy.
“The EU is taking too much of a carrot approach
with Israel,” observed Noureddine Fridhi, a policy analyst at MEDEA, a
Brussels-based think-tank. “If the ENP is to be credible, then the EU has to
take a tougher stance.”
Influential voices in the EU, including the
European Parliament and a UK House of Commons Committee, have called for more
of a ‘stick’ approach, in the form of economic sanctions.
“I question the wisdom of enhancing
institutional links at a time when Israel has yet to fulfil its obligations under
previous treaties with the EU,” says Mouin Rabbani, Middle East analyst at the
International Crisis Group, a sponsor of the informal peace deal struck last
year between the Israelis and Palestinians called the Geneva Initiative.
“Incentives don’t usually work this way.”
He mentions the EU-Israel Association
Agreement, with its human rights clauses, and the Quartet’s road map, which
foresaw the creation of a viable Palestinian state by 2005.
Instead, Israel’sconflict with the Palestinians shows no sign of abating and it refuses to return to peace talks.
Human rights groups criticize the Israeli
army’s excessive use of force, so-called targeted assassinations and the
closures and blockades of the Palestinian territories that are fuelling poverty
and restricting the movement of the Palestinian population.
Israel is the only country with a known nuclear capacity in the region and for decades it has resisted initiatives to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. In addition, it is not signed up to international non-proliferation treaties and its nuclear facilities are closed to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
Experts estimate that Israel has a nuclear
arsenal of some 200 warheads, putting it among the top six nuclear nations,
just behind the UK. It has maintained a policy of ambiguity, never
acknowledging nor denying the existence of its nuclear stockpile.
Some see the action plan’s stipulation on
non-proliferation of WMD as a breakthrough that deserves reward.
But others argue that it does not go far enough
to merit inviting Israel to become a virtual member of the EU club. “Any such
moves should come only in the context of a comprehensive settlement,” Rabbani
notes. “Prior to that, the EU would do better to ensure existing agreements
with Israel are properly implemented.”
This article first appeared in the 16 December 2004-12 January 2005 issue of the European Voice. ©2004 The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.
ã2004 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.