Complicated and conflicted EU-Israeli relations

Although EU-Israeli relations are based on shared values as well as common strategic and economic interests, there are political disagreements over the fate of the Palestinians, settlements and the rise of the extreme right in Europe. The EU’s recent requirement for labelling goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories by Israeli companies has caused consternation in Jerusalem. Despite rising emotions, economic relations between the two entities remain impressive. In other words, there are both constructive and challenging aspects to the relationship between the EU and Israel.

The complexity of this relationship and the prospects for cooperation between the EU and Israel were the focus of discussions at a CEPS meeting on June 9th, moderated by Umut Uzer, Visiting Fellow at CEPS, and involving Christian Berger, Director for the Middle East and North Africa, EEAS, Shuli Davidovich, Minister/Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Delegation to the EU and NATO, and Brigitte Herremans, Middle East Desk of Pax Christi and Broederlijk Delen.

All the speakers, while pointing out the intricate connections that bind the two entities together, also focused on political disagreements. The rational and emotional aspects as well as commonality of concerns such as terrorism and anti-semitism, close trade relations, scientific exchanges, cooperation in technical fields and Israeli participation in Horizon 2020 were all noted.

The EU’s position is clear on the Middle East peace process, as the two-state solution is presented as the only viable arrangement, whereas Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories are considered as illegal.

The view was also expressed that the EU did not stand strongly against the occupation, in contrast to say the sweeping economic sanctions it has imposed against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine. In many ways, Israel was given a free hand as there was no territory clause in the Association Agreement.

In light of the discussions, it would be correct to say that the unresolved Palestinian question remains a major impediment against further deepening of EU-Israeli relations, despite the multifaceted layers of mutual relations.