It seems as though the future of European-Israeli relations is dependent on three little words. Last November the European Union instructed its member states to remove the ‘Made In Israel’ label off of products manufactured in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and with that infuriating the Israeli leadership.
Claiming that in its decision the E.U. was endorsing the Palestinian initiative to seek international support rather than engaging in peace talks with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proceeded to exclude the European powers from the negotiating table.
However, the first weeks of 2016 looked very promising for a potential rekindling of Israeli relations with European Powers. The Israeli Prime minister was received in Switzerland and a visit from the EU Foreign policy chief on January 21st to Jerusalem showed promising signs.
As the EU continues to push for a two-state solution, it managed to reaffirm its willingness to cooperate with Israel on the basis of mutual respect.
When pushing for a two-state solution, the E.U. never fails to meet a wall, since the Israeli leadership is unwilling to surrender the occupied territories fearing a rise in religious extremism that would resemble the situation in the Gaza Strip. And while the public opinion is quick to consider this as oppression, Israel has reason to be suspicious considering the current situation in Jerusalem. For months the angry Palestinian youth has been conducting spontaneous attacks targeting civilians and Israeli armed forces in the Capital. The attacks have spread fear among Jerusalem’s Jewish population and threaten the tourism industry.
On the 8th of March the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were consecutively hit by terrorist attacks, during which an American student from Vanderbilt University died, and 13 other people were wounded. During the incident, a man was stabbed in the upper torso in the Petah Tikva neighbourhood, but managed to defend himself, while two officers on patrol in Jerusalem were also shot. The next day, another attack occurred in Jerusalem, just as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps test-fired two ballistic missiles with the word ‘Israel should be wiped out’ written on them. The provocative missile launch was meant as a calculated threat by the IRGC to remind Israel it was within Iran’s weapon range.
Although the US vice-president Joe Biden – at the time on visit in Jerusalem, denounced the attacks and assured the United States’ solidarity with Israel, the story barely made the headlines in European media outlets.
Western media has not only bypassed the news, but the European Member States and their leaders have also failed to sanction the Palestinian authority, who has done nothing to put a stop to the violence conducted by its youth.
Additionally, the US have remained silent regarding the missile launch, maintaining that the Iran deal proves significant progress in International Relations. By not publicly denouncing the use of violence against civilians for political reasons, the West is arguably endorsing such behaviour
While affirming that the Union is willing to cooperate with Israel on equal terms is a step in the right direction, the E.U. cannot stay silent after the repetitive stabbing attacks in Jerusalem. The Israelis’ opinion of Europe is mediocre at best.
When they think of Europe, and the European Union, they see anti-Semitism, a biased Media and a complete disregard for the security threat faced by a Jewish State stranded in the Arab World. That line of thought is embedded within the Israeli public opinion and thus dictates all political discussion. It’s going to take more then a visit to Jerusalem to change that.
If a lasting peaceful solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be reached, the European Union and its partner in the Peace Quartet have to commit. They may defend the Palestinian cause and stand by their proposed two-state solution, but European Powers cannot expect Israel to willingly revisit its terms if it doesn’t apply the same rhetoric then it would hold should the situation be reversed.