Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can choose between two approaches when he speaks to European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. The first is the usual appearance including familiar hits like “Waze” and “Mobileye,” “The Iranians will destroy us all” and “Don’t preach to me.” One shouldn’t disparage these messages. Israel deserves admiration for its achievements, even if they are not necessarily the result of government activity, and it is important to debate the threats against it in every international forum.
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However, his interlocutors in the EU already know this material. Despite the slurs, they do not oppose either Israel’s existence nor its right to defend itself. They are familiar with the geopolitical situation in the region and value the start-up nation. You can disagree with its policy but there is no point treating them like nave hippies or business people looking for an investment. Netanyahu tried this approach when he met with four leaders considered friendly to Israel in Budapest this summer. “Europe needs to decide if it wants to live and prosper or to disappear,” he preached to them, as he accused the entire continent of hostility toward Israel and “crazy” behavior. His statement was rightly interpreted as arrogant.
There is another possibility. Although some see the EU as a bureaucratic monster running a sinking continent, Netanyahu can surprise them by listening to its leaders without trying to humiliate or enchant them. While the EU is in crisis, its leaders still represent wealthy, responsible and stable nations. They are committed to Israel no less than Israel’s new partners in India, Rwanda and Colombia. If the prime minister will lend them an ear, he will discover that a forum representing all shades of the European political spectrum manage to forge agreements on a very important issue.
The EU speaks with one voice on everything related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They do it despite the substantial difference between Sweden’s feminist foreign minister and Germany’s social democratic foreign minister, the far right-wing Hungarian foreign minister and others. Time after time, they agree that Europe supports a two-state solution.
However, it is an old tune. The plan to divide the land into two states sounds like a remnant of days gone by when the conflict with the Palestinians was at the top of everyone’s agenda. Today, the Palestinians barely interest anyone, and the Netanyahu government has new partners, for whom the Israel-Palestinian conflict is nostalgia from the 1990s. They get along well with the Israeli right wing and sometimes even agree to accept asylum seekers expelled by Israel or to buy Israeli-made arms.
The Israeli right was elected in democratic elections, and it has the right to foster international relations in its spirit and image, but the prime minister also has a national obligation to see as well the shortcomings of his new partners. Some of them are pyromaniacs supported by neo-Nazis. Others are cruel tyrants who foster ties with fundamentalists from Tehran and Damascus. Some of them are just anti-Semites in disguise, who are busy destroying democracy, building walls and deporting foreigners, just like their spiritual predecessors of the 1930s, even if today the foreigners are Muslims, not Jews. Putting the future of the Zionist enterprise in their hands is irresponsible.
Neither is it particularly helpful. Israel’s new partners may not irritate it with lectures on human rights violations, settlements and the occupation, but they also fail to deliver the goods. The U.S. president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but it is hard to hide the panic in the government regarding the price his declaration may cost. The Russians, who are not bothered by ethical matters, coordinate operations in Syria with Israel, but repeatedly vote against it in the UN.
Even the Chinese don’t permit the construction workers they send to Israel to work beyond the Green Line. Israel’s new friends, it turns out, are concerned with their interests much more than in the Jewish people’s future. These regimes are opportunistic. They don’t indulge in ideologies and world peace doesn’t interest them. And they won’t pay the price of the next war.
European leaders also have interests and are not solely motivated by ideology, but some of them maintain a commitment to political stability, security and even a certain level of justice. Perhaps it is the tradition of humanism, or it is because of its bloody past, or simply feelings of guilt. Either way, it is a commitment Israel needs. Israel does not need partners who want to build a third temple and light up the Middle East, but rather the kind that will award it international recognition within defensible borders, that will mediate and fund a plan for a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and to socioeconomic growth for both peoples.
Despite going out of fashion, the two-state solution is the only one that strives for this goal. The only leaders in the world who believe in it today do not sit in Washington or Kigali but in Brussels. If he’s already in the neighborhood, Netanyahu would do well to listen to what they have to say.