About two weeks ago, the 28 foreign ministers of the European Union proposed granting Israel the status of a “special privileged partner” as an outcome of the successful completion of the peace process. This is an extraordinary proposal, since to this day only Turkey – a country of 80 million and a candidate for membership in the union – has received a similar invitation.
The European foreign ministers traced the contours of the proposal: broadening economic ties with Israel, deepening cultural ties, renewing the momentum of the trade, science and academic cooperation agreements and improving the political and security dialogue. In other words, the proposal means a significant upgrading of Israel’s relations with the union’s 28 members. In some sense, this was what the hundreds of thousands of protesters at Kiev’s Maidan Square demanded for the Ukraine. This is also the aspiration of many states in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. In recent years it has even been the demand of all Israeli governments.
And what was the response of the Israeli government and the entire political establishment, including the opposition, to the European offer? Nothing. No reaction. Not even a confirmation the offer was received. A thundering silence, and this in a state where so many people claim they are worried by the expressions or hints of the intention to boycott the country. A boycott that the European Union opposes and condemns.
Is the reason for Israel’s attitude the draconian conditions accompanying the European proposal? No, since the proposal has no conditions except completing the negotiations with the Palestinians in accordance with the parameters agreed to by both sides.
What should be the European conclusion from the Israeli silence? That if Israel does not need Europe, it apparently does not feel so isolated, as opposed to the impression it sometimes creates? That Israelis have no wish to deepen relations with the European Union? That Israel only listens to the Europeans when they exert friendly pressure, but stops up its ears when they attempt to trace a common future? That Europe is not a player in the game? I don’t believe so.
We should beware of misunderstandings. Such an important opportunity should not be squandered. It is not too late for Israel to respond to the European hand stretched out to it. The European Union, with its 500 million inhabitants, is Israel’s leading partner in Israel’s trade relations, the leading partner in Israel’s science relations and the most popular tourist destination among its citizens.
Europe, the continent where so many Israelis have personal and family ties, will not withdraw its offer. The European Union attributes high importance to its relations with Israel. It is fond and admiring of the young, democratic, innovative and dynamic country. It needs Israel – as a prosperous and safe state living in peace with the Palestinians and with its neighbors – to achieve a more democratic, stable and cooperative Middle East in the future years and decades.
I therefore call on the Israeli authorities, its government ministers and leaders of the opposition, Knesset members, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and intellectuals to state their opinion and present their vision regarding Israel’s future ties with the European Union. Let us know of your ideas. Write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and let us open the subject for discussion. At the end we will present the results.
We should begin a dialogue regarding the offer to grant Israel the status of a “special privileged partner.” Together we can welcome the future.
The writer is the French ambassador to Israel.
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