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Vol. 16, No.

9

July 4, 2016
The Post-Brexit Future of European-Israeli Relations

Amb. Freddy Eytan

Britain’s exit, or Brexit, from the European Union is first and foremost a severe
British domestic problem that its leaders alone must solve with diligence and as
soon as possible.

Although EU leaders have indeed reacted with disappointment and bitterness, after
the initial shock they appear to be recuperating. Europe as a whole is slowly
regaining its composure. The EU will not come apart quickly. It will apparently
continue to represent 27 united countries, in which close to half a billion humans
live, with an average GDP of over $30,000 per capita.

Three cardinal issues led the British to leave the EU:

The cumbersome administration and rigid bureaucracy in Brussels.

The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and, more recently, of refugees
from Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

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The terror attacks committed by European subjects who are inspired by Islamic
organizations such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda.

There is only one issue on which the European community demonstrates unanimity,
namely, solving the Palestinian problem. The new French initiative, with the
accompanying international conference, is especially indicative of the European
approach to resolving the conflict.

Britain’s exit will not change Europe’s policy in our region, and Israel must prepare
itself accordingly. Unlike Britain, which has managed to cope with large-scale crises
by itself, Israel cannot allow itself to be isolated and will always need real friends
and alliances.

Brexit should not damage Israel’s relations with Europe or its exports to it.

Britain’s exit, or Brexit, from the European Union is first and foremost, a severe British
domestic problem that its leaders alone must solve with diligence and as soon as
possible.
The EU leaders were taken aback by the British decision. Trusting in polls, they had
confidently believed that the majority of the British people would demonstrate
responsibility and solidarity by remaining in the EU, just as their Prime Minister David
Cameron wanted.
Although the EU leaders have indeed reacted with disappointment and bitterness, after
the initial shock, they appear to be recuperating. Europe as a whole is slowly regaining
its composure.
The newspaper headlines that foretold a worldwide financial earthquake and even went
so far as to make historical comparisons with the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany will be
quickly forgotten. Most of the horrified reactions and prophecies of doom have
receded, and the markets and stock exchanges are already more stable.
It is clear to all that the EU will not come apart quickly. It is still alive and kicking, and it
will apparently continue to represent, at least in the short and the medium term, 27
united countries in which close to half a billion humans live, with an average GDP of
over $30,000 per capita.

The History of the European Common Market
Understanding what actually took place means putting Britain’s move in its real
proportions and weighing the likely consequences, for better or worse, for our region
and particularly for Israel in the near and distant future. To begin with, these facts must
be kept in mind:

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The idea of creating a “zone of peace and stability” in Europe arose after the
Second World War and was articulated in a public declaration on May 9, 1950,
by the then-French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman.

Only on March 25, 1957, was the first European Community established with the
signing of the Treaty of Rome. Britain was not one of the founders and builders
of the EU. Its efforts to be accepted under certain conditions were rejected out
of hand, and in 1967 General de Gaulle cast a veto. Incidentally, this was the
same de Gaulle who, during the Second World War, after being sentenced to
death for treason by the Vichy regime, had escaped from France and found
political refuge in London. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “A state is the
coldest of all cold monsters.” Interests are all that matters.
It was only after wearisome negotiations lasting many years and after a
referendum was conducted in 1975, that Britain was accepted into the Common
Market.

Britain, however, remained outside the Eurozone, continuing to use the pound
sterling currency. It did not sign the Schengen Agreement on abolishing borders
and customs, was not a member of the institutions dealing with the continent’s
legal and social affairs, and strongly opposed the joint discussions on European
security despite being a full member of NATO. Clearly, then, Britain always
pursued a certain separatism, and indeed was only a member of the immense
European Free Trade Area.

Britain’s exit from the EU, then, will undoubtedly entail less economic damage than was
initially believed. At the same time, it is clear that Europe has been weakened
diplomatically, and that the special weight of its role will be very much missed when
Europe arrives at major decisions.

Why Britain Left
Apart from the factors related to domestic English politics, three cardinal issues led the
British to leave the EU:

The cumbersome administration and rigid bureaucracy in Brussels, in which
unelected clerks from 28 different countries and various committees assume
excessive powers and take important decisions in every sphere, especially those
connected with personal security.

The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and, more recently, of refugees
from Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

The terror attacks committed by European subjects who are inspired by Islamic
organizations such as the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. The attacks in Brussels and
in Paris exposed a lack of coordination and conflicts of interest between the
security services, and a complete failure of the intelligence services.

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Moreover, thus far the EU has failed completely in the domain of foreign policy.
These are the main instances just in recent years:

Europe’s encouragement of the ouster of Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali in Libya,
Egypt, and Tunisia, respectively, along with its support for the Arab Spring, has
fostered crises and upheavals that still beset the whole of the Middle East and
the Maghreb, as well as, indirectly, Europe itself.

The indifference about finding a solution to the civil war in Syria, along with
President Assad’s ongoing slaughter of his people and the empowerment of the
Islamic organizations including the emergence of the Islamic State, has led to the
mass emigration of millions. Instead of solving the problem when the time was
appropriate, the Europeans are now confronted with uncontrolled immigration
and a danger of terror attacks.
It should also be stressed that the U.S. administration has given the Europeans a
cold shoulder and has persistently failed to find workable solutions. Indeed,
Britain’s exit from the EU constitutes a sharp rebuff to the Obama
administration. In his recent visit to London, the U.S. president himself called on
Britons to vote to remain. His voice, however, went unheeded.

The crisis in Ukraine and the unnecessary tension with Vladimir Putin caused by
the sanctions on Russia.

Europe Looking for Itself
At present, Europe is confused and in search of itself. Amid the immigration concerns
and the multiplying terror attacks, it is indeed waging a fight for the home front. The
threat of terror is constant. The European leadership’s helplessness and inability to find
solutions to the many problems are reminiscent of the dangers that arose in the 1930s,
as Hitler took power in the run-up to the Second World War. The terror attacks have
induced a mood of emergency, panic, and uncertainty about the future.
The British, for their part, did not want to follow along behind a failing leadership; they
preferred to deal with the problems on their own, without help from the outside. Britain
has overcome crises in the past, and it is capable of dealing with the present crisis.
In the 1980s, immigration from Muslim countries was not seen as entailing any
problems; the Europeans needed working hands. The left-wing parties that were then in
power easily agreed to allow family unifications. Yet, despite all the predictions, 30
years later the Islamic revolution has accelerated remarkably, and religion, instead of
the secular ideology, has assumed prominence in Europe. At the same time, as the
Islamic influx intensified, Islamophobia has grown.
As long as the Muslims do not internalize the fact that they, like the Jews in their time
and all the other immigrants, must acclimatize and accept the rules of the host

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countries, the situation will get even worse. Most Europeans are not prepared to grant
the Muslim community a status that is separate in all regards from Western civilization.
On foreign policy issues, great frustration still exists in Europe, which took root at the
time of the joint French-British-Israeli “Kadesh Operation” in 1956 and the
relinquishment of the colonial lands. From a standpoint of conservatism and the Old
World order, it is difficult for some to cope with the technological and social innovations
of the era of the internet and the smartphone.
The EU has made several strategic errors over the years. The first was to widen the
Union to include anyone who desired to join in it. Five additional countries, including
Turkey, have officially submitted their candidacy. Clearly, it makes a huge difference
whether a united Europe functions with 9 or 12 countries, or with 28 or more. Another
mistake was the abolishing of the borders, which put an end to trade protectionism and
facilitated an influx of goods from China, leading in turn to the closing of European
enterprises and growing unemployment. The removal of the border checks and of the
borders themselves gave rise to the free immigration of foreigners.

One Issue United Europe for Now
There is only one issue on which the European community demonstrates unanimity,
namely, solving the Palestinian problem. The new French initiative, with the
accompanying international conference, is especially indicative of the European
approach to resolving the conflict.
Britain’s exit will not change Europe’s policy in our region, and Israel must prepare itself
accordingly. Unlike Britain, which has managed to cope with large-scale crises by itself,
Israel cannot allow itself to be isolated and will always need real friends and alliances.
Some in Israel claim that, from this point onward, Israel should focus on the attractive
Asian markets and abandon Europe because of its pro-Palestinian policy. This approach,
however, is mistaken; even today, despite its weakness, one should not underestimate
the European community’s economic power. It will continue to constitute an important
economic and diplomatic power for Israel, one that is umbilically connected to us, from
geographic, historical, and cultural standpoints.
It should also be noted that Europe
is not of one cloth, and there are
substantial differences between
Western and Eastern Europe. Israel
has bilateral relations, and in all
spheres, with every one of the
countries. With some of them
relations are closer and friendlier;
with others, they are less so and
there is room for improvement. Brexit should not damage Israel’s relations with Europe
or its exports to it. Israel is indeed a member of the important and well-respected

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Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is a signatory to
many agreements and has common interests with Europe in all the economic domains,
science, and energy. It will also continue to be an active member of Project Horizon
2020, the EU’s massive, seven-year research and innovation program. And now, for the
first time, Israel has opened a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
It can reasonably be hoped that Israel’s bilateral relations with Britain, a permanent
member of the United Nations Security Council, will be further strengthened, despite
the calls that are made by far-left organizations and BDS activists in the UK.
Incidentally, it should be emphasized that the election of Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, as
mayor of London has not harmed the Jewish community and has indeed prompted a
fascinating and important dialogue with the leaders of the moderate Muslim
community.
Meanwhile, extreme left-wing or right-wing organizations must be prevented from
exploiting Britain’s exit for ultranationalist, populist, and racist agendas. These are likely
to focus at first on Muslim immigrants and foreign minorities, and later on the Jews and,
indirectly, on Israel.
In sum, Brexit will give Britain greater diplomatic and economic room to maneuver.
London will no longer answer to the whims of Brussels bureaucrats when it comes to
Israel and the Palestinian problem. Israel must pursue a wise diplomatic approach,
ensuring that it will maintain this valuable asset of Europe.

***
Amb. Freddy Eytan, a former Foreign Ministry senior advisor who served in Israel’s
embassies in Paris and Brussels, was Israel’s first Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of
Mauritania. He was also the spokesman of the Israeli delegation in the peace process
with the Palestinians. Since 2007, he heads the Israel-Europe Project at the Jerusalem
Center, which focuses on analyzing Israeli relations with the countries of Europe and
seeks to develop ties and avenues of bilateral cooperation. He is also the director of Le
Cape, the Jerusalem Center website in French.

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