European Union and Israeli common history is marked by growing interdependence and cooperation as well as disruptions in mutual accord. Both entities, however, share according to EEAS1 same values of democracy, rule of law and are committed to an open international economic system. The following interview is proposing insight into these complex relations bearing in mind that economy and politics cannot be separated.
Professor Alfred Tovias is Professor Emeritus of the Department of International Relations of the Hebrew University. Former Chairman of the same Department from 2010 through 2012. Former Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the same University (2005–2010). Holds also the EU-sponsored Jean Monnet Chair on External Economic Relations of the EU. Recently functioning as Visiting Professor at the IESE and at the IBEI, both based in Barcelona(Spain). Has been a consultant of the World Bank, the OECD and UNCTAD. Published several books and articles among others in The Journal of Common Market Studies, European Union Politics, Mediterranean Politics, Oxford Economic Papers, Conflict and Cooperation, European Foreign Affairs Review, The World Economy and West European Politics.
1. Israel is an important trading partner for the EU in the Mediterranean area, and the EU is the first trading partner for Israel with total trade amounting to approximately €30 billion in 2014.2 How would you personally evaluate the impacts of the economic crisis on mutual trade?
Israel has, relatively speaking, not felt, like other countries both in EU and of the world, the economic crisis; but for the year 2009 the rate of growth was negative, whereas other years it was positive and relatively high. In 2010 – 2011 the trade had suffered but later on Israel got back to relatively normal level. Of course, exports to Greece have suffered as well as exports to Italy. Luckily we can say that the majority of Israeli exports are heading to northern, central and eastern parts of EU, which have been less severely hit by the crisis than southern parts of Europe. In this sense Israel has been lucky.3
2. The System of Pan-Euro-Mediterranean accumulation is a system which operates between EU states, EFTA members, Turkey and countries of Barcelona declaration (including Israel) with the objective of providing a framework for dialogue end co-operation in the Mediterranean area. The main purpose is to solve allocation of origin of products.4 Israel has, however, seen disputes about these rules and there is a special technical arrangement to be applied in order to exclude settlement goods from preferential treatment.5 Would you still agree that this system facilitates regional trade and economic integration?
As far as I know, the answer would be theoretically yes. The Pan-Euro-Mediterranean area could be the system and area for facilitating huge amount of exports, mainly light industries and export of consumer goods. For example if there is a good based on production of cotton in Egypt with further clothes manufacturing and processing in Israel, it could be sold without tariff in EU. Also we would not have to fear that the final product does not comply with specific EU rules and Israel rules of origin.
3. The prospect of Israeli integration into a single EU market through Union for Mediterranean (former Barcelona process)6 is far from being achieved. There is hardly any other European policy with larger gap between statements and achievements. Do you see the Action plan as pure lip service or is Israel the only country, that can actively work with what is being offered?
As is well known, the Action plan has been unilaterally frozen by EU in year 2009, straight after Israeli operations in Gaza. It is very hard to judge if the Action plan is pure lip service or not, because firstly it is frozen and cannot be fulfilled. Secondly the EU Commission might be of the opinion that the plan is retentive, but has to be suspended for political reasons.
4. What do you think about future of this Action plan and the possibility of its political “unblocking”?
Relations are undergoing different cycles of love and hate, especially because the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not easy to solve. There were times, during Oslo Arab-Israeli peace process7, when the prospect of peace seemed less distant. But this period was followed by huge disappointment in 1995–1996, when the Oslo Accords collapsed. Since then there are more and more voices saying that this conflict can only be manged but not solved. The reason might be that there are very few people on both sides who would be willing to compromise (and accept the Clinton parameters). Even though these people represent only the minority of the population on both sides, they are politically and militarily strong enough to impose deadlock on any internationally backed compromises. Also there is strong opinion, again on either side, that “time plays for us” and they are not pushed for finding the solution. Though I cannot say if this is a good or bad approach.
5. The ENP derives from experience with enlargement but does not promise accession to the EU. What is according to you the main reason for and against Israel becoming part of the EU?
In my opinion the main reason for Israel becoming part of EU would be that Israeli economy and security would benefit greatly from membership. Also, Israel as a small country should be part of some regional economic group or integration, and the EU is perceived as the only acceptable one. The main reason against derives from fact that as long as peace has not been established, it is unthinkable to have Israeli foreign policy as well as security policy to be driven from Brussels. Israel would, for example, refuse integration into the Schengen area – on the other hand, the United Kingdom also has a functional opt-out. Israel might also want to hold on an independent monetary policy, and stay out of monetary union until the conflict is solved. The reason is that in case of war the resources have to be recruited through inflation. In any case I think that Israel should be part of an EU single market.
6. Can you share your view on recent changes in the US-Israel relations?
When we speak about Israel and USA we have to make clear distinction between the Administration and Congress. The relations of Israel and Congress haven’t changed much for past 10 years. It is the relation between current Israeli government and Obama Administration that is tense for some years now, representing sharp difference from the past, the time of Bush Administration. One can even say that foreign policies of some EU member states are more favourable of Israeli views than Obama Administration. For example states like Germany and Czech Republic are attuned to Israeli views much more than the current US Administration.
7. What is your view of Netanyahu in foreign relations more generally?
The prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, is torn between what people on his
right think and people on his left are worried about and that includes several
members of his government. Let me give an example: In the famous Bar-Ilan
speech8 several years ago he stated, that he was for a “two state
solution”. But several members of his government opposed the idea. I still
think that if he sees an opportunity to advance the “two state solution” as
he understands it, he will do it. Of course for him this means keeping part of
the west bank and ensuring a totally demilitarized Palestinian state, which is
something that is not easily accepted by the other side. He will also reject the
right of return for the Palestinians, or anything that comes close to it. My
personal impression of Mr. Netanyahu is that he is a complex person, because in
political economy he is a globalizer. He is for integration of Israel into world
economy as well as in EU economy. In this sense, in his views of economic side
of things, he is cosmopolitan. It’s in politics that he is nationalist.
I suppose that this overlaps with what many Czech people think about the Czech
Republic. You are happy to be part of EU on one hand and at the same time on the
other hand you want to be independent. How to combine those things is another
Note: Author would like to thank Professor Alfred Tovias, for finding time for this interview and for his inspirational lectures he gave at Masaryk University in October 2015.
3 According to OECD Israel has suffered very short period of recession and further managed to come back to high GDP growth, which was balanced and sustainable even before crisis. The reason behind small impact of crisis is said to be the tight monetary and fiscal policy, regulatory regime for banking and property and above mentioned growth. (http://www.rubincenter.org/…-2010-03-06/)
5 EU Israel Technical Arrangement: http://ec.europa.eu/…el_ta_en.htm
8 Full text of the speech available at: http://www.haaretz.com/…lan-1.277922