Tuesday

19th Oct 2021

Opinion

What a post-Netanyahu Israel means for EU

  • It is no secret that a sigh of relief was heard throughout most of Europe's corridors of power when Benjamin Netanyahu was stripped of his power last week (Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Moshe Milner)

It is no secret that a sigh of relief was heard throughout most of Europe's corridors of power when Benjamin Netanyahu was stripped of his power last week, after more than 12 years as Israel's prime minister.

Under his leadership, and increasingly in the past 4-5 years, the EU's relations with Israel have deteriorated and had become strained at the very best.

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  • The views of Europe by Israel's new prime minister, rightist modern orthodox Naftali Bennet, remain to be seen (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU-Israel Association Council meetings, that are supposed to be held at regular intervals and set the tone for progress on political and economic issues, have not convened since 2013, as tension and suspicion precluded them.

Several refreshing and meaningful appointments in the new Israeli government signal the promising positive change.

First and foremost, the new foreign minister, Yair Lapid, is the real architect behind the reform government Israel is now able to launch.

In less than a decade, Lapid, a journalist-turned-politician, has graduated from political novice to savvy statesman, capable of leading the country to stand up to the challenges ahead. He has even given up the first turn as prime minister, in order to allow the creation of a government coalition with such a span of parties, running from left to right, which is not less than historic.

The most diverse coalition government Israel has ever known is made up of right-wing, left-wing, centrist and even an Islamist party, that came together in a unified purpose: to end a political deadlock and provide Israel with a fresh start.

There are many young Israelis who have no recollection of Israel without Netanyahu at the helm.

In many ways, Lapid resembles the American president Joe Biden. A centrist, responsible and compassionate, yet pragmatic leader.

Unlike most Israeli leaders, Lapid comes with no significant military record and signals a new temperance and moderation, so desired by the public.

Many records will be broken and glass ceilings shattered if this government manages to survive and Lapid becomes prime minister two years from now.

Gender-balance

The new Israeli government also has a record number of women in ministerial positions. One of them, Merav Michaeli, is head of the rejuvenated Labour Party and has been appointed as minister of transport.

She takes Europe very seriously, and along with other members of her party who hold key positions in public security and Diaspora affairs, would turn a page for more extensive exchange and collaboration with Europe.

Additional fresh appointments in the new Israeli government include others familiar with the EU and willing to bridge gaps, including left-wing Meretz party head Nitzan Horowitz, as health minister, whose party also holds the critical environment and regional cooperation portfolios.

On the right, too, serious new leaders emerged who acknowledge the significance of Israel's alliance with Europe.

First and foremost, the talented Gideon Sa'ar as minister of justice. Sa'ar, who's split from the Likud party was vital in ousting Netanyahu, pledged to fix Israel's legal system and make it more accountable and transparent.

He also vowed to place the protection of human rights and the equality of all citizens at the heart of his agenda. No doubt his ties with the EU should boost those much-needed reforms, in one of Israel's more contentious government bodies.

While the views of Europe by Israel's new prime minister, rightist modern orthodox Naftali Bennet, remain to be seen, there is a real opportunity for ministers Lapid, Sa'ar, Michaeli and others to pave new and novel paths.

Some points of tension may not be diffused, in particular, over Iran and deadlock over the Palestinian prospective statehood.

But the new government can bring about a fresh start in other areas. The urgent need for Israel to mend ties with the US (with the Democratic Party now at the helm) and with its immediate neighbour, Jordan, should be followed by prioritising its relationship with Europe.

Members of Israel's new coalition should quickly take the lead in reconvening the Association Council meetings between Israel and the EU, frozen for almost a decade.

Visits to Brussels and other European capitals should become a matter of routine in Israel's new government, and Israel should join, before the end of the year, the €95bn Horizon Europe programme, the key EU program in research & innovation.

While the vigour and seriousness of the new government in Jerusalem remains to be seen, EU officials must demonstrate their commitment to mending ties, and allow a fresh start to emerge on a variety of policies and untapped partnership agreements. Opportunities abound and potential must be tapped.

Author bio

Raanan Eliaz is founding director of the Europe-Israel Network.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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