The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union at first glance was bad news for Israel.
After all, the referendum cost Israel a friend in the British prime minister’s residence when David Cameron, who campaigned to remain in the EU, announced his resignation. And the British exit not only raises the prospect of renegotiating trade agreements with the United Kingdom, but also creates the possibility of an EU collapse, complicating Israel’s economic and diplomatic relations with its geographically closest friends and most important markets.
But beyond the anxiety of uncertainty, the “Brexit” offers Israel reasons for optimism. Cameron’s most likely successor, former London Mayor Boris Johnson, also is a strong supporter of Israel, and the British Labour Party might dump its anti-Israel leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for his lethargic effort to oppose the EU exit.
From a long-term perspective, Israel is already working to diversify its economy by looking eastward to the likes of India and China, so Europe’s potential tough times won’t necessarily envelop Israel.
Most important, the EU’s internal turmoil might drag its attention away from the Middle East and stop its planned meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — a problem that can be resolved only when Israelis and Palestinians are willing to sit down and deal with each other directly without preconditions.
Such negotiations won’t happen through the peace conference proposed by France and supported by other EU members. Much like the United Nations, the sympathetic audience offered by EU diplomats is sure only to encourage Palestinian intransigence in the mistaken belief that Europe will force a pro-Palestinian settlement on Israel if the Israelis don’t willingly accept such a deal.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now into the 12th year of a four-year term, proved that point in a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday, June 23. He told two outrageous, blood-libel-type lies:
- He accused rabbis of calling for the poisoning of Palestinian wells.
- He said terrorism will end worldwide “once the occupation ends.”
Meanwhile, he refused to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who also was in Brussels, and, rather than endorse peace negotiations, he said the only solution is the 2002 Arab peace plan with no changes.
He did teeter toward a real move toward peace: using the Arab peace plan as the basis for talks organized by Egypt and endorsed by Saudi Arabia, without European interference.
In Cairo, Abbas would find confirmation that his fellow Arabs, beneath their anti-Israel rhetoric, have no love for the Palestinians and are happy to have a strong Israel as a counter to Iran.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni Arab nations will never love Israel, but they know they can work with Israel and have no reason to fear it — unlike the nearly 40-year-old regime in non-Arab, Shiite Iran. With the region’s other non-Arab power, Turkey, renewing its friendship with Israel, the Palestinians would find more pressure and less support within a peace process of and for Middle Eastern nations.
While France, Germany and the rest of Europe confront the reality that they haven’t moved into a post-nationalist utopia just yet, the Palestinians might realize it’s time to grow up and do the hard work at the negotiating table to earn their own nation.