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Italy, Europe and Israel: building a privileged partnership

    • Rome
    • 16 September 2008

          Bilateral relations between Italy and Israel have intensified recently, producing some promising results, though, for the big strategic questions and economic issues, broader EU involvement is key. Partially due to 9/11, interest in the underlying motives behind problems in the Middle East and Mediterranean region has grown, and increased attention has revealed the importance of social factors and domestic policy. Such an approach highlights the singular characteristics of Israel, a country which stands out as a sort of outpost for the West in the region.
          At the same time, Europeans continue to see Israel – particularly its recent policy decisions – as a source of instability in the Middle East. In some cases, albeit rarely, this perception expands into some form of anti-Semitism. Moreover, Israel is often identified as a Jewish state, one based on religious tenets, or even “ethnic” values.
          In truth, Israel is home to a dynamic and diversified society, especially thanks to continuous immigration. Indeed, this situation leads to one key question: whether first generation Israeli citizens are generally less open to the peace process than the rest of the country’s population.
          The evolution of the entire party system is uncertain – as the current government crisis confirms – and its future will continue to be heavily influenced by a highly unstable regional context.
          Against this background, Israel’s economic success – thanks primarily to high quality human resources – appears even more incredible. The country does very well at attracting foreign capital  too, especially from the United States. Israel’s economic ties with Europe, while significant, are linked mostly to low-tech sectors. From a European and an Italian point of view, Israel’s potential as a partner should be seen within the context of relaunching all the Mediterranean region, with its vast network of interdependence. On the other hand, any initiative in investment can not forego global economic considerations, beginning with a discussion of ties with the energy sector.
          As far as security is concerned, the basic problems remain unresolved, both with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with relations to Libya and Syria; but the most worrisome tendency is the growth of radicalism, even outside consolidated movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The serious weakness of the current Palestinian leadership conditions any prospects for future negotiations, despite the real commitment of moderates in the region.
          The European Union could play a decisive role as a special partner to Israel, as long as it works together with the United States and succeeds in garnering constant support from Arab countries. In sustaining economic development in the area, Europe’s commitment could be truly decisive.
          Still, it is difficult to imagine any security guarantees being conceded, even on the part of NATO, if one takes into consideration all the other ongoing challenges on the continent (not to mention in Afghanistan). The most important thing now is to encourage the gradual emergence of agreements and mechanisms for regional security, a process that may even be forwarded due to the perception of a common enemy in extremism – as seen, for example, in Annapolis.

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