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Israel can't avoid the fallout from a disunited Europe

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Reprinted from The National

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu
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There were no tears shed in the Israeli government over Britain's vote last month to leave the European Union. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right blame Europe for many of Israel's woes.

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Internal wrangles about how to manage Brexit, they hope, will shift member states' focus away from criticizing Israel. The longer-term fallout could be a clamor from voters in other European countries to follow Britain's lead. A weakened Europe, according to this theory, will be less effective as a counterweight to Washington, which invariably prefers Israel's interests.

As an added bonus, a Europe with an uncertain future, and one where nativist sentiment makes identifiable minorities less welcome, could be boon to those, such as Mr Netanyahu, who believe Israel is the only true home for Jews.

Committed to beating the Palestinians in a battle of numbers, Mr Netanyahu already exploits every terror attack in Europe to urge Jews to move to Israel. Now he can milk rising racism too.

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For these reasons Regavim, an organization representing the illegal Jewish colonies in the occupied territories that enjoys close ties to the Netanyahu government, campaigned loudly for British Jews to back Brexit.

Sensing the danger, British prime minister David Cameron reassured the Jewish community shortly before the June 23 vote that Britain was "Israel's greatest friend" and would be "powerless" to help if it left the EU.

The Israeli right is almost certainly misreading developments in Europe and beyond.

True, the EU has been a thorn in Mr Netanyahu's side, especially since his government effectively quashed the Oslo peace process. Europe leads the diplomatic opposition to the settlements, and is introducing a labeling system to identify settler products.

Also, last month the French tried to revive the moribund peace process by dragging it out of Washington's orbit. Later this year a Paris summit may give Europe the chance to embarrass Mr Netanyahu.

But the deeper reality is that the EU has been a loyal friend to Israel, and one almost as central to preserving its strategic interests as the United States.

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The labeling of a few settlement items has done nothing to dent Europe's role as Israel's largest trading partner. While Washington has watched Israel's back with military aid and tireless diplomatic support, the EU has created an economic haven for Israeli goods.

Trade, worth $5 billion (Dh18.4bn), has doubled in the past decade. Israel also benefits from important EU research grants and cooperative projects.

In addition, Europe foots much of the bill for Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority, effectively underwriting the costs of Israel's occupation.

All of this would be in jeopardy if the Israeli right's fantasy -- of an EU collapse -- actually occurred. But assuming the EU survives Brexit relatively unscathed, Britain's absence will nonetheless be felt by Israel, as Mr Cameron warned.

Since the end of the Second World War, Britain has been Washington's key ally in Europe -- its eyes and ears. With Britain out of the EU, Washington fears its influence in the region will be diminished.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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