Monday, May 23, 2016

The refugee influx: The Israeli context - Dr. Ofer Israeli

by Dr. Ofer Israeli

The European Union's overall policy toward Israel will also be influenced by the continual arrival of refugees.

In October 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people." The prestigious prize wasn't given for the president's welcome actions -- he had taken office in January of that year -- but instead reflected the diplomatic path the distributors of the prize wanted to lay out for him. 

Obama followed that path. He refrained from military involvement in the Middle East, which in many people's opinion was a main cause of the Arab Spring deteriorating into a serious regional crisis and the huge wave of refugees into European nations. The ironic result can also be interpreted as a sort of unintended historic justice: Europe, which left the Middle East at the end of World War II, is forced to take in the descendants of its former subjects. 

The results of the Middle Eastern emigration to Europe aren't yet fully clear, but we are already witnessing some of them. The Egyptian plane crash -- which according to an initial investigation was facilitated through, among other things, employees who had drawn closer to Islam and had access to sensitive sites near the plane -- is one. Jerusalem also needs to prepare itself for the possible ramifications, some of which might be very bad. After many of the refugees are absorbed in their new places of residence, European nations will be forced to consider the electoral aspect of such a large number of voters entering the political system in their new countries. The votes of the people who just arrived could help elect representatives who hold anti-Israel opinions -- supporters of the Palestinian issue and groups that promote boycotting Israel. Another internal challenge stems from the increase of anti-Semitic incidents involving immigrants, alongside great efforts by terrorist organizations to attack Jewish and Israeli targets on the continent. 

The European Union's overall policy toward Israel will also be influenced by the continual arrival of refugees. EU representatives are already working to prevent passage of Syrian refugees by signing agreements with Turkey and from Africa by funding preventative activities carried out by the mother countries in Africa itself, such as Sudan. The European fear of the influx of refugees increasing could lead Brussels to toughen its policy toward Jerusalem about Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. Some in the EU leadership are already voicing the opinion that the failure to find a solution to the Palestinian issue will cause the region to fall to the Islamic State, meaning even more refugees. 

Some European nations haven't abandoned their dream of reinstating themselves as international superpowers. France is putting words into action and working tirelessly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as other conflicts in the Middle East. Only recently, we learned about the immense effort French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is putting into promoting the French initiative. 

European countries' aspiration of expanding their influence in our region is getting a push from U.S. policy under Obama, which holds that Washington should retreat from involvement in the Middle East and transfer responsibility for the region to local and other players. Russia and Iran have already strengthened their grip, and if the new American administration doesn't change its conduct, we can expect France and other European nations to get involved in regional diplomacy. That involvement should be of concern to Jerusalem, but in light of past experience, we can expect that Europe will not act as an objective player, and will largely seek to force Israel to accept stances that oppose its official policy. 

Israel has neither the ability nor the desire to influence the stream of refugees into Europe. Therefore, Jerusalem must prepare itself ahead of time for the negative ramifications that immigration might have on general policy. In addition, Israel must identify and take advantage of the opportunities that a change like this could create: the possibility of increasing the number of Jews who make aliyah from European welfare states like France; and sharing its long years of experience with EU institutions to help the EU improve its ability to deal with the growing internal terrorism threat on the continent, like the Egyptian plane that was brought down last week.

Dr. Ofer Israeli is an expert in international and Middle Eastern defense and lectures on foreign policy decision-making at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and the University of Haifa.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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