Yesterday, I was reading the comment thread for Neve Gordon’s Comment is Free column endorsing the BDS movement. A commenter named Detcord offered an intriguing policy option to entice Israel into a peace deal:
What about offering to Israel membership [in] the EU and NATO in exchange for full withdrawal? [Thus] Israel’s security concerns are covered and they [Israel] would be covered by European Law, making it much harder to do stupid things with the ECHR [European Commission on Human Rights] looming in the background.
I know that Israel has had some preliminary discussions with EU figures about membership. But I’d never heard of the membership option being used as a carrot to entice Israel into a peace deal. One never wants to get overexcited about any particular idea to promote Mideast peace since it seems that all have been tried before and failed. But this one has a lot going for it.
One of the problems of this conflict is that Israelis and Palestinians are locked into a political-military stalemate. What the EU membership proposal does is it removes the issue (temporarily) from the political realm and transfers it to the economic realm. If the EU can make joining a sweet enough deal for Israel, then Israelis might be persuaded to put aside their zero sum attitude toward a peace in return for rich economic benefits.
A similar process is playing out regarding Turkey’s application for EU membership. The organization has demanded significant political and social changes from Turkey before it allows it to join. Some of the demands have caused Turkish nationalists to have apoplexy. Israeli nationalists would react in the same way to outsiders forcing changes within Israeli society. But I fear that if someone doesn’t do this then Israel can never change enough on its own to find peace and join the ranks of the nations of the world.
My friend Sol Salbe has poured some water on the idea:
This (EU) is not a new idea. But it has not had a good reception among Israeli Jews. It is more likely than not that Palestine, in whatever form will also be invited to join, even if not at the same time. The free movement inside the EU will mean that the notion of the Jewish State will disappear forever. Also, as Turkey found out in terms of the Kurds all, laws that discriminate against minorities will disappear. The security concerns will be dwarfed by the disappearance of those very aspects of sovereignty that Israelis hold dear to themselves.
I think what Sol is getting at is that the notion of citizenship within the EU might force Israel to give up its notion that it is a Jewish state, since presumably any citizen of any EU member state could live in Israel. A reasonable point and difficult one to surmount no doubt. But think how opening Israel up to citizens of other European countries would broaden Israelis’ horizons. Instead of living a relatively self-contained existence in their little corner of the Middle East, they would brush up against people of many nationalities with varied life experiences. It could do Israel a world of good.
The notion that EU membership could force Israel to confront the inadequacy of its treatment of its Palestinian Arab citizens is a good thing. Again, this will not be popular with rightist Israelis (and perhaps others as well). But if the economic benefits are tantalizing enough, then perhaps they can overcome this resistance.