Israel in pursuit of mending relations with US, EU and Turkey
by Daily Sabah
ISTANBULFeb 15, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah
Feb 15, 2016 12:00 am
Israel aims to mend its relations with the U.S., the EU and Turkey despite the disputes over the illegal settlements, the treatment against Palestinians and Gaza. The Israeli administration has made steps to continue receiving the defense aid from the U.S., to decrease the anti-Israeli tone in the EU and open a new page with Turkey. The escalated tensions in the region have feared Israel to be isolated as the war in Syria continues, a nuclear deal was made with Iran and the extremist groups expand their areas.
"Israel said on Friday it had resolved its differences with the European Union after weeks of diplomatic tension following an EU decision not to allow goods produced in settlements in the occupied West Bank to be labeled ‘Made in Israel,'" Reuters reported on Friday. Foreign Ministry of Israel said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The two "agreed that relations between the two sides should be conducted in an atmosphere of confidence and mutual respect," it said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that Israel would no longer insist on the exclusion of EU bodies from peace talks with the Palestinians over a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April 2014 and there have been no signs of them resuming. While the United States has traditionally played the lead role in peace efforts in the region, the EU is Israel's largest trading partner and is the biggest donor to the Palestinians, and is looking to play a larger role in peace negotiations. "The conversation resolved the tensions and we are, Israel and the EU, back to good and close relations," Nahshon said in a text message to the media. In November, the EU said that goods produced in settlements could not labeled "Made in Israel" and should be marked as coming from settlements, which the EU considers illegal under international law. The EU holds the position that the lands Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, are not part of the internationally recognized borders of Israel. After the guidelines were published, Israel suspended contact with EU bodies involved in peace efforts with Palestinians, although the government said bilateral ties with nearly all EU countries remained strong. Nahshon said Mogherini had expressed solidarity with Israel at a time of heightened Israeli-Palestinian violence and had strongly opposed attempts by various groups to boycott Israel.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might meet in Washington next month and complete a deal on future defense aid to Israel that has been dogged by disagreement, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said on Thursday. "Current U.S. defense aid to Israel, worth about $3 billion annually, expires in 2018. Disputes over the value of a so-called Memorandum of Understanding setting out grants over the ensuing decade prompted Israel to signal this week it might wait for the next U.S. president in hope of better terms," Reuters reported on Friday. "We are now trying to consolidate a deal on the coming 10 years - what military aid we will give - a very complicated effort, which takes into account both Israel's security needs and the budgetary limitations of the United States," U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Israel's Channel 2 television. "But I am optimistic that we will consolidate this agreement," he said, adding that he saw "a chance" of it being clinched in an Obama-Netanyahu meeting in Washington next month, though he noted the schedules of the leaders have yet to be set. Despite the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu over the illegal settlements and the recent nuclear deal with Iran, the two countries seem to be natural allies. The U.S. has always been one the strongest allies of Israel in the world, and during and after every military operation on Palestine and Gaza, the U.S. underscores that Israel has the right to self-defense. The U.S.' support is not only rhetorical, but also embodied with the military aid that started in 1962. Since then, the U.S. has given more than $100 billion to Israel. In recent decades, the U.S. has been giving approximately $3 billion every year. In recent years, the aid was only for purposes of defense. In addition, the U.S. was giving Israel generous military aid for projects that are important both for the U.S. and for Israel. In a deeply troubled region, the U.S. feeds the Israeli military.
Turkish-Israeli relations which have been broken after Israeli army raided Mavi Marmara flotilla which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza and killed ten Turkish nationals in 2010, are expected to be mended. The energy issue seems to have become a turning point in relations amid the escalated tensions in the region. A gas field, Leviathan located in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel, was discovered in December 2010. In November 2014 Israel proposed that EU countries invest in the under-sea pipeline from Israel to Cyprus then to Crete and mainland Greece where the gas would then be shipped overland to other European countries. A pipeline that would be built between Turkey and Israel seems to be a cheaper and more feasible option as the distance of the project is about 500 kilometers, which is less than half the distance of the other option, and it is estimated that this project may cost only $2 billion. After reaching Turkey, Israeli gas could connect the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which is still under construction, and by this means, up to 10 billion cubic meters of Israeli gas could be sold to Europe annually.
The energy issue seemed to be the only common ground for Israeli and Turkish interests but the war in Syria may also help the two countries open a new era. Turkey and Russia have been in a rift over the Syrian war as Russia, along with Iran, staunchly supports Bashar Assad and Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel. Opposing the existence of Hezbollah in Syria seems to be another mutual interest for Turkey and Israel. Moreover, Iran's support for the militant group, the fact that Tehran sends troops to Syria to fight against Turkish-backed moderate rebels and Israel's displeasure with the so-called nuclear deal with Iran that aims to lift sanctions and curb Iran's nuclear activities might be another point that may put Turkey and Israel in the same pocket in terms of regional politics.