No longer friends
Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, May 4 2010 [page 7]
Is Israel about to lose its best friend — maybe its only friend — in western Europe, Italy?
Political officials in Jerusalem say that Rome recently relayed a message that it would not be able to continue to defend sweepingly Israel’s construction policy in the territories and in Jerusalem at international forums, as it has until now.
This was stated in talks that Israeli diplomats held in Berlin, Paris and Rome. This is because Italy feels that its unreserved support for Israel has turned it into an “ugly duckling” in the view of its fellow EU members and, as a result, it is gradually becoming isolated and irrelevant in the Europe community.
For example, every time that Italy wants to raise a subject that is pro-Israel, important countries of the European Union in western Europe do not join in, and only countries like the Czech Republic and Poland, which are less important, do.
In other cases, Italy is unable to influence the wording of proposals relating to Israel because it is viewed as pro-Israel from the outset. Italian officials are also concerned that continued absolute support for Israel will damage its relations with the Arab and Muslim world.
The change in the Italian position is part of a change for the worse that is taking place in many countries of the EU, which are stepping up the pressure on Israel to make progress in the peace process and to completely stop construction in the settlements. This emerges from reports received in Jerusalem.
In internal meetings taking place in EU institutions, the Europeans try to draw a direct link between progress in the peace process and upgrading Israel’s standing in the EU. Israeli officials explained that the crisis between Israel and the US has only caused various European countries to increase the pressure on Israel. They said, “there is a sense that the European were gleeful when they saw the crisis between Israel and the US. What they don’t understand is that the crisis with the Americans does not attest to the depth of the relationship between the two countries.” One official said, “Many in the European Union believe that the Netanyahu government is not good and would like to see a regime change in Israel—which is completely illegitimate.”
Up until now, Italy consistently has stood by Israel’s side, even when it remained almost alone of all its fellow European countries. This was true in the case of the Goldstone report, in the case of the Durban 2 conference and even in its approach toward the harsh anti-Israeli document that EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton recently submitted to the UN Security Council.
That said, it should be noted that despite Italy’s difficulty in automatically supporting Israel, just recently — in the course of a reception that the Israeli embassy in Rome held for Independence Day — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi publicly repeated his demand for including Israel in the EU.