EU's Middle East priority should be stability, says veteran Israeli journalist

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin's recent series of meetings with EU leaders could lay the groundwork for a future EU-Israel summit, according to veteran journalist Ron Ben-Yishai.

Could Israeli President's meetings with EU leaders lay the groundwork for a future EU-Israel summit? | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Political Engagement Manager at Dods

27 Jul 2016

Ben-Yishai, who works for Israeli news website Ynet, says, "Rivlin [came to Brussels] to prevent further deteriorations in relations between the EU and Israel." 

He says Rivlin's trip was focused on getting Europe to rethink some of its policies. However, he will also return to Israel and share the EU's views with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, namely that he should, "stop poking European leaders in the eye." 

The veteran journalist and security expert admits that current relations between the EU and Israel "on a political level were not so good." 


However, on a personal level he believes that Israel has close cultural and historical ties to Europe. "When I come to Europe I feel at home, as much as I feel at home in Tel Aviv."

Ben-Yishai also dismisses French President François Hollande's proposals to organise a peace conference to launch talks between Israel and Palestine as a "recipe for diplomatic disaster", as he believes that there will be little pressure on the Palestinians to make any compromises. 

As Europe reels from a spate of terrorist attacks, Ben-Yishai argues that to be more effective in dealing with terrorism, the EU "needs to make changes to its legal system and its ability to develop better cooperation and not just in the context of the framework of Nato."

The key to dealing with terrorism, he argues, is preventing terrorists from launching attacks in the first place. "That is why I hate the term combating terrorism. It's simply a matter of intercepting it."

He also argues that a different approach to intelligence gathering is vital; "Not the old-fashioned kind used during the Cold War, or WWII, but rather a new kind, where EU police and security forces make better use of 'open source intelligence' and 'big data mining', capable of analysing social media activity and spotting potential self-radicalising activity."

Ben-Yishai, however, is keen to stress that any new anti-terrorism laws should not compromise existing human rights and privacy laws. "I am not saying we should forget about human rights and privacy. If Europe doesn't respect human rights and privacy, then it will lose the war against terror."

Regarding Europe's refugee crisis, Ben-Yishai says he believes "first and foremost" that it is a humanitarian crisis. "I am not one of these bleeding heart liberals, but what is going on is heart breaking. 99.5 per cent of these people are real refugees." 

However, he warns that some of those who have arrived in Europe could become a security issue in the longer term, "particularly if they don't feel they are part of the wider community. Radical Islamic groups could take advantage of this." 

On ending the internecine conflicts across the Middle East, Ben-Yishai argues that "the EU should accept that the Sykes-Picot agreement, (which shaped the modern Middle East following the end of WW1), is now dead. A European settlement of what the Middle East should look like will not work."

"It would be better to listen to the people of the Middle East, their grievances and what they think, in order to come up with effective policies."

If Europe wants to get involved in the region, it needs to decide, "who are the bad guys and who are the good guys; even if the good guys are not such good guys, a decision needs to be made," he argues.

Describing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a war criminal, he adds that, "The problem is that Assad's strongest opponents are in the form of Jihadi groups such Daesh, which aren't exactly Mother Theresa." 

From his experiences reporting on conflict in the Middle East and across the world, Ben-Yishai says the EU's first priority should be to establish stability in the region, "if not, thousands of people will continue to die every day.

"Violence should be stopped first, before the EU starts to think of spreading and imposing values relating to liberal democracy."

So, does he believe that peace could return to the Middle East? "I am afraid of my answer, because what happened in the Arab Spring was that all the old animosities came to the surface like a volcano. 

"The old rivalries between Shiite and Sunni re-emerged; tribal fighting, ethnic differences and even large family rivalries. Unfortunately, therefore, I don't see the conflict in the Middle East ending any time soon."


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