Who knows what will come of these things, but there seems to be a cease-fire in the offing between Israel and Hamas, an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah, even face-to-face talks between Israel and Syria. There is even, finally, specific American criticism of Israeli settlement activity in and around Jerusalem. And yet I think peace activists should take most comfort from a less dramatic announcement, that the European Union has voted unanimously to upgrade relations with Israel.
As I’ve stressed in The Hebrew Republic, we have to envision the peace process in a new way: as Israel’s gradual integration into larger federal structures, and the gradual integration of Israel’s Arab minority into Israel itself—not as, “Well, let’s give them back some territories and maybe they’ll leave us alone.”
The other part of this argument is that there is a professional class in Israel that is hungry to expand relations with Europe. This élite will pursue a two-state solution, and learn how to sell it, when it comes to understand that Israel has a world to gain and not just some land to lose.
Olmert, who is on his way out, and Tzipi Livni, who is on her way in, are basically indistinguishable from one another on this point. The EU is, in any case, showing great vision by ignoring Israel's leadership crisis and making the possibility of membership more palpable. So is Sarkozy when he speaks about a Mediterranean Union.
NOBODY IN ISRAEL should assume that upgraded relations are a guaranteed path to membership—which would entail the possibility of Israelis (and Israeli Arabs) moving freely to EU countries, and setting up businesses there. Israelis and EU officials will not be able to entertain that idea until Israel ends the occupation and retires constitutional anomalies which discriminate against legally defined non-Jews in ways that would violate the EU Charter.
Still, we should hope that a last step to membership, or something quite like it, would feel to Israelis like a baby-step taken at the end of a decade-long process, not a giant-step that seems beyond the Pale. The new flurry of negotiations suggests a way to end the occupation. The EU announcement helps us see what Israelis, post-occupation, may reasonably hope to do with peace when we get it.