Spain's King Juan Carlos personally invited Prime Minister Sharon to the celebration, but Sharon was forced to decline in light of political developments at home.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was also too busy campaigning for the Likud Party leadership to attend the Spanish conference. Only Finance Minister Ehud Olmert managed to find the time to beak away and travel to Barcelona.
But Israel's refusal is deeper than this or another domestic political crisis.
The "Barcelona Process," also called the "European-Mediterranean Partnership" is the regional policy Europe employs with regard to
For a decade, the "process" in the Mediterranean region has had some success and many failures. Until 2003 Israel was forced isolated, and this only retarded the expansion of ties with Europe.
Since the beginning of the European Economic Community in 1957, Israel's relations with Europe have been schizophrenic. Alongside Israel's admiration for "classic" European culture, food, sport economics and tourism, Israeli political policy towards Europe has been lukewarm and aggressive, even militant at times.
On the other hand, Christian Europe worships the Holy Land and admires Israel's science, security and hi-tech industries, but 59 percent of Europeans believe Israel is the number one threat to world peace.
The key to understanding these complex relations would seem to be hidden in the fact that Jewish blood runs through European veins, and the refrain "Anti-Semitic Europe" runs through ours.
Barcelona Process failed
Israel turns its political eyes to far-away America while distancing itself from nearby Europe and acts like an island in the Atlantic Ocean, rather than a Mediterranean country. This, despite its special standing in the European Union which grants it far-reaching rights in the areas of research, development, economics and more.
It is enough to bear in mind that our trade with Europe is much larger than with our "great ally" across the ocean.
The Barcelona Process failed; even the Europeans understand this. Therefore, even before its latest expansion attempts began to create a new policy towards Mediterranean countries: "European Neighbor Policy."
This is a new model of diplomatic relations that invites countries friendly to the Union – from the Ukraine to Morocco – to take part in the European project.
Amongst other things, Europe has offered its neighbors, including Israel, the opportunity to join the domestic European market, and in future to even benefit from free access for goods, services and capital (tourists and business people will come later, if at all).
But this is all predicated on diplomatic progress for the neighboring country and proven ability to meet various requirements – each according to its abilities and desires.
European neighbor policy is worthwhile
It is clear that this European initiative brings up many difficult and emotional questions- starting with the Jewish nature of Israel, to the weakening of sovereignty and adopting foreign legislation and foreign judicial principles (and the superiority of E.U. justice), all the way to foreign relations, with a stress on the special relationship with the United Nations.
But since we are not longer speaking about a regional framework such as the Barcelona Process, but rather a differential plan that sews together the measurements of each individual country, Israel can indeed clarify if the elements that make up the European project do, in fact, meet its interests.
Israel has the opportunity to upgrade its business relations with the EU and to cooperate on police, judicial and environmental issues while rejecting other areas that could compromise Israel's security or stability – such as free movement of goods and people around greater Europe.
The time has come to talk about the full extent of our preparations alongside the limited benefits that the Barcelona Process failed.
In the Israeli context, it even forced us into a "Mediterranean basket" which retarded our ties with Europe for years. In this sense, a European neighbor policy is a worthwhile inheritance.
Dr. Sharon Pardo is a specialist in European politics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev