BRUSSELS – Israel's Ambassador to the European Union Oded Eran said in a Ynet interview Thursday that "in European countries there is greater awareness nowadays to remarks voiced during sermons in the mosques in their territories and they are following this issue much closely than in the past."
"If we look at the way Europe dealt with the issue two years ago, we can definitely see a change in its approach. On the cartoon issue, European countries have told the Muslims 'no more.' They insisted on the freedom of speech principle and conveyed it in legislation," Eran said.
"Simultaneously, the handling of the illegal immigration issue has become tougher and more significant and the border supervision and cooperation on terror have been tightened," he added.
According to Eran, the cartoon affair and the London and Madrid bombings have raised awareness among European countries regarding a possibility of a "Muslim intifada" in European cities. Polls and different votes held in Europe clearly testify to the change in approach among the public.
Referring to the incitement and the anti-Western dialogue voiced in some of the mosques, Eran said that "the European countries understand the danger, but there are different approaches to deal with these issues. There is surveillance on the intelligence level, and simultaneously there is greater willingness to discuss it on the public level."
"Parts of the Muslim society in Europe also understand the danger in it, and therefore the two parties are interested in a dialogue. On the Israeli context, I can definitely say that there is empathy and an understanding of the problems Israel is facing following these events," he added.
According to Eran, the emergence of terror in Europe has illustrated to the Europeans that it is not only Israel's problem, but rather a global problem, and therefore their understanding of the Israelis' problems has become stronger. This is also one of the main reasons, he said, for the significant improvement in the relations between Israel and the European Union in the past two years.
"The radicalization in the Muslim world has projected on Europe's behavior toward the Islamic countries. This overwhelmed the Europeans and exposed them to the moral difference between the two societies," he said.
"Another element in the change in the European approach is that the EU woke up from its illusion of Yasser Arafat in particular, and of the Palestinian Authority's conduct in general, after discovering that the funds transferred to the PA were used for terror and other purposes," he added.
According to Eran, after the crisis in the relations between the United States and Europe following the war in Iraq, everyone understood that the dialogue must be increased, and this was also expressed in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"There is recognition, both in Israel and in the European Union, that there should be a 'constructive dialogue' between them and not a dialogue by means of 'megaphone diplomacy.' I believe that the influence of some of those elements will be more than temporary," he said.
'Joining EU is not on agenda'
Eran also referred to the remarks made by European Parliament member Charles Tannock in a Ynet interview, according to which he does not see Israel joining the EU in the near future.
"Joining the EU is not on the agenda whatsoever," Eran said. "When I see the deliberations of the EU members regarding the joining of new members, I don’t believe that we are in need of these tests. We can reach a highly significant upgrade in our relations with Europe. It would be a mistake to wipe Europe on the diplomatic issue."
"Israel should take advantage of the potential held by economic and diplomatic relations with Europe. We are far from utilizing to the fullest the potential of nearing Europe on all areas, but I have no doubt that as time passes, Israel and Europe will become closer. We are discovering Europe and they are discovering us, and I have no doubt that this is good for the Israeli economy," he added.
Eran, who is also in charge of Israel's relations with NATO, referred to Israel's progress in its talks with the alliance.
"In the Istanbul Convention, NATO accepted the principle of distinguishing between the seven Mediterranean basin countries which are in a dialogue with it, including Israel. Israel is already taking part in several NATO-related activities," he said.
"On Friday we will appear before one of NATO's committees with a joint plan for cooperation between us. We hope that this would be one of the last stages in approving the plan that will enable us to upgrade our relations with NATO," Eran concluded.