At the start of his three day-visit to Israel early this week, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that "my greatest dream, as long as I am a mover and shaker in politics, is to bring Israel into membership of the European Union."

Berlusconi’s comments made headlines in Israel and Italy, making him look very generous towards his hosts. But his dream is not necessarily shared by other existing EU member states, nor is Israel pushing for it.

Israel knows that many of the benefits of the European Union can be enjoyed without having to go through the strictures required to become a fully-fledged member. Israel is already a participant in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy, is a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and enjoys favourable EU trade terms via an association agreement that came into force in 2000.

Under Berlusconi’s leadership, Italy has become one of Israel’s strongest allies in Europe. After he took office early last year, Netanyahu’s first European visit was to Italy. At the same time, Italy also remains Iran’s largest trading partner within the EU.

Berlusconi nevertheless reassured his hosts by saying that Italy will act responsibly if new sanctions are imposed on Iran despite the vast interests of Italian companies there: "Halting Iranian nuclear ambitions will take precedence over commercial considerations".

While paying lip service to the peace process and saying that Israel’s "settlement policy could be an obstacle to peace", he also pledged support for the Tel Aviv regime despite the damning UN report[1] on the Gaza war that charges Israel with war crimes.

In a speech before the Israeli parliament (Knesset) on the last day of his visit, Berlusconi hailed Israel as "not only the biggest example of democracy and liberty in the Middle East, but the only example," calling the security of Israel "an ethical and moral imperative" for Italians.

The Italian premier recalled his country’s vote against the United Nations report on the Gaza war, presented to UN Human Rights Council by an independent fact finding committee headed by the South African Prosecutor Richard Goldstone.


[1] "Why The Goldstone Report Matters", by Richard Falk, Voltaire Network, 9 October 2009.