Image: Benjamin NetannyahuIsrael TheJC--Israel had no public or official position on last Thursday's referendum. The consensus within the diplomatic service was that Britain's exit from the European Union would be disadvantageous for Israel, which has often relied on British backing in European forums. However on a political level, there are those in the Likud Party who believe the EU is "hostile" to Israel and hope that the referendum's results are the first step towards weakening the EU and seeing it play less of a role in the Middle East. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem decided not to publish any official statement after the referendum. The UK's vote to leave the EU was also not mentioned in the statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on David Cameron's resignation. Mr Netanyahu praised him as "a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people". Interestingly, Yisrael Hayom, the daily freesheet owned by Mr Netanyahu's supporter, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, which regularly reflects the prime minister's views, took a rather pro-leave tone in its coverage.
One senior Israeli diplomat said: “It’s certainly a loss for Israel not to have Britain involved in the decision-making process within the EU. There’s also the worry that this result could boost far-right, antisemitic parties in other parts of Europe. But we’ve always been clear that we’re not going to comment publicly on the referendum.”
Along with Germany, Britain has been seen in recent years as the most pro-Israel of the main EU members and it played a major role both in the “quartet” group on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the negotiations over the nuclear deal with Iran.
The one silver lining Israeli diplomats do see to the referendum’s results is that with the EU devoting its efforts over the next few months to negotiating Britain’s exit and keeping the Union together, there will be much less energy spent on trying to push forward the “French initiative” for holding an international conference on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2016.
The Israeli position is to continue pushing for direct negotiations with the Palestinians and for Egypt, rather than the EU, to be the main broker of such talks.