Italy's new foreign minister, Emma Bonino, is part of the small Radical Party, a group considered mostly leftist, although it could be associated with issues considered mostly libertarian in the U.S. One of its signature positions is staunch support of Israel, something that's far from being in the majority among Western Europe's liberal elite. And one of the things Bonino has been closely associated with is a campaign launched in 2001 to admit Israel to the European Union.
It’s unlikely that Israel would ever be let in, given that one of the requirements for joining the European Union is that a country has to be, well, you know, European. Turkey has been running into this problem since 1987, when it first applied to accede as a full member state to the European Union. Many EU governments have opposed Turkey's membership because it is “not European” (most of its territory is located in Asia, even though many believe that the real reason Turkey's bid was stonewalled is that it's a Muslim, hugely populous country). Nevertheless, Bonino and her party members support Israel’s accession to the EU because it is a democracy.
Bonino also has purported “cordial relations” with current Israeli President Shimon Peres, according to Electronic Intifada, a staunchly anti-Israel website that accuses Peres of “ratcheting up tensions with Israel’s neighbors.”
Still, Israel seems to be taking this as a sign that the already-friendly relations between Italy and Israel might grow even warmer. The Jerusalem Post pointed out that while a member of the European Parliament, Bonino “questioned” whether EU money given to the Palestinian Authority under Arafat’s reign was “being properly used.”
In 2001, the Radical Party publicized a demonstration in support of Israel joining the EU during a meeting of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and then-Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Demonstrators held up signs with the dual demands of “Israel in the European Union - Freedom and Democracy in Palestine.” Then-secretary of the Radical Party, Daniele Capezzone, released a statement saying the “most effective instrument to defend and encourage Israeli democracy, encircled as it is by anti-democratic states and forces which oppress the Arab people, and at the same time trapped by fundamentalism of its nationalist and confessional parties, is Israel's immediate membership in the European Union."
In 2010, the Radical Party’s proposal re-emerged from the woodwork, when Berlusconi met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and mentioned that "my greatest desire, as long as I am a protagonist in politics, is to bring Israel into membership of the European Union.” (Capezzone had since become a close ally of Berlusconi's, whom he evidently managed to persuade to take up the Radical Party's stance on Israel.)
Berlusconi has been one of Europe’s most ardent Israel supporters, although his policy positions often disappear in comparison with his indiscretions (see: alleged intimate relations with an underage illegal immigrant-cum-alleged-prostitute). Italy’s new prime minister, Enrico Letta, has not expressed support yet for either the Israeli or the Palestinian side, but is known to be critical of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
“He is neither anti-Israeli nor anti-Palestinian, and wants really to see peace in the Middle East,” an anonymous official told the Jerusalem Post. He is coming to office with “an open approach.”
Maya covers the U.N., Europe, and the Middle East for IBTimes. She joined the company in July 2012 after having previously worked with DNAinfo.com and Gawker.