As EU diplomats waste time arguing over words, Israeli occupation forces continue to demolish Palestinian homes. (Meged Gozani/Activestills)
Israel started a preemptive campaign against a EU statement on the Middle East session even before it was formally presented for discussion by EU ministers this week on whether to adopt it. Israeli spokesmen expressed outrage at what they saw as an EU effort to “divide” Jerusalem, and claimed that the European position would “harm the peace process,” as if it is only Israel that has been carefully protecting it from the harmful moves of others.
Despite the usual hype, the document, a version of which was published by the Israeli daily Haaretz on 2 December, does not contain much that should cause Israel any undue worry. It is no more than a fine tuning of long-stated, and ineffectual EU positions. The statement is of course “balanced” — meaning it goes out of its way not to offend the Israeli occupier and lawbreaker — and it is strewn with cliches and contradictions.
“The European Union calls for the urgent resumption of negotiations that will lead, within an agreed time frame, to a two-state solution, with an independent democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank and Gaza and with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel,” the statement reads.
This sounds straightforward enough, but that’s only the case if there are agreed upon definitions for the “West Bank” and “East Jerusalem,” but this is not the case. Does the EU mean the West Bank and East Jerusalem as they existed the day before they were conquered and occupied by Israel on 4 June 1967? Reading through the rest of the statement does indeed indicate the opposite.
If the EU were really committed to an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, then all the Israeli settlements built illegally on occupied Palestinian land must go, as was the case in Sinai and Gaza. But that is not what the EU stipulates at all.
In more than one location the document says one thing for the Palestinians, but then effectively negates it by deferring to Israeli demands. For example, it commits to “Palestinian statehood” but with recognition deferred until “the appropriate time.” Hence there is no real commitment here, just a vague, easily deferred promise that costs nothing.
On settlements, the document quite rightly “urges the government of Israel to immediately end all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem and including natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001.” “Outposts” is a term Israel uses for small settlements erected in violation of Israeli regulations, as if settlements Israel has authorized are somehow legal. So by asking only for the dismantling of “outposts,” the EU is in effect recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank by deferring to Israel’s definition of what is and is not a “legal” settlement. This EU recognition is a major diplomatic victory for Israel. All the settlements are equally illegal under international law, and Israel is equally obligated to remove all of them.
The EU document does recognize that “settlements, the [West Bank] separation barrier, on occupied land are illegal under international law,” but does not call for their complete removal.
The EU, the statement says, “will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders” — that sounds like a commitment to applying international law, until it adds, “other than those agreed by the parties.” But it is utterly meaningless to talk about “agreement” between a military occupier colonizing land by force and its victims. This is just another way of saying that Palestinians will be forced to acquiesce to an Israeli-imposed, EU-blessed fait accompli where they give up their claim to their stolen land, and possibly receive some sand dunes elsewhere in compensation.
It seems that democratic Europe is ready to forgive Israel’s systematic theft of Palestinian lands for more than 42 years (counting only from the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip), just as long as there is an illusory “land swap” to legitimize and cover up this theft. But did any of these Europeans bother to ask what land could compensate Palestinians for the hills of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin? Is there any place on earth that could “compensate” Europeans for London, Paris, Berlin and Stockholm?
In any case, any lands that Israel might “give” to the Palestinians were most likely lands Israel seized illegally from Palestine in 1948. So it is as if a robber offers to “compensate” you for something he stole, using something else he stole from you! Does the EU ever bother to question the legality, if not the morality, of donating other people’s rights and lands to merely appease a rogue state like Israel?
And why should the EU Council promise to “further develop its bilateral relations with Israel within the framework of the [European Neighborhood Policy]” if the latter is blocking Middle East peace, laying siege to Gaza, demolishing civilian homes in Jerusalem after throwing their inhabitants out in the open and building an apartheid wall on occupied land, as clearly spelled out in the European document? Why should Israel be expected to pay any attention to the European position if so much groveling and appeasement follow every mild criticism?
Let us not forget that this follows after many European countries lacked the moral courage to support the Goldstone report and help Palestinians pursue real justice for Israel’s atrocities in Gaza last winter.
So why should Israel heed any statement of EU policy when the Europeans make it clear that Israel will receive its rewards regardless of what it does, and never be punished regardless of its repeated violations of international law? For decades, such European duplicity, vagueness and weakness has encouraged Israel’s crimes and violations. The EU tried to wash its hands of its legal and moral obligations of the Palestinians by showering the Palestinian Authority with cash — which has done nothing to bring Palestinians any closer to liberation. It only financed the continued occupation, freeing Israeli hands and cash to build more illegal settlements.
Israel probably knows that it has little to fear from the EU, but it made a huge fuss because from experience, such behavior will intimidate the EU into watering the statement down even further before it is adopted in the futile search for “balance” and appeasement.
The EU statement is empty and meaningless. At this stage only real action, in the form of firm diplomatic, trade and economic sanctions against Israel could be taken as evidence of a real European commitment to peace. The EU must also crack down on all European firms — such as French conglomerate Veolia which is building a light railway linking Israeli settlements — that war profiteer from Israel’s occupation.
But that’s not likely, unfortunately. As EU diplomats waste time arguing over words, Israeli occupation forces will continue to demolish Palestinian homes, ethnically cleanse Jerusalem and colonize more Arab lands.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.