EU, US race to reward Israel’s massive human rights violations

30 July 2012

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The EU upgraded relations with Israel just as it announced plans to demolish several Palestinian villages.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

Israel has barely put a foot right with the international community since its attack on Gaza more than three years ago provoked global revulsion.

The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu has serially defied and insulted foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama; given the settlers virtual free rein; blocked peace talks with the Palestinians; intimidated and marginalized human rights groups, UN agencies and even the Israeli courts; and fueled a popular wave of Jewish ethnic and religious chauvinism against the country’s Palestinian minority, foreign workers and asylum seekers.

No wonder, then, that in poll after poll Israel ranks as one of the countries with the most negative influence on international affairs.

And yet, the lower Israel sinks in public estimation, the more generous western leaders are in handing out aid and special favors to their wayward ally. The past few days have been particularly shameless.

EU violates its own commitments

It was revealed last week that the European Union had approved a massive upgrade in Israel’s special trading status, strengthening economic ties in dozens of different fields. The decision was a reversal of a freeze imposed in the wake of the Gaza attack of winter 2008.

Amnesty International pointed out that the EU was violating its own commitments in the European Neighborhood Policy, which requires that, as a preferred trading partner, Israel respect international human rights, democratic values and its humanitarian obligations.

Equally troubling, the EU is apparently preparing to upend what had looked like an emerging consensus in favor of banning settlement products — the only meaningful punishment the EU has threatened to inflict on Israel.

With some irony, Europe’s turnabout was revealed the same day that Israel announced it was planning to destroy eight villages in the West Bank, expelling their 1,500 Palestinian inhabitants, to make way for a military firing zone. Four more villages are also under threat.

The villagers’ expulsion was further confirmation that Israel is conducting a “forced transfer” of Palestinians, as recent EU reports have warned, from the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank under its control.

Economic leverage

Europe’s only real leverage over Israel is economic: business between the two already accounts for about 60 percent of Israeli trade, worth nearly 30 billion euros. But rather than penalizing Israel for repeatedly stomping over the flimsiest prospects for a two-state solution, the EU is handsomely rewarding it.

It is not alone. The United States is also showering economic benefits and military goodies on Israel, in addition to the billions of dollars in aid it hands over every year.

In the past few days alone, President Obama signed a new law greatly expanding military cooperation with Israel and awarded $70 million — on top of an existing $210 million donation — for it to develop the Iron Dome missile defense system; the Pentagon arm-twisted Lockheed Martin into collaborating with Israeli firms in revamping the new F-35 fighter jet; and Congress approved a four-year extension of US loan guarantees to make it cheaper for Israel to borrow money on the international markets.

Rewarding Israel’s intransigence

Meanwhile, Obama’s rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, has criticized Obama for being too miserly towards Israel. As he stood shoulder to shoulder with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, Romney issued a press release suggesting that his administration would spend even more US taxpayers’ dollars on Israel’s missile defense system.

All this munificence is coming from the two dominant parties to the Quartet — the international group comprising the US, the EU, the United Nations and Russia. The Quartet’s role is to champion the very two-state solution Israel is striving so strenuously to destroy.

In a further irony, the World Bank issued last week its latest report on the state of the Palestinian economy, concluding that its situation was so dire the Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Palestinian Authority, could not be considered ready for independent statehood. The report noted that the Palestinians were heavily reliant on foreign donors and that local private businesses, agriculture and manufacturing were all in decline.

With feigned obtuseness, the World Bank recommended that the PA increase exports to foreign markets, glossing over the biggest impediment to such trade: the severe restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of people and goods into and out of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As the Quartet has grown ever more silent in the face of Israeli transgressions, US politicians have stepped in with cynical maneuvers to shore up Israel’s intransigence and destroy any hopes of a peaceful solution.

Last week, for example, US lawmakers were reported to have put their names to a congressional resolution recognizing the recent report of Israel’s controversial Levy Committee. The report concluded that Israel was not occupying the West Bank and that consequently the settlements there are legal.

The real obstacles to peace

The topsy-turvy character of international diplomacy was acknowledged this month by a recently retired British ambassador to the Middle East. Tom Philips, who served in Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes in the latest edition of Prospect magazine that Europe and the US need to use “big carrots and big sticks” if there is to be any hope of reviving the peace process.

But Philips believes the US is “genetically indisposed” to forcing change on Israel. He proposes instead choking off donor money to the PA so as “to put the full weight of the occupation on Israel, a burden I do not think they would be able to endure.”

In another of the rich irony, it now seems even some diplomats are concluding that the Palestinians will be best served by destroying the fledgling government that was supposed to be the harbinger of their independence.

The real obstacles to peace — Israel, its occupation and western complicity — might then be laid bare for all to see.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The National (Abu Dhabi).

Comments

Jonathan Cook says it all, the actions of the EU and the US are shameful, to say the least. The world seems to be run by self seeking and cynical individuals who have no care for the human rights of those whose lives they affect in myriads of ways. I object to even the smallest amount of my money funding those whose humanitarian principles seem to stay firmly wedged into their wallets along with my taxes.

I am ashamed that my country supports such shameful disregard for human rights by our blind support of Israel's destruction of the Palestinian people. Such support does no favor for Israel when we know international and human rights laws are broken and raise no questions. US tax dollars are being used to cause pain and suffering to the Palestinian people, as well as allow Palestinian land and homes stolen through the use of our tax dollars.

I am European and I'm sorry for your condition

This is utterly depressing. What to do? (beyond the usual writing of letters etc)
I just read this out at the dinner table and the youngsters present all agree: Israel exaggerates too much, the country is going to be wiped off the map

One of the few things which we can all do, to try to curtail the wilful arrogance of the USrael Administration/s ... is to boycott as many of their goods and produce as possible. If we can ALL make a conscious effort, irrespective of how meagre, to boycott any and every thing produced, or aligned with USrael corporate interests, it will register on their economic radar ... and might just bring about some changes to their bellicose belligerence

Ah yes, I've been doing that since the Lebanon War, the first one, in 1982. I was tempted to blithely say that nothing has changed since then, but that would be untrue. In fact there's been a sea of change since then, especially in public opinion. In the EU, at least, these decisions are now being taken against the wishes of the vast majority of citizens. All polls agree on this. Which leaves me rather baffled about the state of EU democracy.

Europeans can vote for the European Parliament. That is all. We have no say in policies, politics, who is going on the lists we are presented (for voting) nor is there any standard to control even the parliamentarians who (with a hidden camera) were seen to sign in in the morning and go to the airport to return home. They earn themselves silly without tax and there is a lot of nepotism. There is not so much difference thus as in the USA where the majority of Congress are in the pockets of Big Oil, War industry and the CIA. What else is new? Nothing. We are against the settlements and then they support Israel in this way. A lot of blah blah for public opinion in the hope (and I guess it is true) that no one notices.

I agree with all of the above but it would be wise not only to boycott Israeli goods of which much is made or grown in the settlements and all is labeled made in Israel, but to look at e.g. www.whoprofits.org which multinational companies are present and earning themselves silly in the Occupied Territories. Lots! You might want to boycott them too since not all of them "only" make goods that consumers never buy like bulldozers. And then again: the wider public must be informed and then action is much more threatening. But still: something is better than doing nothing.

One of the few things which we can all do, to try to curtail the wilful arrogance of the USrael Administration/s ... is to boycott as many of their goods and produce as possible. If we can ALL make a conscious effort, irrespective of how meagre, to boycott any and every thing produced, or aligned with USrael corporate interests, it will register on their economic radar ... and might just bring about some changes to their bellicose belligerence

That’s a very sobering description of the existing reality. Despite the rhetoric from our politicians about human rights and democracy our governments will not impose sanctions or do anything to hold Israel to account and will continue to facilitate the apartheid regime in every way possible despite its appalling record of gross human rights violations.

Civil society must act to isolate Israel by means of boycott. The Israeli economy has to be targeted where it is most valuable and most vulnerable. Israel is over-reliant on diamonds which account for between 25%– 35% of Israel’s exports, adding over $10 billion NET p.a. to the Israeli economy and generating over $1 billion p.a. in funding for the Israeli military.

Civil society should focus attention on the global jewellery industry that facilitates the trade in Israeli diamonds and allows them to masquerade as conflict free diamonds even though they are a major source of funding for Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Consumers need to be informed that a large percentage of cut and polished diamonds (50% in the USA) are processed in Israel and when they purchase Israeli diamonds they are buying blood diamonds that help to fund a nuclear-armed belligerent regime that murders, maims and terrorizes with impunity.

Probably preaching to the Choir here but Mr. Cook is the best Western journalist in this part of the world. Respect.

I appreciate the commitments offering ideas for action that can be taken. I have tried several approaches to seek a more just approach to peace for both Israel and Palestine. I have read and studies, lead trips to the area in the hope people see with their own eyes, I have written our senators and president, worked with groups that would urge our religious denomination to use divestment as a tool against US Companies that participate in Israeli Occupation, I myself try not to purchase items that support Israeli Occupation, yet people suffer each day and we seem to make such little progress. No matter what the reality, expalined by many human rights and international groups, our governments continue to turn a blind eye. It is so hard when ones wishes justice and peace will come.

It is great to see so many people wanting to see International Law (IL) enforced. At the same time it is discouraging to realise that our Western governments make it impossible for their citizens to hold them to account for their own violations of IL and for their failures in holding to account other criminal governments. In any state in which the government claims to be democratically elected, e.g., the UK, it is plain logic that the government's actions and policies should at any time be challengeable by any citizen who can show reasonable cause to doubt their conformity with IL. Without this challengeability, there is in practice no democracy. One reason: violations of IL committed by the UK government or connivance by the UK government in the crimes of other governments are, by definition, a criminal misuse of the taxes of the citizens. If, as seems to be the case, UK citizens have no way of challenging in a competent British court the legality of their government's actions and omissions, then they are not living in a democracy. But they could remedy this situation, at least in theory, by exerting concerted pressure on their elected representatives and on rival candidates to introduce such a system. Of course, they will be met by the facile argument that a system by which any citizen could challenge government policies and actions at any time would paralyse all government action. This is an unlikely outcome, if the government takes sound advice before it makes foreign policy decisions. It would not have to delay or halt legitimate action, unless and until the competent court upheld a citizen's challenge. Just consider the lack of security (to look at the matter from a purely selfish point of view) that we are in at present. If we get occupied, neither we nor our children can demand not to be tortured by the Occupying power: if Palestinians can be tortured with impunity (as they are), so can we and our children.

civil servants and high-ranking supervisory board members.
Yes, we need more of this, and it is in fact spreading. For instance, in the US various people responsible for crimes in the banking sector are now answering to charges in court, whereas the EU commission said last week that the EU must also produce laws to make these same groups personally criminally responsible.
So why not personal criminal liability for people who violate international law in the name of the state? Or does this already exist? Does anyone know more about this?

I am so ashamed of my country, the USA, for condoning Israel's human rights abuses of the Palestinian people.