Just a day after Moscow recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukraine, the European Union came out swinging against what it characterized as “Russian aggression.”
It condemned Moscow’s move as “illegal and unacceptable” and vowed swift sanctions “to target those who were involved in the illegal decision.”
The measures will also hit “banks that are financing Russian military and other operations in those territories” and aim to thwart the “ability of the Russian state and government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets and services.”These sanctions – likely to be followed by others – supposedly flow from the EU’s deep respect for “international law,” as well as the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.
The US is also laying out sanctions in response to what Washington describes as a Russian “invasion” of the two eastern regions that have been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
Germany, which is largely dependent on gas supplies from Russia, announced the suspension of plans to build the Nordstream 2 pipeline.
The crisis in Ukraine today can be traced to American sponsorship of the 2014 coup against the country’s elected pro-Russian president that brought far-right and even neo-Nazi Ukrainian nationalists to power.
Washington’s goal has been to bring Ukraine into the anti-Russia NATO military alliance – something Moscow sees as an existential threat – and is strongly opposed by many among Ukraine’s large ethnic Russian population.
Biden recognizes Israel’s crimes
Yet the sudden concern for international law regarding Ukraine is nowhere to be found when it comes to Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of Palestinian and Syrian land, and its imposition of an apartheid regime on the entire Palestinian people – a crime against humanity.
These Israeli crimes could of course not be perpetrated without American and European support or acquiescence.
The EU also rejected the 2019 US recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s occupied Golan Heights.
Ironically, one of the handful of countries ready to follow the US in recognizing Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem is none other than the US and EU-backed government in Ukraine.Notably, the Biden administration has refused to rescind Trump’s recognition of Israel’s blatantly illegal acts – even as Washington blasts Russia for recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk.
Indeed, Biden himself maintains an illegal US occupation of parts of Syria.
Under Trump, its explicit purpose was to plunder the country’s oil.
Yet the European Union, which has criticized both the US and Russia for their actions, has not imposed any sanctions on Washington for aiding and abetting Israel’s crimes.
That is hardly surprising. For decades, the European Union has acknowledged that Israel’s occupation, theft and annexation of Palestinian land is illegal, but instead of sanctioning it, Brussels rewards and encourages it.The stark contrast with the immediate American and EU resort to sanctions against Russia is not lost on Palestinians.
“For us as Palestinians, we see this discussion and we ask ourselves, where is this discussion when it comes to Palestine?” Wesam Ahmad, of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, said on Tuesday.
Ahmad was speaking during a webinar hosted by Finnish lawmaker Veronika Honkasalo, focusing on a bill she has introduced to ban trade in goods from occupied territories.
“The occupation of Palestinian territory has been going on for a much longer period of time,” Ahmad observed.
He said that the persistent “lack of action” in response to Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law “undermines the credibility of the rule of law being something that applies across the board.”
Pressure from the people
Frustrated with the complicity, hypocrisy and unaccountability of their leaders, people across the continent are launching a European Citizens Initiative to force Brussels to close European markets to products and services from settlements in occupied territories, including Israeli colonies on Palestinian and Syrian land.
A European Citizens Initiative is a formal process that is meant to allow citizens to influence EU policy. It requires gathering the signatures of at least a million people from across the bloc.
This one has already passed the first hurdle of being formally registered by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.
That came after the Commission had refused to register a similar initiative in 2019, a decision that was overturned last year when organizers went to court.
“Even though illegal settlements constitute a war crime under international law, the EU allows trade with them,” said the European Legal Support Center, one of 100 organizations urging EU citizens to sign on to the initiative.
Human Rights Watch – one of several major human rights groups that over the last year have concluded that Israel perpetrates the crime against humanity of apartheid – is also backing the initiative.
“Settlements unlawfully rob local populations of their land, resources and livelihoods,” Bruno Stagno, chief advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch, stated. “No country should be enabling the trade in goods produced as a result of land theft, displacement and discrimination.”
Frances Black, an Irish senator who sponsored legislation in her country to ban trade in settlement goods, is also urging support for the initiative.Although passed by the Irish parliament, the government in Dublin is blocking implementation of Black’s Occupied Territories Bill.
Meanwhile, the similar bill in Finland is coming up for its first vote on Friday. It has secured 35 sponsors out of Finland’s 200 members of parliament.
If it passes, this would be only the first step towards becoming law.
More than 40 Palestinian human rights, political and cultural organizations have written to Finnish MPs. In a letter seen by The Electronic Intifada, they urge lawmakers to support the bill, calling it a “crucial opportunity for Finland to lead by example on complying with relevant obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law.”Contrary to persistent Israel lobby complaints that Israel is being singled out, all these initiatives would ban trade in goods from any occupied territory – including Western Sahara, which is occupied by Morocco.
In September, the European Court of Justice annulled an EU trade deal with Morocco because it included Western Sahara without the consent of its people and their internationally recognized representatives, the Polisario Front.
During Tuesday’s seminar hosted by Finnish MP Honkasalo, Salah Abdulahe Mohamed, an advocate for Sahrawi self-determination, charged that the EU continues to allow the import of goods plundered from Sahrawi territory – such as sardines and tomatoes – that are falsely labeled as products of Morocco.
The European Citizens Initiative that would stop trade with Israel’s settlements faces an enormous uphill battle. Of course, it would not even be necessary if EU governments really respected the norms they now accuse Russia of violating.
But time and again, international law proves not to be a yardstick against which all are measured, but a club used by the strong exclusively for their own advantage.