There is a certain type of solemn look which European Union diplomats based in the occupied West Bank have managed to perfect.
They are not short of opportunities to practice getting that look right.
One moment they are posing for photographs as they watch Israeli forces expel Palestinians from their home.Next they have morphed into eco-warriors, unveiling a generous aid package for renewable energy. And posing for more photographs. The solemnity is, needless to say, hollow.
“Team Europe” – as the diplomats call themselves in a vain attempt to sound trendy – is not accelerating the liberation of Palestine. It is prolonging oppression.
One sordid example of the EU’s work in the West Bank is that it is quite literally training Palestinians to assist Israel’s military occupation.
EUPOL COPPS, the training “mission” in question, sometimes presents a cuddly image of its staff teaching children how to cross the road safely.
Yet the atmosphere among EUPOL COPPS staff may not be as harmonious as its “public relations” activities would have us believe.
I have seen an email message sent in January by a representative of BDO, a firm providing various European Union bodies with “audit support services.”
The representative complained that details concerning a verification of equipment available to EUPOL COPPS were “not accurate.” A report on a verification exercise did not include information on vehicles held by EUPOL COPPS, the representative noted.
The email message was sent in reply to a complaint that BDO had received from a senior figure within EUPOL COPPS.
The senior figure had alerted BDO to how internal procedures at EUPOL COPPS stipulated that a “physical and scrupulous check” of its equipment be carried out annually. The senior figure indicated that such an inventory had not been conducted in the past year.
Details of equipment that had been compiled were based on a “superficial” check, the senior figure stated, and “do not correspond with reality.”
Given the nature of the operation, there is a strong likelihood that some items stored by EUPOL COPPS can be categorized as weapons or “crowd control” technology.
A failure to keep proper tabs on such equipment would obviously be a very serious matter.
The official purpose of the policing operation is spelled out in a paper approved by EU governments during November 2005.
That paper commits EUPOL COPPS to “advising and closely mentoring” the Palestinian Authority’s police, particularly its high-ranking officers. The operation will “coordinate and facilitate” assistance to the PA’s forces from Europe and possibly further afield, the paper adds.
At the beginning EUPOL COPPS was mainly funded by Britain – those were the days when Tony Blair was still prime minister and the term “Brexit” had not yet been coined.
A core objective of the policing “mission” was bringing “new practical weight to the EU’s support for Israel’s right to live in peace and security.”
As I documented in my book Balfour’s Shadow, the team heading the operation in its early stages proposed that the PA’s police be supplied with such “defensive weapons” as tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and smoke bombs.
EUPOL COPPS appears to have become increasingly secretive about its activities over time.
During its first few years, the operation acknowledged that it provided the PA’s police with “crowd control” barriers, handcuffs and shields.
The allegation that a proper inventory has not been carried out on the equipment available to EUPOL COPPS follows other suggestions of impropriety.
OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office, is known to have searched the policing operation’s headquarters in December 2018 but has never published the results of its probe. Two years previously, the EU’s diplomatic service opened an investigation into claims of harassment and nepotism in the policing operation.
The hints of sleaze raise questions about the activities of EUPOL COPPS.
A recent article on its website, for example, presents the operation as working with PA bodies “in the ever-important fight against corruption in Palestine.”
Even if EUPOL COPPS is genuinely dedicated to such work, the operation will never rise above suspicion.
The most plausible explanation for its longevity is that EUPOL COPPS has been extremely obedient toward Israel.
The Palestinian Authority’s police which it has been “advising and carefully mentoring” are required to cooperate with Israel’s military under the Wye River Memorandum. That accord was signed by Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s prime minister, and Yasser Arafat, the PA’s leader at the time, in 1998.
Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat as the PA’s president, has famously described such cooperation as “sacred.”
Yet the subservience to Israel often manifests itself in quite a profane manner. That is especially so when the PA’s police lock up and torture fellow Palestinians on the understanding that doing so will please Israel.
The arrest of Muhammad Zubeidi by PA forces during January fits that pattern.
He is the son of Zakaria Zubeidi, one of the men who escaped from Israel’s Gilboa prison in September before being recaptured.
In theory, the Zubeidi family and Mahmoud Abbas are on the same side. Both are affiliated to Fatah.
In reality, Abbas is prepared to intimidate his nominal allies if it suits Israel’s interests. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Muhammad Zubeidi was arrested soon after Abbas had an apparently cordial meeting with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.
Typically, EUPOL COPPS did not say one word – at least in public – about the vindictive treatment of the Zubeidi family. The heads of the “mission” were probably too busy thinking about what photo opportunity they can arrange next.