EU: Russian annexation, bad. Israeli annexation, not so much

The European Union has had decades to act against Israel’s annexation and colonization of Palestinian land, but has only helped it commit more crimes. (Ronan Shenhav)

A week ago, US President Donald Trump unveiled his plan for Israel to permanently subjugate the Palestinian people and rename this brutal system of apartheid “peace.”

The details – which include Israel annexing vast tracts of the occupied West Bank, canceling the right of return of Palestinian refugees and stripping hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel of their citizenship – surprised no one.

Yet it took the European Union a full week to come up with its response.

A statement from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell mildly criticizes the American plan because it “departs from internationally agreed parameters” calling for a “two-state solution.”

The EU declares itself “especially concerned by statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank.”

“In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied since 1967,” the bloc states, before adding this kicker: “Steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”

That line – hinting at potential EU action to hold Israel accountable – has already grabbed headlines.

But there is little reason to get excited.

Decades of complicity

There is practically zero chance that the EU will change its longstanding approach of unconditional support and rewards for Israel as it commits violation after violation, crime after crime.

Consider that Israel annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. It also annexed Syria’s occupied Golan Heights in 1981 – both measures rejected by the world and condemned as illegal in countless UN resolutions.

In the decades since, Israel has been aggressively colonizing occupied Palestinian land for Jewish-only settlements, a war crime.

The EU claims to oppose all these Israeli actions, and has had decades to “challenge” them.

But all it has done is pander to Israel, offering it further incentives to commit more crimes, secure in the knowledge that it will suffer no consequences.

Why should anyone believe that only the latest Israeli declarations about annexation cross some line, when none of Israel’s prior actions have triggered more than mild words of “concern”?

Sanctioning Russia

As Trump unveiled his Middle East plan, the EU announced – in parallel with the Trump administration – new sanctions on Russia.

The EU imposed restrictions on seven Russian officials for helping to organize elections in what the EU calls “illegally annexed” Crimea – the territory Russia took over from Ukraine in 2014, following an EU and US-backed coup against the government in Kiev.

Indeed, the EU brags about the increasingly harsh sanctions it started imposing on Russia, just weeks after the Crimea dispute began.

They include a ban on imports from Crimea and investments in the territory.

By contrast, the European Union continues to allow goods from Israeli settlements to flow into its markets, despite the obligation of member states under international law to stop a trade founded on massive and systematic human rights abuses.

European diplomats in Tel Aviv regularly brag about the growing volumes of trade with Israel.

This trade almost certainly includes large amounts of settlement goods, as EU officials have admitted they have no reliable way to enforce regulations requiring the labeling of goods originating in Israel’s illegal colonies.

The EU, moreover, staunchly opposes BDS – the nonviolent, grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – which aims to stop European and other firms aiding in and profiting from Israel’s crimes.

And despite European criticism of Israel’s annexation plans, the EU and its members continue to embrace Israel through initiatives that will give it more resources and clout that can be used to expand colonies on Palestinian land:

Given its track record, entrusting the EU to stand up for Palestinian rights would be no different than trusting Donald Trump.

So what is to be done?

The best hope remains democracy. A key issue at stake in Ireland’s election on 8 February is the fate of the Occupied Territories Bill, which would ban imports of Israeli settlement goods.

If the will of Irish voters prevails, the final passage and implementation of this popular measure would be a significant blow to Israel’s impunity and EU complicity.

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The Ukrainian population in the Crimea saw Russia as a savior from tyranny of insane right wing Ukrainian government in Kiev. However imperfect the vote to leave Ukraine was, it was overwhelming, it was popular and Russia did not have to force anyone to vote for joining Russia. There is no equivalent in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians living in occupied territories are not allowed to vote.

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Is there a double standard here? you bet there is. Israel can do no wrong. If Israel killed every last Palestinian, we may hear something like: "Did you really have to kill them all?

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.