Amid international efforts to enhance the peace industry, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is due this weekend to visit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Under the past Dutch presidency of the European Union (EU), the Dutch government has put in a lot of effort to enhance the EU involvement in the Middle East’s diplomatic process. However, the costs of these efforts have been enormous. Instead of providing incentives to ensure Israel respects international humanitarian law, under the leadership of the Netherlands, Israel received rewards without withdrawing one single soldier from Gaza.
Much of the current policies of the European Union are part of an ambitious plan that opens Europe’s economic, cultural and scientific doors to Israel in exchange for enhanced EU involvement in the Middle East’s diplomatic process. On December 13, 2004 the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council approved the EU-Israel Action Plan as part of the EU’s New Neighborhood Policy — one step below full membership in the EU.
According to the released EU-Israel Action Plan: “The EU and Israel are now closer together than ever before and, as near neighbours, will reinforce their political and economic interdependence. Enlargement offers the opportunity for the EU and Israel to develop an increasingly close relationship, going beyond co-operation, to involve a significant measure of economic integration and a deepening of political co-operation.”
The EU’s New Neighborhood Policy holds out the prospect of free access to goods, services, people and capital to countries neighboring the EU in exchange for economic and political reform drawn up on a country-by-country basis. In addition to Israel, action plans have also been drawn up between the EU and Moldova, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
In the past, the EU has facilitated Israel’s violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. A human rights review on the EU-Israel relationship, commissioned by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, concluded in December 2004 that in relation to Israel’s policy of incorporating the occupied Palestinian territories within the territorial scope of its agreements with the EU, and its policies mandating the unlawful use of force against civilian persons and the unlawful destruction of civilian property, there are three areas in which the EU has done this by protecting Israel from legal and political accountability and by helping Israel escape the normal penalties or costs that would ordinarily result from the violations.
Firstly, the EU failed to respond to Israel’s practice of certifying products that originate in settlements as being of Israeli origin, in violation of the territorial clause of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Secondly, the EU failed to ensure that illegally established settlement entities do not participate in the various spheres of EU-Israel bilateral cooperation additional to the preferential trade relationship, such as scientific and technical research. Thirdly, there is the EU’s failure to make any attempt to require Israel to accept the legal and financial responsibility assigned under international law for relief to alleviate the effects of the wrongful harm caused by Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law.
Instead of severing ties with Israel, as this conduct requires, the EU prefers to make the most significant upgrade of its ties with Israel in a decade. In the EU’s operative diplomacy, it has failed to satisfy the obligation to refrain from facilitating Israel’s violations of international law through deference or acquiescence. In the interest of preserving and expanding its privileged relations with Israel, in several notable instances the EU has violated this obligation with conspicuous deliberateness. Nowhere has this been more evident than in connection with the EU’s handling of Israel’s violation of the origin rules protocol and territorial clause of its trade-related agreements.
Despite European declarative positions affirming Israel’s obligations under international law, and dismissing Israel’s rejection of them, and despite Israel’s shocking human rights record, the EU-Israel Action Plan states that the “EU and Israel share the common values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law and basic freedoms.”
The EU-Israel Action Plan is the confirmation that EU-Israel cooperation is implemented in a manner that consolidates Israel’s violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and contravenes Community law. It should not be overlooked that whenever the EU has wanted to expand its engagement with Israel and done so, it has never elected to take the steps required to prevent Israel from applying and implementing the resulting contractual arrangement according to policies and national legislation that Community law and international law do not accept.
Worse still is that the EU-Israel Action Plan might even lead to Israel deciding on EU policies themselves: it stated “the possibility for Israel to participate progressively in key aspects of EU policies and programmes.” It also provides “an upgrade in the scope and intensity of political co-operation.”
Concrete steps include that the “EU will continue its efforts to ensure that the condemnation of anti-Semitism will become a part of international norms through, inter alia, appropriate UN resolutions.” Considering Israel’s policy to equate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israeli state practices vis-a-vis Palestinian civilians, this has meant that the EU will censure itself when it comes to address Israeli violations of human rights.
With regard to Palestinians, the EU-Israel Action Plan only considers efforts “to support and facilitate reforms, transparency, accountability and democratic governance in the Palestinian Authority and the consolidation of all security services.” Nothing is said about landconfiscations, house demolitions, settlement construction, the Separation Barrier, arbitrary arrests and detention, assassinations, torture and ill-treatment, the destruction of property, access to health and education or other Israeli violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
Instead the EU promised Israel to support “efforts by the PA to dismantle all terrorist capabilities and infrastructure; and ensuring a complete and unconditional cessation of terrorist activities and violence.” It is not surprising that the document does not refer to any UN resolution ignored by Israel or the word “occupation” or “occupied”. This document could have provided a list of benchmarks to end the occupation, instead it provides a list of things to do to enhance the increasingly close relationship between the EU and Israel.
It is not a surprise that Israel accepted the action plan. This ends a year and a half of negotiations, and represents the formalization of ties in a number of political, economic, legal and cultural areas. Under the European Neighborhood umbrella, the two sides will now negotiate an agreement that will enable Israeli firms to compete for a wide variety of European tenders that were previously closed to them.
Endorsed in December 2004, the EU sold the new relationship to the press by stating that for Israel to have better access to the EU market for its export, it had to formally acknowledge the EU as a member of the Quartet. EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner even proudly announced that Israel also acknowledged “the need to take into account the viability of a future Palestinian state in counter-terrorist activities.”
The EU-Israel Action Plan is a first step. It covers a timeframe of three years. According to the Plan its implementation will help fulfil the provisions in the EU-Israel Association Agreement, build ties in new areas and will encourage and support Israel’s objectives for further integration into European economic and social structures. The future does not look bright. The EU officially has become part of the problem and formally endorsed Israel’s state practices vis-a-vis an oppressed population. The EU-Israel Action Plan formalised the facilitation of Israel’s violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by shielding Israel from legal and political accountability, and by helping it escape the normal penalties or costs that would result ordinarily from the violations.
Arjan El Fassed is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.