The EU’s blind eye to Israel

The EU continues to upgrade it relations with Israel despite the latter’s illegal occupation of the territory of several countries. (Rami Swidan/MaanImages)

On 1 September 2008, the European Union decided that meetings with Russia about a new partnership agreement would be postponed until the latter ended its military occupation of Georgia. In contrast, on 16 June 2008 the 27-member EU decided to “upgrade” its relations with Israel. This has now been put into effect by a decision of the EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels on 8 December.

Was this in recognition of Israeli adherence to previous agreements with the EU, or progress in the peace process with the Palestinians? On the contrary, by the EU’s very own standards it appears to have been a reward for Israel’s military occupation of the territory of several countries, and gross violations of human rights and international law, as well as specific commitments made to the EU. If the conditions applied to Russia today were applied to Israel, the EU would immediately terminate its partnership agreements with Israel.

In 2004, Israel became an EU partner within the framework of the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which encompasses both the EU’s Mediterranean and eastern European neighbors. Under the ENP, according to the policy stated on its Web site, the EU’s relations with other states are “a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development).” Moreover, the ENP offers “a deeper political relationship and economic integration.” However, this is not unconditional, as “the level of ambition of the relationship will depend on the extent to which these values are shared.”

Yet, despite Israel’s manifest failure to meet its obligations under earlier agreements with the EU, Israel was in the first group of seven states with which the EU agreed ENP “action plans” in December 2004. The “action plan” was based on a 2004 European Commission report which openly states that Israel has systematically discriminated against its Palestinian minority throughout its existence and that human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, are a continuous feature of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories. One might have thought that a state which indulged in “religious discrimination” and “extrajudicial killings” would be deemed unfit by the EU for an ENP relationship built on common values. However, the EU turned a blind eye to these violations and granted Israel an ENP partnership.

In April 2008, the European Commission, the EU’s secretariat, published a progress report on Israel’s implementation. It concluded that there had been “little concrete progress” on the issues cited in the 2004 action plan. Yet, just months after it reported this lack of “concrete progress,” the EU took its decision to further “upgrade” its relations with Israel.

The Barcelona Declaration

The EU’s disregard of Israel’s violations has a long pedigree. Israel became a partner of the EU in November 1995 with the signing of the Barcelona Declaration, which established the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. This Partnership encompassed 15 EU states plus 11 states in the Mediterranean region (Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey) and the Palestinian Authority. Signatories to the Barcelona Declaration agreed to behave according to international norms in their relations with other states, promising to “act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law.”

The signatories also entered into a number of specific obligations in respect of their “partners” in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. This included:

(1) Refrain, in accordance with the rules of international law, from any direct or indirect intervention in the internal affairs of another partner;

(2) Respect the territorial integrity and unity of each of the other partners;

(3) Settle their disputes by peaceful means, call upon all participants to renounce recourse to the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of another participant, including the acquisition of territory by force, and reaffirm the right to fully exercise sovereignty by legitimate means in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.

In 1995, when Israel signed the Barcelona Declaration and undertook to abide by these principles, it was occupying southern Lebanon and had annexed the Syrian Golan Heights. By no stretch of the imagination could it be said that Israel was refraining from intervention in the internal affairs of its Lebanese and Syrian partners, or respecting their territorial integrity, or settling disputes with them by peaceful means. Manifestly, when it signed the Barcelona Declaration, Israel was openly contravening the agreement’s three core obligations.

At that time, Israel was also in breach of the general obligation in the Barcelona Declaration to “act in accordance with the United Nations Charter.” As an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, it remains in violation of Articles 2.4 of the UN Charter. It is also in violation of the requirement in Article 25 that UN member states “accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.” Indeed, by 1995, Israel was in violation of some 25 Security Council resolutions requiring action by it and it alone. These included demands to: cease the building of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, reverse its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA).

Double standards

The EU’s double standards do not only target Russia. In the Barcelona Declaration, Israel also agreed to pursue “a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.” In addition, it agreed to work to “prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as excessive accumulation of conventional arms.”

Israel is the only state in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons. So, its disarmament of these weapons is a necessary, and probably a sufficient, condition for bringing about a “Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction,” as required by the Barcelona Declaration. However, progress in bringing this about has been noticeable by its absence since Israel signed up to “pursue” this objective in 1995.

There has been no progress either on the Security Council’s Resolution 487 that calls upon “Israel [to] urgently … place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.” Passed on 19 June 1981, Israel has yet to open its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, nor is there any noticeable pressure from the EU to make it do so, let alone disarm in order to produce a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, which parties to the Barcelona Declaration are supposed to “pursue.”

By contrast, Iran’s nuclear facilities, including its uranium enrichment facilities, are open to IAEA inspection. It is worth noting that, after extensive inspection in Iran, the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, or ever had one. By contrast, Israel has possessed nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them for around 40 years. It is estimated that today Israel has around 200 nuclear warheads and various delivery systems, including by submarine-launched missiles. Israel is capable of wiping Iran, and every Arab state, off the map at the touch of a button. Despite the European Neighborhood Policy requirement regarding weapons of mass destruction, the EU is actively pressuring Iran about its nuclear activities, but not Israel.

Rewarding Israel’s “collective punishment” of Gaza

In November 1995, Israel signed an Association Agreement with the EU under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Commonly known as the Euro-Med Agreement, it gave Israel privileged access to the EU market from 2000. The Euro-Med Agreement also contains human rights obligations, in particular “respect for human rights and democratic principles.” Compliance with these provisions is an “essential element” of the agreement.

Israel has continuously failed to live up to these obligations, the most recent example being its economic strangulation of the Gaza Strip over the past 19 months. John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, explained to the Security Council on 26 February 2008 that “the effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel’s continuing obligations to the people of Gaza. It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”

Moreover, the EU itself has described the economic strangulation of Gaza as “collective punishment.” The EU’s External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stated on 21 January 2008 that “I am against this collective punishment of the people of Gaza. I urge the Israeli authorities to restart fuel supplies and open the crossings for the passage of humanitarian and commercial supplies.”

So, the UN and the EU are of the firm opinion that, by its economic strangulation of Gaza, Israel has violated international humanitarian law. Moreover, this policy of collective punishment has been openly acknowledged by the Israeli government for at least two years. Famously, when Israel limited commercial shipments of food into Gaza in 2006, Dov Weissglas, an adviser to then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, explained that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.”

In spite of these repeated violations of its human rights obligations, the EU continues to turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions. Indeed, there seems to be no violation Israel can commit that will persuade the EU to halt its favorable treatment, let alone downgrade its relations.

David Morrison is a political officer for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The above is based on “The European Union’s Blind Eye: How the EU ignores Israel’s failure to fulfill its obligations under EU agreements,” which was published by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in October 2008 and can be downloaded here [PDF].