“Europe has always been at the forefront in defending Palestinian national aspirations.” So writes Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat (April 24). This used to be true, but Europe’s past record is now too threadbare to serve as a cloak for the scandalous bankruptcy of its present policies.
The EU has joined the Israeli and US-led boycott of the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA). As a direct result of the Israeli siege combined with the EU’s aid cutoff, humanitarian officials report widespread hunger in the occupied territories and hospitals are running out of medicine. The United Nations estimates that 1.2 million Palestinians already suffer from extreme poverty. Over 152,000 people are employed by the PA and their salaries support approximately one million people — or 25 percent of the population in the occupied territories. These workers operate 62 percent of primary health clinics, all the major general hospitals except one and 75 percent of schools. Without PA salaries, poverty rates are predicted to increase sharply, conservatively, to 74 percent. UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations are in no position to replace incomes from the PA.
But all of this additional suffering is for the good of the Palestinians, Solana assures us. “In the new situation following the Palestinian elections,” he says, “we have remained true to our principles. We respect the Palestinians’ democratic choice; we do not intend to punish them or to blackmail the Government they have chosen. But if the party in power no longer shares the peace agenda underpinning our partnership or a vision of a pluralist Palestinian society attached to the rule of law and respect for human rights, we are obliged to reflect on the conditions under which the European Community and the Governments of the Union may continue to use European taxpayers’ money in the context of assistance to the Palestinians and their institutions. Our laws require us, at all costs, to avoid funding terrorist activities. Our political goals require us to ensure that the actions of both parties to the conflict remain compatible with the two-State solution negotiated between the parties.”
That is all very well, but why is it then that the EU only acts against the Palestinians when they are perceived to be violating these principles? In recent weeks, dozens of Palestinian civilians have been killed by the Israeli army’s relentless, deliberate shelling of civilian areas in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s government, whose election Solana welcomed, has announced plans to annex all the large settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Jordan Valley and occupied East Jerusalem. Israel is accelerating the construction of the apartheid wall that the International Court of Justice declared illegal and ordered torn down. How is that compatible with a negotiated two-state solution?
While the EU helps Israel besiege and starve the Palestinians (with the best of intentions, of course), it limits itself to the most timid statements if it even acknowledges Israeli violations. Solana tries to cast the EU’s political cowardice as virtue. Through the Oslo years, he writes, Europe was “a key driving force, seeking to improve the functioning of the Palestinian economy and to remedy the Palestinian population’s deteriorating humanitarian situation.” Europe’s commitment, he writes, was “highly practical” and “reflected in a multifaceted cooperation effort based on a comprehensive range of financial and technical assistance programmes. The presence of two important missions on the ground, one assisting the police, the other providing monitoring, technical and training support at the Rafah border crossing, is further evidence of our firm commitment.”
All this jargon is supposed to obscure the fact that while the EU focussed on ‘capacity-building,’ Israel was free to carry on settlement building, destroying any chance for establishing the Palestinian state. Solana speaks of “humanitarian” assistance as if the calamity Palestinians are living through were the result of a natural disaster or bad luck, rather than a decades-long violent campaign by Israel to colonize the occupied territories in violation of international law.
Despite Solana’s pious declaration that the parties it deals with must be committed to the “peace agenda” and “attached to the rule of law and respect for human rights,” the EU never uttered one word of protest when Rehavam Ze’evi, Benny Elon and Avigdor Lieberman, leaders of parties that explicitly advocate the expulsion of all Palestinians, sat in the Israeli cabinet between 2001-2004. Solana has been perfectly happy to have back-slapping, smiling photographs taken with Israeli officials who routinely order extrajudicial executions and openly threaten to murder the elected representatives of Palestinians. Is this the attachment to human rights of which he speaks? Is Solana now ready to cut EU ties with Israel if the pro-ethnic cleansing parties once again join the government, or if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not immediately renounce the use of assassination squads?
The Palestinians are not in their predicament because of insufficient “technical assistance and multifaceted cooperation” from EU bureaucrats, but because they live under a brutal foreign military occupation which they have few means to resist. Instead of helping Palestinians to end the occupation, the EU became its biggest enabler. The EU “monitoring” mission at the Rafah crossing represents the worst of this policy — the EU effectively became a subcontractor, controlling Palestinians’ movements on Israel’s behalf. In the absence of real solidarity from European and other governments, more Palestinians have concluded that armed resistance is the only means they have to stand up to Israel’s relentless colonization.
Solana argues that “The right to resist occupation, the recognised right of all occupied peoples, does not justify the atrocities committed in its name, whatever the actions or the means used by the occupying power.” If that is so, then why do EU states supply arms to Israel but refuse to provide a Palestinian liberation army with weaponry and training so that it can defend Palestinians using conventional force? I do not support violence of any kind, but there is no greater hypocrisy than calling on an occupied people to renounce violence when you are complicit in the occupier’s violence against them.
If Solana wants to demonstrate genuine support for the Palestinians he can start by calling for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, in accordance with its Article 2 which grants Israel trade privileges only on condition that it respects human rights. He should immediately call on all EU states to halt their arms sales to Israel. Though there is little chance of that, he writes, “we will never let the Palestinian people down.” Go tell it in Gaza.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada