The European Union has disposed of any pretense of even-handedness with Israel, and has effectively repudiated the concept of disputed territories, which will be one of the principal issues of contention at the forthcoming peace talks sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Newly issued EU guidelines prohibit the issuing of funding, grants, prizes or scholarships to Israeli institutions located beyond the Green Line. Part of a 2014-20 financial framework, they cover all areas of cooperation between the EU and Israel, including economic, science, culture, sports and academia. While they do not directly affect trade agreements, the move is a clear penalty that could, in the future, extend to goods produced in the settlements, and launch of a new European anti-Israeli offensive.
The EU is Israel’s most significant trade partner. In 2012, Israel imported $22.4 billion and exported $14.2 billion to the EU. Thus, the material and symbolic implications of the exclusion of settlements from EU trade agreements should not be underestimated.
By no longer recognizing “disputed territories” the EU is demanding that Israel acknowledge that “settlements” and all territories occupied after 1967 are not part of the sovereign Israeli state. This not only incorporates the major settlement blocs that will never be forfeited, but also the officially annexed Golan Heights, the Jewish suburbs of East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the Western Wall.
It means that the EU has abrogated its own Quartet Roadmap by unilaterally determining that the borders of Israel will be the 1949 armistice lines. It is also in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which stipulates that these are not deemed to be legal or permanent borders and specifies that Israel should have “secure and recognized boundaries.” Rather than supporting direct negotiations with the Palestinians, the EU is now imposing upon us indefensible borders that will endanger our future existence.
This EU policy is utterly perverse and certainly will not advance the cause of peace. On the contrary, it will undermine the forthcoming peace talks, and provide an incentive to the Palestinians to reject any compromise knowing that intransigency will be rewarded by intensified European and global pressure on Israel to make additional unilateral concessions.
Ironically released on the fast of Tisha B’Av, the EU announcement caught the Israeli government by surprise. But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Moral relativism has dominated European thinking since World War II. This, combined with post-colonial guilt and mounting pressure from powerful Moslem groups, has encouraged Europeans to treat Jews, and in particular the Jewish state, as their scapegoats.
But it goes further. The traditional anti-Semitism rooted in European culture throughout two millennia that went into remission after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust is now rapidly re-emerging and actively directed against the Jewish nation-state. Many Europeans are deeply offended and agitated by suggestions that their policies towards Israel are motivated by bias or anti-Semitism. Yet the April 2004 Berlin Declaration of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) specifically defines anti-Semitic behavior as the application to Israel of “double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” or “describing Israel as ‘a racist endeavor’.”
Opinion polls consistently show that Europeans are convinced that Israel represents an equal or greater threat to world peace than North Korea or Iran. More ominously, a recent European poll indicated that 150 million Europeans endorse the view that Israelis treat Palestinians like the Nazis treated Jews.
It is almost surreal that the EU is taking a punitive stand against Israel at a time when the civil war in Syria has cost more than 120,000 lives, Iran seeks to become a nuclear power, and Egypt and most of the region is in total flux. At the same time, the EU has been agonizing for more than a year whether or not to proscribe the so-called “military” wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. In this context, it is obscene for the EU to flex its muscles against Jews living in the Jewish suburbs of East Jerusalem.
Moreover, the EU knows that 90% of Palestinians in the West Bank already live under the authority of the Palestinian Authority and that Gaza is totally controlled by Hamas. The Europeans are also aware that, despite Israel’s repeated offers to negotiate without preconditions, the Palestinians have been the intransigent party, increasing their demands for unilateral concessions as a precondition and treating Israel as a supplicant.
But the double standards applied against Israel have always been blatant. The EU has never made similar demands of China’s occupation of Tibet, India’s occupation of Kashmir or even Turkey’s control of one third of Cyprus. It is only toward Israel that it seeks to impose such extreme discriminatory measures.
It is unclear where the Obama administration stands on this matter. Theoretically, the White House and State Department should be opposed to the new EU policy because it undermines even the remote prospects of a successful outcome to the forthcoming negotiations with the Palestinians. But neither the White House nor the State Department have criticized the initiative, and there is a lurking suspicion that there are those in the administration who welcome and may even have encouraged this move to exert pressure on Israel.
Indeed, in his efforts to court the Palestinians to agree to negotiations, Kerry has been ominously hinting that the “disputed territories” should be substituted by the terminology used in the Arab League peace proposal. This could pave the way for the US to blame Israel for a breakdown in negotiations if we refuse to consider Arab demands for using the 1949 armistice lines as the benchmark for territorial negotiations.
In combating this new European challenge, the need is greater than ever for our government to speak with one voice. Recent provocative statements by government ministers repudiating a two-state solution under any circumstances and calling for annexation of the territories in direct contradiction to official government policy provided a rationale for dispensing with the concept of disputed territories, which made it respectable for the EU to do the same.
We must not concede to this malevolent, new EU demand which, if played out further, would entail abandoning hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens. We must make every possible effort to prevent the EU from expanding this move toward broader sanctions. And we must make clear that whilst this discriminatory clause remains in effect, we can no longer consider the EU an honest broker or an intermediary in peace negotiations.
The European initiative is a wake-up call. While Israel has a powerful and resilient economy that can withstand trade restrictions, it cannot endure further isolation. We cannot write off Europe, but instead must exploit all our resources to shame the EU and more aggressively expose the double standards and bias it continues to employ against us.