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Hichem Karoui: Hullabaloo about EU move
July 21, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

A serious crisis is shaking the relationship between the European Union and Israel. The reason is the decision to ban 28 EU member states from funding or dealing with settlers in territories occupied by the Jewish state in 1967, according to the guidelines published in the EU’s Official Journal on Friday morning, July 19.

The guidelines adopted on June 30 limit “the application of agreements with Israel to the territory of Israel as recognised by the EU,” which means prior to the June 1967 occupation by Israel of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They also require any future signed agreements to recognise that these areas are not part of the Jewish state. They are applicable to all grants, prizes, and financial instruments funded by the European Union from 2014 onwards.

Prior to its publishing, “the document was circulated among all the EU institutions, foundations, investment funds and aid organisations two weeks ago, as well as to all 28 EU member states,” said the Israeli paper Haaretz (July 17). They go into effect on January 1.

In Israel, the reaction was utmost anger against the European Union.

On Tuesday, July 16, after the EU approved the guidelines, Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting. The Israeli government considered the guidelines “an attempt by the European Commission to coerce positions on issues which belong at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations table.”

On July 17, Benjamin Netanyahu said new European Union guidelines against funding projects in Jewish settlements have shaken Israel’s faith in the bloc’s role in peace efforts. The policy marked in his opinion “the attempt to forcibly determine Israel’s borders through economic pressure instead of through negotiations.” Evoking the attempts by US Secretary of State John Kerry aiming to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Netanyahu blamed the EU for such an attitude, which “hardens the Palestinian position and leads Israel to lose faith in Europe’s neutrality,” as he said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres displayed the same attitude. He urged the EU on Thursday, July 18, to delay stopping funding of projects involving settlements in the occupied territories as Palestinians and Israelis inch toward fresh peace talks.

Three European ambassadors have been called to a meeting in the Israeli Foreign Affairs ministry: the French, the British, and the German. A high-ranking Israeli official told AFP, “We asked the ambassadors to tell their capitals that no Israeli government would accept these conditions, and they could provoke a serious crisis with Israel.”

However, the EU does not seem impressed. It did not delay the date for publishing the document. The EU insisted that guidelines banning any dealings with Israeli Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories do not “pre-judge” the outcome of peace talks between the two long-time foes. “In no way will this prejudge the outcome of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said.

“It has been the EU’s long held position that it will recognise changes made to the borders once agreed by both parties” in talks on a two-state peace accord, Ashton said in a statement.

These were the facts. Now, why are the Israelis so furious against the EU?

The answer is these guidelines will ineluctably isolate Israel in the international community, if Netanyahu carries on the same policy, pretending to accept the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, while implementing new settlements as accomplished facts.

Since 1967, Israel has systematically transferred parts of its Jewish civilian population into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in violation of international law. Today, more than half a million Israeli settlers, including over 190,000 in and around East Jerusalem, live in settlements established on land illegally seized from the Palestinians.

In the summer of 2002, Israel began constructing its Wall in the Palestinian territories. The areas taken for the Wall, combined with settlement-controlled areas east of the Wall and in the Jordan Valley, will leave the Palestinians with only 54 per cent of the West Bank.

Just recently, in June 2013, Israel approved the construction of 1,169 units, including the settlement of Burchin (Salfit Area), settlements in the so-called “Gush Etzion” area (Bethlehem — Hebron) and the illegal settlement of Har Homa (between Bethlehem and occupied Jerusalem). That is equivalent to 39 units per day, or more than the average number of daily units built by PM Netanyahu’s government during his 2009-2013 term of office (24 units per day), according to a PLO factsheet released in July 2013.

Referring to official Israeli government statistics, the factsheet revealed that during the first quarter of 2013, construction in the West Bank increased by 335% in comparison to the last quarter of 2012 — reaching the highest level in seven years. Thus, “between January and June 2013, construction of 1,000 new housing units began in the West Bank, which includes Occupied East Jerusalem. Many of the construction sites are located deep inside the West Bank. In addition, since January, there have been 15,800 settlement housing units in various stages of planning, approval and development in the Occupied State of Palestine.”

Obviously, Netanyahu is not ready to stop the activity of the settlers. If he were sincere about resuming negotiations, he would have done so, though. What was he waiting for? Nevertheless, he dared blaming the Europeans for making a concrete step toward peace, since peace cannot be the result of the illegal settlements policy. The world is still waiting for the Americans to make the same step, especially in this second term of the Obama administration. The United States had always condemned the policy of illegal settlements, but had never done anything clear about stopping it.

The Europeans are not blind. They do see the impasse to which this policy has led. Silence over settlements would be felt as encouragement to continue on the same path. The EU is a partner to all the parties involved with the peace process in the Middle East. Its policy concerning this issue is not dictated by electoral calculations and Jewish lobby pressures, as was indeed the case for several US administrations.
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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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