A non-partisan journal of the left.

Lip Service to Peace: EU as an Enabler of Netanyahu’s Colonial Policies

Thu 15th Nov 2012

Europe
is different, as we are often reminded. The general wisdom is unlike the US’ unconditional support for Israel. European countries tend to be more
balanced in their approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their
politicians are less receptive to being bought and sold by pro-Israeli lobbies.
Their media is far more inclusive in their coverage - unlike the staunchly
one-sided US mainstream media that, at times, are far more pro-Israel than
Israeli media itself. While one must concede that no single country’s foreign
policy is an exact carbon copy of another, there is little evidence that set
the European Union (EU) apart as a platform of evenhandedness and political
sensibility. Unlike the US however, European bias is far more inconspicuous,
and purposely so.

No
other issue highlights European inconsistency, hypocrisy and even
self-defeating policies as that of the EU stance regarding the illegal Jewish
settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. All the firm statements
about the EU’s commitment to international law pertaining to the illegality of
the settlements, all the warnings that the ever-encroaching colonial structures
impede any chances – if any exist – of a two-state solution, and all the rest,
are no more than declared policies that stand in almost complete contradiction
to reality on the ground.



Not
only does the EU do little to show real resolve in discouraging the growth of
the settlements – which now occupy nearly 42 per cent of the total size of the
West Bank and East Jerusalem and most of their natural resources – but, in
brazenly direct ways, it actually funds the growth of these very settlements.
The oddity is that the EU does so while continuing to be a major funder of the
Palestinian Authority (PA) and tireless advocate of the two-state solution.



But
how can the EU advocate the very ‘solution’ that is itself effectively involved
in its demise? Mere hypocrisy - discrepancy between rhetoric and action, or is
the EU”s attitude part of a decided foreign policy agenda that is much greater
than the political will of individual countries?



Facts
and numbers unmistakably demonstrate EU complicity, complacency and direct
investment in the Israeli colonial project. In a new report entitled: “Trading
Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements”, twenty-two
NGOs expose a most revealing European duplicity. The NGOs included major
organizations such as Christian Aid and the International Federation for Human
Rights.



“The
most recent estimate of the value of EU imports from settlements provided by
the Israeli government to the World Bank is $300m (€230m) a year; this is
approximately fifteen times the annual value of EU imports from Palestinians,”
the report showed. “With more than four million Palestinians and over 500,000
Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory, this means the EU imports
over 100 times more per settler than per Palestinian.”



Europe
is Israel’s largest trade partner, followed by the US. Without such
major trade routes, the Israeli economy is likely to suffer the consequences of
Israeli government policies. Moreover, the amount cited above is likely much
larger since much of Israeli products originating in the occupied territories
are marketed under the ‘Made in Israel’ label, simply because many
settlements-based companies have branches in Israel. A case in point is
SodaStream, which produces an at-home carbonation device. The vast majority
(over 70 per cent) of its products are sold in European countries, despite the
fact that the manufacturing of the product takes place in Ma’ale Adumim, a
Jewish settlement built illegally over Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and
constantly in a state of expansion. Companies based in illegal settlements
receive generous tax breaks and other incentives, as in using ‘Jewish-only’
roads, which Palestinians are not allowed to use, although the roads are
constructed on their land. “Because the company also maintains a factory in
Israel,” wrote Eline Gordts in the Huffington Post, it can sell its products
under the label ‘Made in Israel’.” Such strategy can be successful in avoiding
the formality of branding products made in Jewish settlements as such, which is
applied by two European countries.



The EU has little quarrel with being a
major market that keeps the settlements prosperous and economically
competitive. It is in fact doing its utmost to integrate the Israeli economy
into the larger European market. The latest of such efforts took place on
October 23 when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Israel Agreement on
Conformity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAA). The ratification is barely an
isolated gesture, for it is part of ceaseless efforts that go back to the 1995
Association Agreement, which supposedly meant to reward Israel for its
peacemaking efforts and help it break away from its regional isolation. Despite
Israel’s incessant efforts at colonizing much of the West Bank, continued
‘legal’ and physical isolation of occupied East Jerusalem, and protracted siege
on Gaza, the EU has done little to underscore any objection to Israel’s
violation of international law. “It is worth remembering,” wrote Emanuele
Scimia in Asia Times, “that on July 24 the European Council, the EU's
decision-making body, already agreed to upgrade trade and diplomatic relations
with Israel in more than 60 sectors.”



 Rife
with contradictions, European countries continue to tread with the same odd
logic of supporting settlements and criticizing them at the same time. Three
European powers – Germany, Britain and France – joined forces from Berlin on
Nov 6 criticizing Israel over its recent decision to permit the construction of
more than 1,200 units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.



“Our
clear expectation of all sides in the Middle East is that they refrain from
anything that will make the resumption of negotiations more difficult,” German
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. He called Israel’s settlement policy
“a hindrance to the peace process.” In fact, this is the tip of the iceberg
because according to the NGOs report “over the past two years, settlement
expansion has accelerated with more than 16,000 new housing units announced or
approved.” That policy is likely to continue with unprecedented ferocity since
the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that settlements
construction is the cornerstone of his policies, especially once he receives a
new mandate following the upcoming elections.



The
growth of the settlements is accompanied by a parallel destruction of
“Palestinian structures - including those funded by European donor support.”
Neither is the EU actively defending its declared policies regarding
settlements, nor is it taking any meaningful legal action against the
systematic Israeli destruction of EU-funded projects in the occupied
territories. Even worse, according to the report “some European-owned companies
have invested in settlements and related infrastructure or are providing
services to them. Cases that have been reported include G4S (UK/Denmark),
Alstom (France), Veolia (France), and Heidelberg Cement (Germany) ..”



European
policies may seem irrational at the surface – as in, for example, Germany
criticizing Israeli settlements, yet permitting Heidelberg Cement to profit
from the occupation. But political absurdity is not exactly a trait of European
politics, nor can such contradictions last for so long, if political
incongruity was not itself the very policy that the EU wishes to pursue.



Indeed,
the EU foreign policies regarding Palestine/Israel are different from those of
the United States, while the latter is openly one-sided and ‘unconditionally’
so, the former is deviously complicit in ensuring the very occupation that it
is supposedly trying to end.



 – Ramzy Baroud (ramzybaroud.net) is an
internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com.
His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.

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