The European Union has upgraded trade and diplomatic relations with Israel in more than 60 activities and fields, including agriculture, energy and immigration.
But the wide-ranging boost to bilateral relations, which was announced at the annual EU-Israel Association Council meeting in Brussels on July 24, is unlikely to end the deep-seated hostility European officialdom harbors towards the Jewish state.
The move, which comes amid an unending barrage of European criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank, Gaza and within Israel itself, in fact appears aimed at increasing Israel’s economic dependence upon the European Union, with the objective of enhancing the bloc’s leverage over the State of Israel.
As a whole, the package stops short of the full upgrade in relations that was frozen after Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in January 2009, but is highly significant nonetheless.
Among other measures, the European Union will remove obstacles impeding Israel’s access to European government-controlled markets and enhance Israel’s co-operation with nine key EU agencies, including the European Police Office (Europol), the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Notably absent from the package is the Agreement on Conformity, Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA), a trade agreement that seeks to eliminate technical barriers to trade in industrial products, with the objective of increasing European access to Israeli markets, and vice-versa.
Although the European Commission and the European Council approved the ACAA in March 2010, ratification of the agreement has been held up in the European Parliament due to lobbying by pro-Palestinian activist groups, who argue that the agreement will benefit Israeli companies that do business in the disputed, so-called Occupied Territories.
The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament (AFET) on June 7 recommended that the ACAA be ratified, but its fate will be determined by the Committee on International Trade (INTA), which is scheduled to vote on the measure on September 18, 2012.
In any event, the official EU statement announcing the upgrade in bilateral relations is also replete with condescending criticism of Israel, which the EU accuses of perpetrating a wide range of human rights abuses in the “occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)” and within Israel itself.
Among other items, the statement refers to Israel’s obligation to protect the rights of the Arab-Palestinian minority, stressing the “importance to address it as a core problem in its own right.” The document also condemns the “excessive recourse by Israel to administrative detention.”
The EU urges Israel “to refrain from actions which may…curtail the freedom of association and freedom of speech (of civil society)” and it calls on Israel to prosecute “settler extremists” for their “continuous violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians.”
The statement “stresses Israel’s obligations regarding the living conditions of the Palestinian population” and condemns “developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible, such as, inter alia, the marked acceleration of settlement construction, ongoing evictions of Palestinians and the demolition of their housing and infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including East Jerusalem, the worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population and serious limitations for the Palestinian Authority to promote the economic development of Palestinian communities, in particular in Area C.”
The EU is also “concerned about reports on a possible resumption of construction of the separation barrier because the EU considers that the separation barrier where built on occupied land is illegal under international law, constitutes an obstacle to peace and threatens to make a two-state solution impossible.”
The statement comes amid a wave of official EU criticism of Israel that is often one-sided, disproportionate and bordering on obsessive.
In July, for example, the European Parliament passed a highly biased resolution accusing Israel of literally dozens of offenses against the Palestinian population, Palestinian institutions and even Arab Bedouins. The statement criticizes Israel for “expansion of settlements and settler violence, planning restrictions and the consequent acute house shortage, house demolitions, evictions and displacements, confiscation of land, difficult access to natural resources, and the lack of basic social services and assistance…” The resolution even accuses Israel of “creating an institutional and leadership vacuum in the local Palestinian population.”