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EU ‘Upgrades’ Relations with Israel, Strangling Strings Attached

In June, EU “Foreign Minister” Catherine Ashton, who has a well-earned reputation for making statements that seek to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state, criticized Israeli policies that “are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.” Since assuming her post in December 2009, Ashton has never criticized Palestinian obstructionism and their setting impossible preconditions for entering genuine peace talks with Israel. (In March, Ashton famously equated the killing of three children at a Jewish school in France with “what is happening in Gaza.”)

In May, the EU’s 27 foreign ministers unanimously condemned “the ongoing evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, changes to the residency status of Palestinians…the prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities…the worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population…of jeopardizing the major achievements of the Palestinian Authority in state-building…the continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians…” But nowhere does the document call on the Palestinian Authority to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, a move that arguably more than any other would advance Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

In January 2012, the EU published a document called “The EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem” which makes an urgent plea for the EU to adopt a more “active and visible” implementation of its policy towards Israel and the peace process.

Authored by EU delegations to the Palestinian Authority, the document includes severe recommendations meant to strengthen Palestinian control over East Jerusalem and coerce Israel to change its policy in the West Bank.

The document recommends that the European Union fund Palestinian construction projects in Area C of the West Bank without Israel’s cooperation, undermining Israeli control. But under the Oslo Accords, Area C is under full Israeli civil and security control; it contains all of Israel’s West Bank settlements and a small Palestinian population. The EU document also states that Israel’s policies are undermining the prospect of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, and calls on Israel to support Palestinian construction across Area C and in East Jerusalem.

The report includes a radical proposal for “appropriate EU legislation to prevent/discourage financial transactions in support of settlement activity.” Under the proposal, the European Commission would use legislation to force European companies to stop doing business with companies involved in settlement construction and commercial activities.

Recommendations include the preparation of a “blacklist” of settlers considered violent in order to consider later the option of banning them from entering the European Union. The document also seeks to encourage more PA activity and representation in East Jerusalem.

The report advises senior EU figures visiting East Jerusalem to refrain from being escorted by official Israeli representatives or security personnel. In addition, the document encourages officials to instruct European tourism firms to refrain from supporting Israeli businesses located in East Jerusalem and to raise EU public awareness of Israeli products originating from the settlements or from East Jerusalem.

In December 2011, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a classified working paper produced by European embassies in Israel, which recommended that the European Union should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The document is unprecedented in that it deals with internal Israeli issues. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials quoted by Haaretz, the document was written and sent to EU headquarters in Brussels behind the back of the Israeli government.

Other issues the document deals with include “the lack of progress in the peace process, the continued occupation of the territories, Israel’s definition of itself as Jewish and democratic, and the influence of the Israeli Arab population.”

The original document also included suggestions for action the EU should take, but these were removed from the final version at the insistence of several countries. Among these were the suggestion that the EU file an official protest every time a bill discriminating against Arabs passes a second reading in the Knesset, and that the EU ensure that all Arab towns have completed urban plans, “with each member state potentially ‘adopting’ a municipality to this end.”

Haaretz reported that, according to a European diplomat involved in drafting the report, work on it began in 2010 at the initiative of Britain. The idea was to write a report that could be debated by a forum of EU foreign ministers. At some point, however, several countries, among them the Czech Republic, Poland and the Netherlands, expressed objections to its contents and the document was watered down.

About the Author: The writer is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.


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