The European Commission went farther in its Venice Declaration of June 13, 1980, which stated that, “the Palestinian people be allowed to exercise fully its rights to self-determination,” and that the Palestine Liberation Organization would have to be associated with the peace negotiations. It has consistently held that Israeli settlements were illegal under international law. The Venice Declaration was followed by a number of other statements, from countries which later became members if the European Union — all of them critical in some fashion of Israel, and all endorsing the rights of Palestinians.
European countries have been critical of what they claimed was the “disproportionate” response to the missile attacks from Hamas in Gaza by Israel in its Operation Cast Lead in 2008 — without voicing equal criticism of the terrorists launching those missiles. Similarly, the Europeans disapproved of Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza to prevent the delivery of weapons to people sworn to the destruction of Israel — without comment on the large number of missiles and rockets being smuggled into Gaza, presumably to be used by the ruling terrorist group there, Hamas, to fulfill its outspoken pledge to destroy Israel.
The EU played no part in the 1991 Madrid peace conference, but it did — together with the United States, the United Nations, and Russia — become a member of the Quartet on the Middle East, which was established in Madrid in 2002 to mediate the peace process.
The EU and Israel have disagreed on a number of issues. They have criticized, among other matters, Israeli building in the area of Jerusalem, the settlements in the West Bank, the construction of the Israeli security fence, and the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel in September 1996, in addition to the Israeli right to east Jerusalem, which under Jordanian rule had not only been closed to Israelis, but massively desecrated. (Gravestones from the Mount of Olives, for example, were taken to be used as the floors of Jordanian latrines.) Further disputes involved the closing of Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in Jerusalem, which was being used to receive foreign representatives, thus converting it into a virtual Palestinian foreign ministry. The EU did on December 10, 2012 denounce “as unacceptable” the statement by Hamas leaders that denied Israel’s right to exist, but at the same time also condemned Israeli plans for further construction of settlements.
Not surprisingly, Israel has considered the European attitude and policy as lacking impartiality, if not displaying outright hostility.
Economic relations between the two sides have been uneven, as well, with trade arrangements alternating with calls for boycotting Israeli products. Economic ties go back to 1964 between Israel and the then European Economic Community, and to the 1995 Association Agreement, ratified in 2000, and formally linked by the Association Council, in which each party granted the other preferential treatment in economic, commercial, and technological matters. The EU is Israel’s largest market for exports and its second largest source of imports, after the US. Israeli exports to the EU became exempt from customs duties but this did not apply to goods produced in settlements.
Although the Action Plan of December 9, 2004 suggests areas of interaction — among them, greater political cooperation; promotion of human rights; aiding multiculturalism; and opposition to antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia — these suggestions have rarely been put into practice. Despite a few perfunctory European criticisms of Palestinian actions, bias toward the Arab and Palestinian point of view, in both policy decisions and in rhetoric, seems inherent in the European attitude,
The Europeans are now acutely aware of the growing Arab and Muslim presence in their own countries, and the consequent political and social dilemmas this has created — as well as the growing Arab economic investment there. The Europeans have, both directly and through UNRWA, supplied aid to Palestinian refugees, and given money and loans to the Palestinian authorities. The Europeans have economic interests in the Arab countries, which supply reasonably priced and stable oil imports, investment capital, and whose residents are consumers of European products. The Europeans are bound by institutional relations and policies, which include the global Mediterranean policy, a European Neighborhood policy of 2004, the Euro-Arab Dialogue, and the Barcelona process (Euro-Mediterranean partnership) launched in 1995, which aims at economic development, as well as supposedly at democratic reform. In all of these links, the EU has indicated its opposition to Israeli settlements, or modification of the status of Jerusalem.