EU Separates Israel’s Security from its Settlements

Slow but continuing moves by the European Union — including two developments in the past week — place the Palestinian-Israeli struggle in the arena of international law, accountability and appropriate sanctions.

Events related to the Iran nuclear technology/sanctions agreement, the war in Yemen, and the battle against the “Islamic State” tend to dominate the headlines from the Middle East these days, but behind the scenes significant developments related to the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to take place. The idea of a dramatic external intervention to resolve this conflict remains a distant possibility, including options like new and better mediation by a joint American-European combine, French support for a “relaunched” Arab peace initiative, or taking the conflict to the UN Security Council or General Assembly. As significant may be the slow but continuing moves by the European Union (EU) to differentiate between the security of the state of Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders and the actions of Israel as a colonial and occupying power in the territories seized in 1967.

These moves have been underway for a few years now in the slow, bureaucratic manner in which the EU does business. They focus primarily on legal and political moves that would prohibit EU member states and private companies, like banks, from doing business with Israeli government or non-governmental entities based in the occupied territories. The significance of these moves is that they shift the center of gravity of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle away from the two arenas where Israel dominates and progress has been minimal to zero (brute power on the ground, and the American-mediated failed negotiations of the past 20 years), and into the arena of international law, accountability, and appropriate sanctions against miscreants, where Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights and obligations.

Two concurrent developments in the past week have given new vitality to this effort. The first was the decision by the EU to keep moving ahead with the process of labeling Israeli goods made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the second is a new proposal by a respected European think tank for EU states to differentiate more firmly between Israel proper and its post-1967 colonial realm, including the possibility of ending official and private business dealings with Israeli banks.

These developments send the powerful political message that Israel’s continuing illegal actions in the occupied Palestinian territories cannot continue forever with impunity. The EU move occurs while several other significant developments increase the pressure on Israel to respect its legal and ethical obligations: The Palestinian-initiated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians continues to pick up steam around the world, the United States government more openly and frequently expresses its opposition to some Israeli moves in the occupied territories, and some EU member states unilaterally recognize the State of Palestine.

The net result is that global powers that Israel had always assumed were safely in its pocket are fed up with its behavior that flaunts international law, and are prepared to take action to make this point. This increases the likelihood of combined political-economic pressures by states and civil society around the world to sanction Israel for its subjugation of Palestinians, just as the world once pressured and finally helped to end South African Apartheid policies.

Israelis cry out that this is anti-Semitism, but the world now routinely ignores such desperate Zionist measures, because those who pressure Israel to end its often brutal and inhuman colonial behavior are also strongly committed to its existence and security within its pre-1967 borders. The declining impact of Israeli attempts to intimidate, immobilize, and silence the critics of its colonial actions (with the possible exception of the very strange terrain of the U.S. Congress) is an important sign of the changing international environment related to the Israeli-Palestinian and wider Zionism-Arabism conflicts. Moving the dynamics of this conflict into the realm of international law, rather than brute power on the ground or the dysfunctional bias of American mediation, should be applauded, because it could ultimately provide all concerned with their legitimate rights, on an equal basis, and show a real will to end impunity by all sides.

The most intriguing new development last week was the European Council on Foreign Relations report, entitled “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements,” which argued that the EU is violating its own laws and needs to take actions that would more emphatically affirm its normal relations with Israel while condemning and somehow punishing Israel’s activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among the possible moves the EU could take would be to stop dealings with Israeli banks that profit from operations in the occupied territories, including widespread loans and housing mortgages — which triggered a sudden drop in some Israeli bank stocks. Such moves would take the initial labeling of products made in Israeli settlements to a much more significant level, including possibly ending the tax-exempt status of European charities with links to Israeli settlements or not recognizing qualifications from academic, medical, and other Israeli institutions based in the occupied territories.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri.

Copyright ©2015 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global