EU Concern?


A Note on Parliaments: EU and UK

The EU Parliament is far ahead of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, bringing pressure to bear on these latter bodies; as also, in the UK, MPs are ahead of the Government,bringing pressure to bear on it (cf. Arms Exports, Questions Asked (UK). Considering how many, and what potentially powerful, pressure groups are acting in this area, it is extraordinary what can continue. It is an interesting question whether recent events surrounding Gaza - Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report, and the attack on the humanitarian flotilla - will constitute a turning point, such that governments and EU institutions will now have to be more circumspect in regard to their ties with Israel.

For the UK see The UK.

Polls suggest that there is a clear disparity between the outlook of European publics and European governments on Israel.

  1. -In Oct. 2003 a survey conducted the the European Commission showed that approx. 60% of Europeans saw Israel as the greatest threat to world peace

  2. -In Jan. 2011 a poll jointly commissioned by the Middle East Monitor, Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University and conducted by the polling institution ICM Government and Social Research Unit, who interviewed 7,045 adults in the UK, France, Span, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, showed a significant gap on a range of questions: e.d. 45% think Hamas should be involved in peace talks (which is not reflected in the policies of most EU governments).

The European Union Institutions

Straws in the wind may be the following:

  1. Swedish Presidency of the E.U.

Sweden is a country which has been to the forefront in exerting pressure on Israel. During the period July-December 2009 Sweden held the EU presidency. Its foreign minister was the (former Prime Minister) Carl Bildt. Meeting under Bildt’s presidency, the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU on 08.12.09  issued a seemingly strong statement calling for ‘the urgent resumption of

negotiations that will lead, within an agreed time-frame, to a two-state solution with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine’. It continued: ‘The European Union will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.’ (Thus, in accordance with EU policy, no support for the position implied by the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters: see History & Background.)  Further the EU was said to ‘fully support’ the implementation of the PA government plan ‘Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State’. (EU Council Bildt.pdf.)

The Swedish Presidency of the EU had originally proposed a statement which read that the blockade was unacceptable ‘from the point of view of international humanitarian law’, but this was omitted owing to the opposition of some member states. The joint NGO statement on Gaza, ‘Failing Gaza’ (Dec. 2009) comments: ‘Due to the reluctance of several Member States, the EU has refrained from recognising the blockade as a form of collective punishment [illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention] or even from stating that it violates international humanitarian law.’ In 2008 the Slovenian and French presidencies of the EU in statements called the blockade ‘collective punishment’ as did also the EU Parliament in its Resolution of 15.01.09.

On 10.12.09 Ha’aretz reported on a subsequent visit by Carl Bildt to Israel in which he called for Jerusalem to become the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, saying that the EU was united and would not ‘remain shy’ on so crucial an issue. Of the weakening of the Resolution of 08.12.09 a senior Israeli ministry official had commented that a group of nations had ‘saved the European Union from itself, since any other decision would have dealt severe harm to the relations between Jerusalem and Brussels, and would have prevented the EU from becoming an important partner in the peace process’. The Israeli Foreign Ministry was, predictably, damning the EU for passing the resolution that it had, saying the EU should be pressurising the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table (without of course any halt in settlement building). 

  1. Catherine Ashton

Speaking at the EU Parliament debate on the Middle East Peace Process on 15.12.09, Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, made a seemingly strong statement. Speaking of the need for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations she commented:

  1. Not negotiations for negotiations sake but negotiations to achieve a peace deal and turn the page. We cannot, and nor, I doubt can the region tolerate another round of fruitless negotiations. Negotiations have taken place on and off for several years starting with the Oslo Declaration of Principles signed in September 1993. That was sixteen years ago. Negotiations should be based on international law and respect previous agreements. All issues should be on the table including the status of Jerusalem as the future shared capital. They should also take place within an agreed time-frame with effective mediation. We need to see a serious commitment and the political will from both Israel and Palestine to engage in serious and genuine negotiations. The EU is there to help both parties take that engagement and offer them support in the difficult road of negotiations. I am here to make sure Europe works effectively and harmoniously. The EU has consistently supported both Israel and the Palestinians by giving them the time and space to negotiate bilaterally. ……

(For the full speech click here.)

When one looks at this more carefully however there may be said to be considerable problems. It is excellent to say that ‘another round of fruitless negotiations’ is not to be tolerated. Hamas has agreed that, if a final settlement was to be negotiated by the PA and put to a referendum and the Palestinian people were to agree to it, then it would abide by this. But it seems unlikely that the Palestinian people - who democratically elected Hamas in a free and fair election in 2006 - would agree to a final settlement which left them with what has been referred to as a ‘Bantustan’ state (see Solutions?). In this case what is needed is that the EU (and the US) bring Hamas into the negotiations! Negotiations should indeed be based on international law: this is what the Palestinian people are increasingly simply asking for. International law states clearly that the settlements (including the take-over of East Jerusalem) is illegal. The ‘previous agreement’ which is the Oslo Accord (and subsequent accords) have got the Palestinians nowhere. The EU (and the US) giving Israel ‘time and space’ has simply resulted in Israel using that time and space to continue apace with assimilating the West Bank into Israel as de facto part of the Israeli state. What is needed is an embargo of Israel to enforce an agreement commensurate with international law.

The EU and Human Rights in the OPT

Israeli Working Group on Human Rights (TROIKA)

There is an EU-Israel Human Rights Working Group (click here) which apparently holds regular meetings. The minutes are completely bland, conveying essentially nothing.

‘EU standing in the region has suffered from the schizophrenia of maintaining one line in public, whilst its security policies were facing in another direction entirely. Thus, we have the EU “talking the talk” of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, whilst “walking the walk” of disruption, detention, seizing the finances, and destroying the capabilities of one of the two factions; thus we have EU “talking the talk” of aid for Palestinians, whilst “walking the walk” of tying that aid to the objectives of the US security project; we have the EU “talking the talk” of Palestinian state-building, whilst Palestinian institutions are dispersed to external control; we have the EU “talking the talk” of democracy, whilst it colludes with a system of government exercised through unaccountable decree, and parliament is prevented from exercising any function.

This catalogue of attempts to reconcile an internal policy schizophrenia has pre-emptied the EU from mounting any effective foreign policy alternative to that of the US on the “peace process”, and has eaten away its standing in the region.’

Alastair Crooke, former member of MI6, and former special Middle East adviser to the EU High Representative Javier Solana, ‘Blair’s counter-insurgency “surge”’, Al Jazeera, 25 Jan. 2011.

There is however to be found a Report of the ‘Third Annual Review on Human Rights in EU-Israel Relations’, entitled ‘Accommodating the “special” case of Israel’, dated 200-2006 (click here and click on: ‘The present report...’ icon), which gives a fascinating insight into what can go on behind the scenes in the EU. The Report discusses, for example, (pp. 36-37) the action that the EU took in withdrawing funds from the PA when Hamas won the 2006 election, commenting: ‘The EU proceeded to suspend political dialogue and contacts with the officials of that elected government, despite the fact that it had supported, funded, and observed the election, accepted the participation of candidates openly associated with Hamas and declared the election to be “free and fair”.’ The issue was that: ‘Hamas is considered a non-state actor that advocates, justifies and engages in unlawful and deadly violence randomly directed against civilians or carried out indiscriminately in pursuit of its political objectives.’ Thus Hamas was placed on the EU’s ‘“terrorist” list’ when it was updated in September 2003. Intriguingly the Report tells us: ‘Several EU officials pointed out that the conduct of Israel’s senior governing officials and military command could be similarly assessed.’ The ‘key distinction’ is considered to be that: ‘As a state, Israel has the right to engage in lawful violence, whereas neither Hamas nor the PA have such an internationally-recognized right.’ (This would seem slightly circular given that Israel is preventing the Palestinians from being a state. It would also seem to define, for example, the Warsaw uprising against National Socialist Germany in 1944 as ‘terrorist’.) The document as a whole casts a beam of light on the dilemmas which confront the EU as it tries to grapple with the reality of Israel; material which the EU does not commonly put up above the parapet for inspection.

British Involvement in PA ‘Security’

The Palestinian Papers have made evident that Britain has been involved in a none too tasteful way in West Bank ‘security’. It seems that there was a change of policy in 2003, at the time when Tony Blair was British PM. Bush had complained that the EU was not pulling its weight in the counter-terrorism drive (after Arafat had dismissed Mahmoud Abbas). Tony Blair, in response, decided to throw in his weight behind the American counter-insurgency drive in the OPT. It seems that a fax was sent from the Egyptian Embassy, which had close links with MI6, to the British Consulate in Jerusalem, containing work done in Whitehall pertaining to a plan for West Bank security. This was then ‘translated into a series of official papers’ (The Guardian, 25 Jan. 2011) by the consulate’s military liaison officer and handed over by David Craig, the British Political Consul, to Jibril Rajoub, the senior PA security official. This work was then - we may take it - used by the PA in their security effort.

It should be noted that their security work has involved a major onslaught against Hamas in the West Bank. According to David Abdullah (‘Uncovered: MI6 in the Palestine Papers, Middle East Monitor), between 2007 and 2010 at least 8,640 Palestinians were detained and 95% of them subject to torture. That there has been torture is undoubtedly the case (see The Guardian, 25 Jan. 2011). Keith Dayton, US Security Co-ordinator for Israel and the Palestine Authority, told Saeb Erekat, chief PA negotiator, on 24 June 2009  that PA security was ‘causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people’ (Quoted by Alastair Crooke writing in Al Jazeera 26 Jan. 2011).

Such collaboration with the PA is at one with the political decision to work against Hamas, but certainly runs counter to any suggestion that Britain has been working to heal divisions among Palestinians.


Wikimedia Commons: Rock Cohen, 2006

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs Douste-Blazy

and his Colleague Livni of Israel

(Title given on Wikimedia Commons)

‘There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union. Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institutions. It’s a member of all the [EU’s] programmes, it participates in all the programmes.’

Javier Solana, High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, 1999-2009. Quoted in Ha’aretz, 21 Oct. 2009

‘Israel has crept into the EU without anyone noticing.’

Robert Fisk (see his article with this title, The Independent, 31.07.10)