Alternative Information Center (AIC) | Thursday, 19 June 2008
The EU’s Unanimous Decision to Upgrade its Relationship with Israel Reveals Europe’s Selective Adherence to Human Rights Standards
Written by Nic Irwin
Last Monday, 16 June, in a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council attended by the Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and European foreign ministers, an upgrade in the relations between Israel and the European Union was unanimously approved. These enhanced measures of cooperation, not incidentally, coincide with Israel’s 60th birthday and demonstrate increasingly closer economic, political and social links between the EU and Israel.
The announcement follows months of hard negotiating and bargaining by Foreign Minister Livni, but, according to one European diplomat, EU opinion prior to the meeting was that the 27 member states of the EU had simply not “had enough time” to come to an agreement (Reuters, 11 June 2008). Monday’s announcement for increased relations concerns three areas: diplomatic cooperation; Israel’s participation in European plans and agencies; and an examination of possible Israeli integration into the European Single Market.
Such advances in political and economic relations between Israel and the EU are strongly opposed by the Palestinian Authority. On 27 May 2008, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wrote to the European Union heads of state, urging them not to upgrade their ties with Israel unless construction and expansion of settlements and the Separation Wall was immediately halted.
In conjunction with Fayyad, not all Europeans were in favor of the upgrading of Israel’s relationship. Luisa Morgantini, Vice President of the European Parliament, and member of a 14 MEP ad hoc delegation belonging to different political parties that visited the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) from 31 May to 2 June, states that “we [the delegation] strongly feel that without serious signs of good faith translated into tangible improvements on the ground, the time is not yet right to upgrade EU-Israel relations.”
For EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, speaking prior to Monday’s meeting with Foreign Minister Livni, the most important issue at hand is to “start the process” of negotiations to finalize the upgrade. President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dr. Dimitrij Rupel, noted in a press release that “Dialogue and cooperation must be based on common values such as supporting efforts to find a solution to the Middle East conflict, to bolster the fight against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to promote human rights, to improve dialogue between cultures and religions, and to cooperate in the fight against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.”
EU foreign affairs ministers expressed the political will to intensify relations and agreed to develop them gradually, as part of the European Union Neighborhood Policy. “There are obvious reasons for which strengthened political cooperation between the EU and Israel should be understood as a cooperation which contributes to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Minister Rupel pointed out.
Significantly, what is lacking from Minister Rupel’s speech are the obvious problems that he labels but does not discuss. In 2003, Gideon Meir, Israeli deputy director for media and public affairs in the Foreign Ministry, stated that “Israel views every state that is harboring terrorist organizations and the leaders of those terrorist organizations who are attacking innocent citizens of the state of Israel as legitimate targets out of self defense.” This definition suggests that all Palestinians are a threat to Israeli security and should be treated as such. Minister Rupel states that the EU is prepared to bolster the fight against terrorism, but what does that mean in concrete terms? One of the main criticisms of human rights organizations is that nation states do not use clearly defined definitions of terrorism. This lack of definition gives states ample leeway to do as they see fit against legitimate armed struggle by labeling and justifying their actions as the continued fight against terrorism. From this issue, it then becomes very difficult to focus on what the term “bolster” could mean in the context of EU-Israel relations. Does the vagueness of the term imply that the EU is going to adopt the theory that all Palestinians are terrorists? If so, it would then put the EU’s policy of tolerance and acceptance of all peoples severely in question. How can the leading principles of democracy that the EU advises the Palestinian Authority to adopt, be justified if the EU is toying with the idea of adopting the Israeli definition of terrorism?
Furthermore, Minister Rupel mentions that the EU is seeking to continue to fight against weapons of mass destruction. According to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Israel is in possession and capable of launching weapons of mass destruction. Israel has not declared being in possession of WMD, nor has it allowed international observers to inspect and reassure the international community of Israeli military capacities. This lack of transparency demonstrates that Israel is in fact a significant actor in the proliferation of WMD in the region, directly conflicting with Minister Rupel’s statement for further cooperation and the EU’s fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. How the EU can possibly justify its statement and conflict of interests is yet unknown.
In addition to the problematic nature surrounding the differences in EU and Israeli points of view regarding terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, there is also the question of increasing cooperation on the promotion of human rights. In 2005, the European Union voted positively on a UN text clearly stating that the Palestinians have a “right to their independent State of Palestine, and urged all States and United Nations agencies and organizations to continue to support the realization of that goal.” Within this context, how is the EU capable of signing an agreement with Israel when Israel is documented to be in violation of Palestinian basic human rights on a regular and continual basis?
A further issue can be remarked on the question of human rights. How is it possible for the EU to continue to promote human rights with Israel while silently accepting illegal Israeli house demolitions and all of the other numerous infractions that the Israelis perform against Palestinians? The EU-Israel Association Agreement is entirely based upon the principle of continual observance of human rights and democracy. It has clauses stating that the agreement can be revoked if human rights are not respected, but there is little oversight or mechanism to act on these clauses.
Therefore, by increasing relations with Israel, the EU is silently endorsing the Israeli politics of human rights breaches and perpetrating crimes against the Palestinian people.
It is interesting to note that Egypt has also been in the process of attempting to upgrade its relationship with the EU, but unlike Israel, Egypt has been denied on the grounds that it requested a clause be written into the agreement that the Middle East be completely free of weapons of mass destruction. Why would a democratically, peace seeking body such as the EU refuse to accept a proposal that would have the potential to lead to a safer world?
Through the upgrade of the EU-Israel relationship and the clear contradictions that this upgrade represents, would it be unfair to suggest that the EU is closing the gap between the styles of international diplomacy of the EU and the USA? It is apparent that the EU is violating its own principles and policies by entering into this new agreement with Israel. Only time will give an indication of whether the EU has any satisfactory justification to explain it’s increased relationship with Israel. At the moment, however, this looks doubtful.