Alternative Information Centre | Sunday, 15 June 2008
Israel Seeking an Upgrading of its Relations with the EU and to Obtain "Special Status"
Written by Koen De Groof, policy officer CIDSE working group Palestine-Israel
Eight years ago, the Association Agreement between Israel and the European Union entered into force. The Agreement established a free trade area between the European Community and Israel and provides a legal basis for the EU’s relations with Israel. The treaty also created an institutional political dialogue in the form of an Association Council, where Israeli and EU Ministers of Foreign Affairs meet once a year to discuss issues of mutual interest.
On Monday June 16th, the EU-Israel Association Council will convene for the eighth time. For Israel the stakes are high. During the past months the country has vigourously pursued an upgrading of its relations with the EU, seeking to obtain a ‘special status’ and participation in decision making bodies, agencies and programmes of the Community in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The CIDSE working group on Palestine-Israel calls for caution and stresses that in deepening and expanding this privileged cooperation, the EU has to respect its own obligations under international law as the basis for any engagement with partner countries in the Middle East. In reality the proposed upgrade would widen the gap between the Union’s declarative and operational policies in the region.
In recent years, the European Union has continually urged Israel to stop and reverse its unlawful occupation policies in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including the construction of settlements and the Wall. At the same time, it has not made any determined efforts to stop ongoing systematic violations of international humanitarian law and human rights from having legal effects in the conduct of its bilateral relations with Israel. In practice, the EU has not prevented Israel from implementing its privileged contractual relations (such as the Association Agreement) in an internationally unlawful manner.
This is clear in the case of the Association Agreement, which allows Israel to export many of its products to the EU without paying customs duties. Contrary to the ‘rules of origin’, that determine that the agreement only applies on Israel proper, Israel consistently applies the Agreement to the oPt. It exports settlement products to the EU under the label ‘made in Israel’. The European Council and European Commission have clearly stated that the preferential importation of settlement products violates Community law. They have also taken the position that Israel’s certifying them as eligible for preferential treatment is a violation of the Association Agreement. The ‘technical arrangement’ that the EU has established to recover duties on settlement-related imports does not offer a satisfying solution as Israel continues its malpractice.
The CIDSE working Group on Palestine-Israel calls on policy-makers to establish mechanisms that ensure that private enterprises and research institutions in Israeli settlements do not benefit from financial assistance or any other privileges in the context of enhanced cooperation between Israel and the EU. The EU has a duty of non-recognition of unlawful acts and must refrain from participating in measures determined by unlawful policies. When opening up new areas of bilateral cooperation, legal precautions have to be taken in advance. All agreements should include explicit conditionalities and incorporate well-defined benchmarks with regard to respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
Koen De Groof, policy officer CIDSE working group Palestine-Israel, 02/213.04.32 (office), 0486/37.01.01 (mobile), firstname.lastname@example.org