Last month, the European Union pushed European- Israeli relations to a new low.
In mid-September, the IDF enforced a High Court of Justice order to destroy 250 structures built illegally by Palestinian squatters in the Jordan Valley.
The High Court acted in accordance with the agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel. Those agreements gave Israel sole control over planning and zoning in the Jordan Valley and throughout the area of Judea and Samaria defined as Area C.
Five days after the IDF destroyed the illegal structures, Palestinian activists arrived at the site with tents. Their intention was to act in contempt of the law and of the agreements the PLO signed with Israel, and to resettle the site.
The Palestinians did not come alone. They were accompanied by European diplomats. The diplomats were there to provide diplomatic cover to the Palestinians as they broke the law and breached the agreements the PLO signed with the Israeli government.
This would have been bad enough, but in the event, one European diplomat, Marion Castaing, the cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Jerusalem, decided that her job didn’t end with providing diplomatic cover for lawbreakers. She joined them. She punched an Israeli border policeman in the face.
Rather than apologize to Israel for using European diplomats to support Palestinians engaged in criminal activity, and for Castaing’s shocking violence against an Israeli soldier lawfully performing his duties, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attacked Israel.
Ashton called the tents, presumably paid for by European taxpayers, “humanitarian assistance,” and declared, “The EU deplores the confiscation of humanitarian assistance carried out by Israeli security forces yesterday in Khirbat al-Makhul.
“EU representatives have already contacted the Israeli authorities to demand an explanation and expressed their concern at the incident. The EU underlines the importance of unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance and the applicability of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory,” Ashton said.
The EU’s role in financing illegal Palestinian building efforts in the Jordan Valley is not unique. For some time, in contempt of Israeli law and the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO, the EU has been financing illegal building by Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
What was new in last month’s incident was the deployment of European diplomats at the scene to provide diplomatic cover for Palestinian law-breakers, and of course their willingness to physically assault Israeli security forces.
In recent months, there has been a palpable escalation of European hostility toward Israel. The significance of this escalation must be properly understood, for only by understanding precisely what is new in the EU’s treatment of Israel, will it be possible to develop proper responses to what is happening.
The incident in the Jordan Valley followed the EU’s announcement in July that beginning in January 2014, it will impose guidelines barring cooperation between the EU and EU member nations and Israeli entities located or operating beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Those guidelines constitute a low-grade trade war against Israel. They advance the goal of forcing Israel out of joint undertakings with Europeans and denying us access to European markets.
The Europeans are so eager to begin their economic war against Israel that they have launched it even before the guidelines have come into force. Firms in the Netherlands and Germany involved in waste treatment projects in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, whose completion would benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike, have received warnings from their home governments to cease their operations lest they face legal consequences.
In addition to barring European-Israeli economic activities that may even indirectly benefit Jews beyond the 1949 armistice lines, Ashton has promised to soon introduce EUwide rules requiring member nations to place special labels on Israeli goods produced by Jews beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
By placing special labels on goods produced by Israeli Jews in specific areas of Israel, the EU is shaping European public opinion to view all Israeli products produced by Jews as morally inferior, and therefore less desirable than all other products they come into contact with. Foes of Israel hope this opinion-shaping will lead to the initiation of European consumer boycotts of Israeli products.
Most Israeli responses to Europe’s ever-escalating hostility have focused on European hypocrisy. We have repeatedly decried the unique standard to which the Europeans hold Israel and Israel alone.
European hypocrisy is infuriating. But it is nothing new.
It was decades ago that Europe created a separate standard that it applies only to Israel.
Consider the European’s position on Jerusalem. Since Israel was established, the Europeans have denied the Jewish state the right they accord to every other state on earth: the right to determine its capital city.
Or consider Europe’s position on Israeli communities built beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Europe wrongly asserts that these communities are illegal. But even if they were right, Europe’s behavior toward Israel would still make a mockery of its proclaimed devotion to international law. Europe has no problem, indeed it has actively supported settlements for citizens of a belligerent occupying powers in areas ruled through occupation. As Profs. Avi Bell and Eugene Kontorovich from the Kohelet Policy Forum explained in a recent paper on the EU’s guidelines, the EU supports settlements by occupying powers in Northern Cyprus, Abkazia and Western Sahara. In light of this, it is clear that the guidelines directed against Israel are inherently discriminatory.
The EU’s supposed commitment to international law is similarly exposed as a sham by its willingness to turn a blind eye to the Palestinian Authority’s diversion of EU aid monies to finance terrorism. Despite mountains of evidence accumulated over the past 13 years that aid is being siphoned off to finance terrorist attacks against Israel, the EU has refused to take action. And its refusal to act is itself a breach of international law.
Then there is the EU claim that its actions are undertaken to advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
This claim is also not credible. By encouraging the Palestinians to breach their signed agreements with Israel, and by engaging in economic warfare against Israel for refusing to capitulate to all Palestinian demands preemptively, the Europeans are escalating Palestinian intransigence.
Throughout the years, Europe’s policy has been inconsistent.
At the same time some European leaders have led the diplomatic war against Israel, other leaders were cultivating close ties with the Jewish state. Over the years, Europe signed a series of economic association and free trade agreements with Israel. Europe has willingly cooperated with Israel in areas where believed it had something to gain from that cooperation.
For instance, European nations, and the EU, have cooperated with Israel in the areas of science, technology, economics, intelligence gathering and military affairs. Until recent years, there was a distinct separation between the European leaders who sought to discriminate against Israel and those who sought cooperation with it.
But recently the distinction between “good Europe” and “bad Europe” has eroded. What we are seeing today, and what distinguishes the discriminatory behavior Israel faces from Europe today from what it has faced from Europe for decades, is the increased control that anti-Israel forces are exerting over all areas of European-Israel relations.
Consider European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani’s visit to Israel this week. Tajani came to promote business relations and expand cooperation in science and other fields with Israel. While here he signed an agreement with Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Perry that will enable Israelis to participate in the EU’s Galileo satellite project.
But according to media reports, the only thing Israelis wanted to discuss with him were the new European guidelines and the fact that they make it impossible for Israel to participate in the Horizon 2020 scientific research program. Israel has participated in the program since the mid-1990s. But for Israel to participate in the upcoming round of the Horizon program, it will have to discriminate against Israelis based or operating beyond the 1949 armistice lines. And so Israel will be unable to participate.
Until now, Europeans like Tajani, who have been interested in fostering cooperation with Israel where such cooperation benefits Europe, have had no trouble doing so. But now, due to the economic regulations against Israel, his hands, and those of like-minded Europeans, are tied by leaders like Ashton whose opposition to Israel has reached obsessive heights.
There are lessons that Europeans who do not support the downward trajectory of EU-Israel ties and Israelis need to draw from the current state of those relations. First, Europeans interested in maintaining and fostering good relations with Israel need to be willing to confront their fellow Europeans.
Until now they never questioned the goodwill of those who claimed that it is illegal for Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, or for Jews to live wherever they have property rights in the Land of Israel.
But the hypocrisy and discrimination inherent in these claims needs to be pointed out. European supporters of close European-Israeli relations need to show the duplicitousness of proclamations of devotion to the peace process and international law by officials like Ashton. If they wish to stop the precipitous decline in Europe’s relations with Israel, they can no longer pretend that these claims are open to interpretation.
As for Israel, we need to recognize first and foremost that we do not control what happens in Europe. In adopting anti- Israel policies, European leaders are not responding to actions Israel undertakes. When 40 percent of Europeans tell pollsters they believe that Israel is enacting a genocide against the Palestinians, it is clear that European views of Israel are not based on facts of any kind, and certainly not on anything Israel does.
Moreover, we need to recognize that like our European friends, we have given the benefit of the doubt to our continental adversaries, believing their empty claims of commitment to the peace process and international law. As a consequence, since the outset of the peace process with the PLO 20 years ago, most of the steps we have taken to demonstrate our good faith have strengthened those European who wish us ill at the expense of those who wish us well.
Like our European friends, we need to stop giving a pass to those who distort the very meaning of international law while making empty proclamations of support for the cause of peace. Only be exposing the truth behind the lies will we strengthen our European friends and so increase the possibility that our relations with Europe may improve one day.