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Delaying EU settlement rules 'reinforces Israeli intransigence'

The EU’s settlement guidelines, if implemented, could be the first step in showing Israel that there are consequences for its occupation and illegal settlement building, and actually push both sides toward a resolution to the conflict.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: GPO/Avi Ohayun)

Since the EU announced new guidelines regarding its activity in settlements in July, Israel and most recently, the United States, have pushed back against their implementation. On Monday, a group of former senior European officials penned a letter to EU foreign ministers urging them to stand tough against the pressure and implement the regulations as planned.

The regulations, which would limit the EU’s financial and academic involvement with Israeli entities operating beyond the Green Line, represent a significant development despite their limited tangible impact. The directive is one of the first serious consequences Israel is facing – in recent years – for its continued illegal settlement activity, and ongoing occupation.

Read the new EU settlement guidelines

As a financial consequence for a political decision, the EU directive could arguably be the first step toward a slow-to-arrive sanctions campaign against Israel and its occupation. It does not fit into the more serious and directed South African sanctions model as it is neither punitive, either to Israel’s leadership or to its economy at large, nor does it demand any specific change. But Europe’s message is clear: our patience is running thin and the days of business as usual are over.

Israel, of course, got the message. It is fighting tooth and nail against the regulations, both in direct negotiations with the EU over how they are implemented (either a delay or a freeze) and by enlisting the U.S. to pressure the EU politically in order to delay their implementation.

This is at least the second time this year that Israel has enlisted the U.S. to put the brakes on an EU move that could damage its settlement enterprise and the settler economy. (It should be noted, as explained here, that the Israel-proper and settler economies are inexorably intertwined, making the implementation of such regulations difficult at best.) Earlier this year, at Israel’s behest, Washington demanded the EU delay implementing the labeling of settlement products.

Why, you ask, would the EU even consider shelving two of its most daring and long-coming diplomatic policy tools in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In the name of peace, of course.

But the likelihood that keeping pressure off Israel will help usher in a just and lasting peace is about as likely as Israel agreeing of its own volition to all Palestinian demands regarding borders, Jerusalem and refugees – it ain’t happening.

Dismissing the notion out of hand, the former EU officials wrote in their letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and all of the Union’s foreign ministers that it is settlements that are an obstacle to peace, not pressure on Israel.

[The guidelines’] strict application serves to re-iterate that the EU does not recognize and will not support settlements and other illegal facts on the ground that increasingly dictate a unilateral reality inimical to a two-state agreement. It is these facts on the ground, not the guidelines, which threaten to make a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. (Emphasis mine)

If there is any hope at all left for a negotiated two-state solution – regardless of whether it is even the right solution to pursue – there must be some semblance of mutual benefit to both sides. At the moment, Israel has little to gain from compromise. The occupation bears no net cost for Israel. Contrarily, it is profitable.

Only if the international community puts actual pressure or even levies the threat of sanctions, diplomatic isolation or consumer boycotts against Israel will the Jewish state have something to gain from compromising in peace negotiations: the lifting of those sanctions and punitive measures.

Until then, peace talks are nothing more than two unequal powers sitting at a table, with one party (Israel) continuing to attempt imposing its will on the other (the Palestinians). It is possible to reach an “agreement” under such conditions, but without much more equal standing – and motivation – there is no chance of a just peace that actually puts an end to the conflict.

In their letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and all Union foreign ministers, former EU foreign policy chief and NATO secretary-general Javier Solano and the former foreign and prime ministers of five EU states (members of the European Eminent Persons Group) wrote:

A delay or suspension of the guidelines won’t help achieve [a negotiated two-state solution]. On the contrary, it would undermine the negotiations by alienating the Palestinians and by reinforcing Israel’s intransigence. In addition, it would damage the EU’s credibility and erode its vital foundations as a law-based community.

Indeed, if the EU acquiesces and does anything but implement the new settlement regulations as planned, it will be sending a clear message to Israel: that it can continue to do as it pleases with impunity, easily deflecting any international pressure to follow international law and end the occupation. It sends a message that the EU will even ignore its own laws in order to accommodate Israeli intransigence.

EU diplomats to Brussels: Put your money where your mouth is
Can the EU’s settlement exclusion push the U.S. to follow suit?

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    1. Giora Me'ir

      I’m sure delaying them will make the Netanyahu government magically become willing to accept a just settlement. Or stop expanding settlements.

      That’s as much of a farce as the current round of talks.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Moses Proposes

      Only full sanctions on Israel will remove the illegal settlements and Israel intransigence

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      If the goal is to weaken Israel in order to balance out the power relations with the Palestinians what must be remembered is that power is relative. The rational reaction to steps to weaken Israel via sanctions or whatever is for Israel to correspondingly weaken the other side or to collapse the solution the Europeans prefer entirely thereby eliminating the impetus for the pressure. Just to be clear, Israel has alternatives to the two state solution and it can relatively easily collapse the Palestinian Authority whose current European supported and sponsored intransigence is the origin of the steps taken recently against Israel.

      Sanctions on Israel is a really stupid approach in general if the interest is peace. We. the Jews, have deep-set explanations when people act negatively towards us. They are defense mechanisms that we have developed over many years. Negative actions towards Israel do not particularly make Israelis question their policies. They reinforce the narrative that everyone hates us and we have nothing to rely on except ourselves and our guns. It is not a particularly productive mindset for making concessions.

      If the Europeans wish to move forward towards peace the correct approach would be to insist that their Palestinian proteges start to imagine a future where the state next to and in peace with Israel is the final goal, not a stepping stone to a continuation of the conflict on better terms. This would lead the Palestinians to the flexibility they will need to display in order to actually sign a full peace deal instead of their present whining about peace talks that their absolutist demands are being ignored.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        “We. the Jews, have deep-set explanations when people act negatively towards us. They are defense mechanisms that we have developed over many years.”

        Speak for yourself please. I for one have totally different explanations from yours for why it is that Israel can’t seem to “grow” on people. I think that 46 years of brutal military dictatorship in the illegally occupied territories has something to do with it. Many Jews the world over – particularly the young generation – see it similarly. Too bad Israel can’t seem to understand that, as it would save them $300 million in campus propaganda money that could be spent more productively elsewhere. (Then again, when your biggest benefactor is an old casino pimp with pockets as wide as the grand canyon, who’s counting?)

        “Negative actions towards Israel do not particularly make Israelis question their policies. They reinforce the narrative that everyone hates us and we have nothing to rely on except ourselves and our guns. It is not a particularly productive mindset for making concessions. ”

        South Africa thought this way too, before the world collectively kicked its ass and forced it to see things differently. Have patience, your time will come as well.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Indeed there are people in Israel, or in your case formerly in Israel (ex-Israeli, right?), that have alternative explanations for why it is that the world seems to hate Jews and Israel. Strangely many of them tend to wind up abroad and the ones that do participate in Israeli politics tend to not do terribly well in elections. It is also undeniably true that American Jews growing up without the threat of a bomb blowing them up on a bus have very different views of the world. At the same time they are also not particularly relevant when it comes to which governments are chosen in Israel and neither I guess are you.

          South Africa thought this or that. First, the historical analogies are pretty silly. The South African whites had no explanation for why they were hated. Sanctions only reinforced the absence with the only explanation being that they were doing something wrong. We, for better or worse, suffer no such absence and could easily ideologically explain sanctions, especially from the continent sometimes referred to as the graveyard of Jews being increasingly populated by the coreligionists of people we are at constant war with. Given the absence of any credible alternative to the status quo our government and society isn’t really given much of a choice as to the ideological line to take after such sanctions are imposed. Second, given the number of South African whites abroad, leaving every year, and the total insecurity experienced by those that have stayed it may perhaps be not as great of an example to use as you might think when trying to convince Israeli Jews with analogies. With that in mind the South African analogy really just boils down to don’t for the love of god pursue the ‘solution’ sold to South African whites.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            “…have alternative explanations for why it is that the world seems to hate Jews and Israel.”

            Indeed. First of all, I don’t think the world hates Jews at all. I think that throughout Jewish history, Jews have never been safer and more prosperous than in the present. I think that Israel is a net negative for Jews because we have always been associated with modern and progressive values, while Israel (its high tech notwithstanding) is more and more being associated with conservative and quasi-religious values. This is why we are seeing less and less daylight between Israel and the U.S. Republican party, which is – you’ll agree with me I hope – on the whole not a good thing.

            “South Africa thought this or that. First, the historical analogies are pretty silly. The South African whites had no explanation for why they were hated.”

            F.W. de Klerk had pretty good explanations. He managed to convince his countrymen with them. I only hope our de Klerk shows up eventually.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I am very happy that you are an optimist that believes that the present situation of the world’s Jews is wonderful and will continue indefinitely. Would it be safe to assume that part of that wonderful situation is the result of the ability of persecuted and poor Jewish populations to move to Israel? Or do you believe that the Jews as a whole would be equally well off had the Jews remained in such places as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Syria? Likewise do you believe that history has stopped and the countries that are stable, prosperous and welcoming places for Jews will continue to be stable, prosperous and welcoming places for Jews indefinitely? I don’t. Or do you believe that we have entered an age where persecution, massacres, and genocide are a thing of the past? I would certainly question that assertion.

            As a whole I agree that there is a growing segment in the American left that is anti-Israel. However, I don’t see the association you try to draw between Israel and the Republican party because I see quite a few incredibly prominent Democrats who are great friends of Israel including the VP, the US Senate majority leader, and many many others. Likewise among the Republicans there are large groups that are agnostic at best on Israel. However, overall Israel is popular and viewed positively in mainstream America. Nor frankly do I see it as a foregone conclusion that young Jews in America are turning on Israel. There are certainly some loud examples of this and there are those that claim to represent them (Beinart) but I feel that Birthright, similar programs, and the slow but steady population shift towards more religious observance among American Jews actually pushes in the other direction. I also honestly don’t understand the obsession with how we are seen by others. Perhaps this comes down to the ideological differences between us but I don’t feel bad because someone somewhere doesn’t like Jews (due to Israel or any other reason) because I don’t assume that it means there is something wrong with me or with Israel or with Jews. That there are people out there that wish to paint me as evil doesn’t bother me because I have my own country now and I am not at their mercy. I am more concerned with the practical aspects of ensuring that Israel continues to exist in our land of Israel and continues to serve as a refuge for those Jews that may need shelter in the future, including you should you wind up in a sticky situation wherever you are now.

            As for South Africa.. I don’t hold de Klerk in very high regard. The overall result of the South African experiment is mixed at best for South Africans of all colors and whites are almost certainly worse off than they were before de Klerk convinced/maneuvered them into the current arrangement. And again I simply don’t see the historical analogy. The entire raison d’etre of the Zionist project in Israel is to build a sovereign Jewish state. Not to farm the land, not to be hardy pioneers, not to find gold, and not anything that might have given an identity to the Boers. We are here to have our own state and our own army in our homeland. nekuda. The need for the first two parts are backed by Zionist ideology which is itself undergirded by Jewish historical memory reinforced by every hostile action taken against Jews (and now against Israel). The last part is backed by Judaism. It is incredibly difficult for me to imagine an Israeli Jewish leader finding any basis for convincing Israeli Jews to abandon any of it short of the surrounding countries turning into European liberal democracies and even then it is doubtful. There will be no de Klerk. At best you might get a de Gaulle.

            Reply to Comment