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Europe, wake up and smell the coffee

Netanyahu’s Israel openly mocks the values that Europe claims to hold dear. When will European leaders stand up and reject the unacceptable reality of the past 50 years?

By Hagai El-Ad

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth during a protest against Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Hebron, West Bank, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian boy during protests against Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Hebron, West Bank, December 7, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

European foreign ministers attending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s breakfast in Brussels this Monday may find their thoughts wandering, as the guest of honor once again speaks of Iran, self-indulgent whining of “double standards,” and “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Some breakfasts are more difficult to swallow than others.

And so, given a recent speech by a certain American president, the attending ministers’ thoughts may drift — perhaps to the occupied Palestinian territories. They may ask themselves some of the questions Israeli governments have consistently refused to address, such as: given how Israel’s grasp over the West Bank is being further cemented, why does Netanyahu’s government even bother to pay lip service to the “peace process?” And isn’t Israel’s policy of forced displacement of Palestinians from parts of the occupied territories a war crime? How many hours of electricity a day does Israel plan to ration for the 2 million Palestinians living at its doorstep in the Gaza Strip next week? And, embassy fanfare aside, what about the 370,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, living with no political rights since Israel’s annexation half a century ago?

Such unanswered questions may leave one’s mouth dry, and so the very same questions may percolate closer to home. For if Israel continues to cement its grasp all over the West Bank, why does Europe take seriously the occasional Israeli lip service to the “peace process?” And as Israel’s policy of forcibly displacing Palestinians from parts of the occupied territories is indeed a war crime, what is the EU’s effective counteraction? And for how much longer will the lie of “Israeli democracy,” alongside a 21st-century version of institutionalized oppression and dispossession, be accepted at Europe’s doorstep?

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Here’s a caffeine shot: it is all good and well to forever be disappointed by others while standing by and watching as unilateral moves become fait accompli. But it is Europe that has worn away its own credibility for years by repeatedly “expressing concern” over “the eroding possibility” of bringing an end to the occupation. How long can a position be eroded before it is wholly ground to dust courtesy of an Israeli bulldozer?

Yet thanks to the sheer bluntness of current American positions and Israeli actions, Europe can no longer pretend with any degree of credibility that the policy it is pursuing is one of supporting an American-led “peace process.” Such self-evident fiction undercuts Palestinians striving for freedom; Israeli human rights defenders striving for justice; and Europe’s values-driven vision towards a future based on the rule of law, human rights, and democracy.

The guest at Monday’s breakfast openly mocks these values, yet somehow here he is — white tablecloth, croissants, and dignitaries listening politely. In July 2017, in a meeting in Budapest with the prime ministers of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, Netanyahu repeatedly called the EU “crazy” for being “the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel… on political conditions.” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán chimed in alongside, from his intra-EU perspective. Budapest and Jerusalem seem to be sharing more and more values these days.

As Israel’s number one trade partner, Europe has all the leverage it needs to inform Israeli voters that they cannot continue to have it both ways – enjoy perks justified by presumed shared democratic values, all while trampling those very values. Raising the stakes, Netanyahu is now pushing to further leverage the silencing effect of false accusations conflating the rejection of the perpetual occupation with “incitement to anti-Semitism”, while at the same time cashing in on internal European divisions. He thus aims to sideline even the modest, ineffective conditionality that has existed to date. And he, or his successor, will market such an achievement to Israeli voters as a sign that Israelis can in fact continue having it both ways.

By continuing to express “serious concern” instead of acting, Europe is deciding to allow others to lead the way, and de facto accepting the abundantly clear consequences. Trump’s America is far away from all this, both geographically and morally: it is shielded by an ocean, and outspoken in alignment with Putin, Duterte, Orbán – and Netanyahu. While America is distant, all this is unfolding in Europe’s immediate neighborhood. Out of sheer self-interest, can Europe withstand the consequences of abandoning the values underpinning its post-WW2 project?

It is high time to stop waiting for Washington, Moscow, Budapest or Jerusalem. It is time to stand up for human rights, to demand nothing short of an end to the occupation, and to spell out how European leadership will effectively reject the unacceptable reality of the past 50 years. Backed by an almost global consensus reiterated in last year’s UN Security Council resolution 2334, in solidarity with Palestinians and likeminded Israelis, and together with international actors near and far – this is a task to be realized by a genuine coalition committed to non-violence, human rights, and justice. Europe, wake up.

Hagai El- Ad is Executive Director of B’Tselem.

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    1. JitKunDo

      This is quite a farce.

      An EU funded pro-Palestinian activist calling for the EU to wage economic warfare against Israel while pretending to be part of an Israeli organization working for the best interests of Israel.

      When Israelis look at such pathetic traitors as this one they unfortunately see an EU proxy because he is precisely that due to the fact that his salary is paid by European governments. As such they associate the EU with the same BDS crowd that Haggai El-Ad runs with that wants to eliminate Israel. Now, what is gained from such a situation? Every word out of the EU’s mouth when it talks about caring about Israeli security is undermined by its sponsorship of people calling to undermine the security of Israel. EU actions towards Israel are treated as the actions of a hostile foreign power due to such sponsorship. Every word out of this traitor’s mouth is undermined by the fact that he is a proxy for a foreign government. Any argument he makes can be immediately dismissed as being the words of a traitor and is thus discredited in Israel. The truth is that by sponsoring people like Haggai the EU is ensuring that the Israeli Left is discredited and Bibi and the Right are going to stay in power. In response the Israeli Left is running away from the Left and from the issue of negotiations with the Palestinians. Other than further cementing the rule of the Israeli right what possible positive objectives can be promoted with this approach?

      Rather than sponsoring the promotion of pragmatic voices on the Palestinian side that are interested in compromise the EU is busy promoting rejectionist Palestinians and anti-Israeli activists within Israel. And this is done on the premise that this promotes peace. If it isn’t already obvious, it doesn’t. It tarnishes both peace and the EU. The EU is simply sponsoring the continuation of the status quo.

      The EU should promote a realistic and pragmatic vision of peace. That is not what it is doing now. It is encouraging the well-spoken extremists on all sides that continue to reject the legitimacy of the existence of Israel and in doing so ensure the conflict continues.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        You wish to talk about farces? OK. Let’s talk about the real farces:

        Farce: “I, Bibi, (after pushing my way into this breakfast through the back door via Poland) come to lecture you about the ‘hypocrisy’ of criticizing Trump while not criticizing ‘rockets on Israel’, but I won’t ever say a word about the day-in-day-out brutality and theft my troops and settlers inflict on the Palestinians. Except to say “settlements are not an obstacle to peace.”

        Farce: “I, Bibi, cynically pull the Holocaust card on you Europeans all the time because I can get away with it. You know it and I know it and there’s not much you can do about it. But let me lecture you about your ‘hypocrisy.’”

        Farce: “I, Bibi, lecture you about ‘your double standards’ all the while knowing the real truth, that you Europeans give Israel a special pass no one else gets”:

        Farce, “I. Bibi, lecture you Europeans on your ‘hypocrisy’ all the while I take your money in all sorts of special perks and take your money that supports the occupation by providing all the services that I as the occupier should be providing, but I reserve the right to have my troops repeatedly tear down the basic shelters and housing and solar power you Europeans provide protected persons (chortle) under occupation. And pass me another croissant will you? And I need more coffee.”

        Farce: That there is actually any effective, real Israeli Left whatsoever that is interested in anything less self-involved than the price of cottage cheese and apartment rents.

        Farce: So-called leftists attacked activists who held up a sign saying “BDS” during last night’s anti-Netanyahu demonstration in central Tel Aviv. One of the attackers shouted: “You’re lucky we are leftists, the Right would have eaten you alive by now.”

        Farce: BDS threatens the security of Israel but the occupation does not.

        Farce: Hagai El-Ad or anyone who doesn’t support the occupation is a “traitor” and a self-hating Jew because Israel = the occupation and right wing Israel = Jews.

        Farce: Let’s make a show of suspending an Israeli occupying troop commander caught on film stealing apples from a West Bank fruit stand, because he got caught on film, and because it gives the appearance that we actually have morality (the most moral Army in the world!) and that the worst thing we do to Palestinians is steal their apples. And that commander is “a bad apple.” What a farce!

        Farce: Accordingly, the Soldiers of Breaking the Silence are “traitors” not heroes.

        Farce: Trump is considered “pro-Israel” instead of enslaved to his evangelical base that relishes the prospect that Jews who won’t convert will burn in hell fire for eternity.

        Farce: All the disingenuous protestations that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, why whatever is the problem?” that assiduously avoid ever using the words “East” or “West, ” as if Hebrew or English simply didn’t have these words.

        Hence the need for the non-farce of sanction and boycotts and divestment. Hence the need for the Europeans to get real for once.

        Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @JitKunDo: Let me ask a theoretical question: if you had something to say with regard to the substance of this piece that wasn’t ad-hominem, what would it be?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The bad-smelling coffee is the blatant but never-discussed Islamization of Europe. Within a decade, these very same EU states will face civil insurgencies from indigenous “Muslim Resistance Movements”

      Lets divide Paris.
      East Paris for Arabs
      West Paris for French.
      Only a 2 state solution is fair !

      Reply to Comment
      • Menachem Begin

        Lewis from Afula. I agree. That has been one of the pillars used by Zionists to divide and conquer the region, via the Oded Yinon Plan. Devastate the region in divisive wars waged by proxy forces, AKA ISIS, and then let Europe deal with the consequences.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Do you think that if Israel leaves the West Bank the Arabs will say thank you and start to build a state. They are not Europeans and they don’t think like Europeans – witness Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Lydia, Iraq etc.

      Reply to Comment