On the background of the recently renewed US brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (“PA“), the EU has published an official document titled Guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU from 2014 onwards (2013/C 205/05; the “Guidelines“). The Guidelines set forth the framework for EU (not including member states) ban on Israeli incorporated entities that are operating or are located, even partly, anywhere beyond the 67 armistice lines (the “Territories“), defined in Section 2 of the Guideline as follows:
“The territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 comprise
the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,
including East Jerusalem”
It appears as if the purpose of the Guidelines was intended to be merely declarative, since in practice the EU is not heavily invested in such projects or entities in the first place. Furthermore, EU representatives were quoted saying that limitations with similar effect were already applied in most Israeli-EU bilateral agreements and a senior Israeli diplomats was quoted saying similar things (the following example was quoted in The Times of Israel):
“The European Union and its important members have been very careful not to invest or incentivize what they regard as Israeli settlements,” a senior Israel diplomat told JTA. “Territorial clauses exist in virtually all contracts between Israel and the union.”
However, in light of recent developments in respect of Israeli participation in the Horizon Project and the requirement set forth in the Guidelines, pursuant to which supported entities will be required to sign a certain declaration (Section 16) stating their compliance with the Guidelines, it appears as if there was some level of oversight on the part of the drafters (or the EU political branch). This seemingly unexpected outcome is evidence for a certain amount of negligence on the part of the EU Commission, which is not surprising given the patronizing approach of the EU in respect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The very list that should have been expected from the Commission was to review and discuss a draft of the Guidelines with the parties to which they relate – Israel and the Palestinian Authority, before releasing them to the public.
Due to recent Israeli-EU negotiations over the language of the ‘territorial clause’ that is to be included in future agreements, it seem as if the aforementioned negligence of the Commission could be easily remedied, but this matter is only a procedural symptom of the EU’s patronizing approach. In the following paragraphs I will discuss some of the substantial downsides of the Guidelines and the patronizing approach that set forth the basis for their adoption by the Commission.
The EU has full legitimacy to maintain a pro-Palestinian position in respect of the Territories and also to adopt a policy that will help ensure that EU bodies do not cooperate with activities that are counterproductive to said EU position, but contrary to thoughts, beliefs, ideologies and general agenda, a good policy should be pragmatic. This requires a great attention to details, serious regard to the facts and an assessment of the expected effects of such policy. The attempt to implement a moral or political position and translate it to policy without doing the above could produce results that may prove to be meaningless or even inconsistent with the long term goals that such morals and positions would be expected to promote.
The first problem with the Guidelines is the timing chosen for their publication. Given their mere declarative status, there was no real urgency in releasing them in the exact time when John Kerry was visiting the region, laboring on renewing the peace process between Israel and the PA, especially given the fact that one of the major obstacles to renew the talks was the PA’s insistence that any talks will be based on pre-67 lines as a precondition (PA buttressed in this position following Obama’s careless statement during the last attempt to renew the talks. This was one of the reasons for last round’s botched attempt, since it pushed the PA to adopt a non-compromising position which was much stricter compared to their positions in prior rounds of talks). This was well put by an Israeli official quoted by the NY Times:
“Why would any Palestinian leader agree to re-engage if they can get what they want without negotiating?” the official said. “Why enter the give and take of negotiations when you can just take what is offered by international bodies?”
Unfortunately, in addition to the questionable timing of its publication, it is also evident that the Commission did not give much attention to the details and facts surrounding the subject matter of the Guidelines and completely disregarded all understandings that have been reached so far between Israel and the PA regarding the Territories when the drafted the Guidelines. A prominent example is the inclusion of the Gaza Strip in the scope of the Guidelines and referring to it as “territories occupied by Israel since June 1967″, while in fact Israel has completely pulled out of the Gaza Strip already in 2005. Had the intention of the drafters of the Guidelines been to address real life issues, why did they include in the scope something that is completely irrelevant for eight years now? were they so negligent in drafting the Guidelines that they allowed themselves to do so in complete ignorance of the facts related to the events of the last eight years?
Another example is the Commission’s utter disregard to the special status of Jerusalem in the conflict and to the division of the Judea & Samaria Territories (not including Jerusalem) to areas A, B and C, a division that reflects material factual differences between those areas as well as interim understandings between Israel and the PA (which started with the Oslo accords). Area A, where most Palestinians reside, is under Palestinian autonomy and its civil and security administration is in the hands of the PA; area B, which is in the fraction area between the major Israeli and Palestinian communities, is under PA civil jurisdiction and Israeli security jurisdiction; and area C, where only about 50,000 Palestinians reside and about 342,414 Israelis, which is under Israeli security and civil jurisdiction. The Guidelines do not make these distinctions and thus they also ban any Israeli activity related to the Western Wall and ignores the existence of over 640,000 Israelis in the Territories (including East Jerusalem), even in areas from which Jews were expelled during the war of 1948 (East Jerusalem and Gush Etzion for example). Had there been more pragmatism and care to details in its work, the Commission could have produced a much more balanced and ‘easy to live with’ document, perhaps enabling Israel to consider adoption and implementation of the EU position, thus paving the way to increased understanding and cooperation between Brussels and Jerusalem regarding the matter. Instead the Commission chose the patronizing and negligent approach which resulted in a document that relates to an area where there has been no Israeli presence for the last eight years, ignores the special status and sensitivity of Jerusalem and does not address the fact that well over half a million Israeli citizens (out of 8 million in the total) live in the Territories, some of whom are of second and third generations of Israeli presence in the region (not to mention native Jerusalemites whose families lived in the city since before 1948).
My last point of criticism regarding the Guidelines is more material than lack of attention to details or lack of pragmatism and relates to the long term effects of the policy and the effective purpose thereof, meaning its purpose in fact and not the one that the EU rhetoric provides for it. When thinking of the greatest catalysts of peace in the history of human civilization one of the first things that comes to mind is trade. Where there is trade between nations there is in fact a-politic cooperation and communication, setting aside all differences and joining forces to improve the lives of both parties through cooperation. As international trade developed so did international cooperation, providing incentives for nations and sovereigns to rely more on diplomacy and exchange rather than raiding and looting. Japan seems to understand this concept pretty well, based on its involvement in founding a joint industrial park for Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians in Jericho (a city in the Territories), but it seems that when it comes to the EU all they have to offer to the parties is apartheid, not cooperation or peace. Let’s take for example the possibility that an Israeli business will decide to open a branch in a Palestinian city, rent a place from one of the residents and employ Palestinians, it seems as if the EU objects to the idea. This example is not merely theoretical, recently a big Israeli fashion chain, named Fox, opened a branch in Ramallah. Another example is the participation of Israeli companies in building Rawabi, a new middle-class Palestinian city. Contrary to military administration, trade is voluntary, but the Guidelines do not distinct between private civilian entities and governmental entities and thus is an obstacle to peace instead of a peace initiator.
Bishara Shlayan, an Israeli Arab described it very well in an interview to the Jerusalem Post:
“The boycott is a big mistake – it is the livelihood for many, mainly Arabs in the West Bank,” Shlayan told The Jerusalem Post, adding that the absence of Israeli businesses will create more violence, as more Arabs will be left with no way to put food on their tables.
They should build more universities and factories, he said, as Arabs also are studying in the universities, work in the factories and are responsible for most of the new construction.”
Let’s hope that someday the Commission will also learn these simple truths.