This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Usually when an American Secretary of State is in the Middle East trying to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli government announces new settlement housing in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This time the European Union made its own announcement, seemingly from the opposite direction.
With John Kerry in Jordan meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the European Union announced new stringent anti-occupation guidelines for future agreements with a variety of entities in the state of Israel.
Though complicated and still to be analyzed, the EU is turning its back on Israel in the occupied territories in concrete ways. This involves banning the financing of and cooperation with Israeli institutions that operate in land Israel seized during the 1967 war. Starting next year, Israel will have to sign on the dotted line that Israeli entities in relation to the EU have nothing to do with directly or indirectly with the Palestinians territories. This is tantamount to Israel officially affirming that the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are not part of Israel.
Though this seems an obvious and long overdue step, the EU’s action is being greeted as huge news by various players in the region. Predictably, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up in arms.
As always there are caveats. The guidelines apply only to agreements with the EU as an entity; the EU’s member states can do what they want. However, the EU will recommend that its member states adopt the same guidelines. Reports are that a number of states within the EU will adopt the guidelines.
Reading the guidelines, it’s clear this is a serious effort. The handwriting on Israel’s wall is becoming bolder and more restrictive. According to Israel’s governing ideology, the EU’s new guidelines are strident.
Here’s Haaretz summarizing some some of the guidelines:
Any Israeli entity seeking funding from or cooperation with the European Union will have to submit a declaration stating that the entity has no direct or indirect links to the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, according to the new EU guidelines.
The guidelines, which condition all future agreements on Jerusalem’s acknowledgement that its occupied territories are not part of Israel, have strained relations with the EU to unprecedented level.
The full text of the guidelines obtained by Haaretz states that any Israeli entity that wants to receive funding, participate in a project or apply for grants or prizes from EU foundations or institutions will have to submit such a declaration.
The guidelines also state that “only Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be considered eligible” for consideration.”
The place of establishment “is understood to be the legal address where the entity is registered, as confirmed by a precise postal address corresponding to a concrete physical location. The use of a post office box is not allowed.”
Has the EU gone far enough? Annie Robbins reports Omar Barghouti’s response to the new guidelines:
Given the EU’s profound complicity at all levels in maintaining Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid, these guidelines constitute a bare minimal step in the right direction that may open the door to more effective boycotts against Israel in the future. We welcome them, but we also must soberly remind the European establishment that it is obliged, morally and legally, to do much more on the ground to atone for its role in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.
Echoing Barghouti but from the other side of the coin, the New York Times reports that Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli foreign minister, sees the European move as a “good sign.” His reasoning is as follows: Since the EU distinguishes between pre-1967 Israel and the Palestinians territories, the guidelines don’t punish Israel itself. In other words, Ben-Ami sees the handwriting on Israel’s wall and thinks Israel should breathe a sigh of relief. At least the EU isn’t boycotting Israel as a whole.
No doubt the EU’s agreement is important. With Secretary Kerry in the Middle East, the news of the guidelines is amplified. Though serious and important, however, Barghouti’s issue remains. Do the EU guidelines dovetail with Kerry announcing the disappearance of the Two State solution – as Israel expands at the expense of Palestine? The EU guidelines could stretch out negotiations between the parties, muddy the waters and pressure Israel but not enough to force Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
Ben-Ami’s glass half-full is the EU recognizing Israel’s 1967 borders as the limits of its actions. Is he right?
Though one hardly would expect Europe to boycott Israel as a state, limiting its guidelines to the Palestinians territories may ultimately enable Israel to continue its occupation.
The EU has upped the ante. The cost of Israel’s occupation continues to grow. This is important. The stick – international opinion affecting Israel’s economy, education and beyond – worries Israel. But, then, John Kerry’s carrot, the major factor in the unfolding scenario, has just become more tempting for Israel.
Biting the carrot to avoid the stick, Israel might move – some. But we know that if the EU’s action help bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table, two real states won’t be on the table.
The EU’s guidelines are real. In Israel/Palestine, will they prove to be a game changer or another palliative for those who hope that peace with justice is just around the corner?