The European Union and -Palestine

It’s time the EU told Israel that enough is enough

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Gershon Baskin thinks that an EU declaration recognising the Palestinian state could say that Palestine’s boundaries will be determined after negotiations with Israel, but based on the Armistice lines in 1949 (the Green Line) with agreed upon territorial swaps that leave Palestine in sovereign possession of 22% of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

This is the original article by former Swedish Minister for International Development and Deputy Foreign Minister Pierre Schori who says that European governments must abandon the EU’s passive silence on the Middle East conflict and speak out. Click here for Gershon Baskin’s response

I was six years old when my parents opened their hotel in Malmö to receive just some of the 30,000 people, many of them were Jews, rescued by Sweden’s Count Bernadotte from Hitler’s death camps. Half a century later I was the first Swedish minister to sign in 1995 a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel’s Shimon Peres to jointly support agricultural development in Africa.

My feelings for the people of Israel are still the same, but Israeli exceptionalism has sadly changed from a youthful dream of egalitarian kibbutz socialism into a state that inflicts collective punishments on another people without a state, and unleashes disproportionate military violence in territories it occupies against international law.

Hearing Israeli commentators express their Angst at their own government trumps anything written elsewhere. Their views must be heard because they represent the other Israel that those who still hope for a peaceful two-state solution can relate to.

The Obama administration needs Europe ?s support for a New Deal in the Middle East. Obama identified right from the start Israeli expansion of illegal settlements asamajorobstacletopeace.Whentheusual barrage of official Israeli counter-arguments followed, the EU again remained silent.

The Union once had a united, active and progressive policy. At their Venice summit back in 1980, European leaders endorsed the rights of the Palestinian people to self- determination and a two state-solution. But two decades on, under pressure from the Bush administration and its unconditional support for Israel, the Union adopted an inexplicably low profile.

Occasional efforts within the EU to be more concrete or demanding – for instance, during the last hours of the Swedish presidency in December 2009 –were met by the usual argument that “it would hurt the peace process”. The peace process had in the meantime become a slogan behind which Israel continued with impunity its relentless colonisation of Palestinian land.

But Israel had crossed a line with the Gaza war a year before that, and that’s also the view of the Obama Administration. Washington now sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as directly linked to other crises where American strategic interests are involved. The U.S. military now sees Israel ?s intransigence as a threat to America ?s standing in the Middle East, and one that puts its soldiers at risk.

It is time for EU governments to manage the EU’s relationship with Israel as seriously as the European Parliament and EU diplomats in Jerusalem. For a growing number of influential institutions and political actors in Europe are beginning to exert significant pressure for policy change by the EU.

In late February of this year the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled that Israel cannot pass off as its own products made by settlers on occupied Palestinian land. The verdict concerned German soft drinks firm Brita, which buys syrups from an Israeli company called Soda-Club in Mishor Adumin in the occupied West Bank. Earlier, in November last year, the 21 EU embassies located in Ramallah had outlined measures ensuring that products manufactured in East Jerusalem are not exported to the EU under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. These recommendations were not, however, taken-up by EU foreign ministers, just as had happened in connection with the Iraq war when some EU leaders refused to act against a violation of international law in defiance of legal experts and public opinion.

Shortly after taking office, the EU’s new “foreign minister”, Baroness Catherine Ashton, was directly addressed by the European Parliament after its March 10 endorsement of the Goldstone Report that accuses Israel of war crimes and calls for the prosecution in The Hague of Israeli officials. The EP resolution called on the High Representative and on EU member states “to publicly demand the implementation of [the report’s] recommendations and accountability for all violations of international law, including alleged war crimes.”

The lobbying effort on the part of European Jewish groups was so intense that Irish MEP Proinsias de Rossa, chair of the EP-Palestinian Legislative Council liaison delegation, declared that the vote had become “a test of the credibility of this parliament’s commitment to human rights, irrespective of political considerations”.

It is now up to EU member governments to show the same commitment. “The EU should end its blind eye approach to Israeli actions and introduce international law and human rights as the cornerstone of its political approach to Israel and Palestine”, argued the Brussels think tank CEPS (Centre for European Policy Studies) in January 2009, and former EU external relations commissioner Chris Patten has decried the fact that international donors meet most of the costs caused by Israel’s occupation that should under the Geneva convention be met by Israel itself. He added that many EU projects had been reduced to rubble by the Israeli Defence Forces and asked, as do many European taxpayers: “How long can donors justify this expenditure?”

EU governments seem to dodge that question, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon showed more courage when he sent Israel an $11m bill for compensation of damage to UN property. Israel unprecedentedly agreed to pay $10m dollars and said that the settlement should be viewed as a good-will gesture towards the UN. Israel had no such feelings for the Palestinians, though. According to the UN, as well as 1,400 dead Palestinians, the Gaza offensive destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties and 200 schools.

So how long must we in the EU wait for the Union to send Israel a similar bill? Over the last year, the EU and its members contributed about ?1bn, in aid, yet the Gaza war has left a strong impression on European public opinion. In Sweden, the war will certainly be part of this year ?s general election; over 45 projects that cost Swedish taxpayers ?14m were destroyed or rendered useless, among them the Gaza electricity net and an important sewage system. The opposition, made up of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left party, has committed itself to break off all defence-related co-operation and end any arms deals with Israel. Recognising that the boycott of Hamas was counter- productive, the three parties have declared that Sweden will work within the EU to support free and fair elections in the whole of Palestine, and that the EU should respect the democratically-elected government and offer it support. They also said that Sweden should be ready to participate in a UN-mandated peacekeeping force in the region.

European leaders must show that the Union is no paper tiger, that no country stands above international law and that not only the people of Israel but also the people of Palestine, under Israeli siege, deserve our solidarity and are entitled to protection.

Jean - Pierre Olov Schori

Jean - Pierre Olov Schori is a Swedish diplomat and politician. For many years he was international secretary in the Swedish Social Democratic Party and a close assistant to the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. He assisted Palme in the Socialist International Movement and took part in the struggle against the fascist rule in Greece, Portugal and Spain. In April 2005 he was appointed Special Representative for Côte d'Ivoire by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (UNOCI, succeeded by Choi Young-jin from South Korea in October 2007). He was Secretary General of Sweden's foreign ministry 1982–91, later member of the cabinet 1994–99 and Deputy Foreign Minister responsible for issues of foreign aid and migration, Social Democratic member of the European Parliament, and Sweden's ambassador to the United Nations.

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