Faaborg-Andersen believes Israeli decision makers pay attention when the EU voices concern.
Lars Faaborg-Andersen left Israel at the end of August after a four-year stint as the European Union’s ambassador, lamenting the fact that, despite excellent bilateral ties, many Israelis still perceive Europe as a bastion of anti-Israel bias and antisemitism.
Europe-Israel relations are “rock solid,” he tells The Jerusalem Report, but the focus invariably is on the areas of disagreement, which account for no more than 15-20 percent of the relationship, in his estimation.
“I think it is kind of frustrating when we consider the track record we have of cooperation. And it’s not like we are at a standstill ‒ we are adding new areas of cooperation all the time, including most notably, I would say, anti-terrorism, which is a common threat to us and we have a lot to learn from each other,” he says.
“We have a lot to learn from Israel on many of the technical aspects of fighting terror and I think Israel might have something to learn from us on some of the social and political aspects of fighting terror, including issues such as deradicalization. So, I think, given the flourishing nature of our cooperation, it is frustrating to see us portrayed as being anti-Israel.”
In a farewell news conference in Tel Aviv, the Danish diplomat said there is not only a great misunderstanding on the part of Israelis over the role of the European Union, but also on EU policy and objectives.
Much of the friction concerns settlements as Brussels has been consistently critical of Israeli West Bank construction and insists that any agreement with Israel include a clause that excludes EU funding from reaching any Jewish community over the 1967 Green Line ‒ the West Bank, the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem. Indeed, Israel briefly suspended diplomatic discussions with the EU after Brussels decided to label goods imported from Jewish settlements.
Recently, there was tension over Israel’s demolition of a number of illegally built Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli control, which had been partially financed by the EU or EU-member states.
Faaborg-Andersen doesn’t attempt to deny the differences of opinion, but stresses that they mustn’t overshadow the mutually beneficial bilateral ties that have an immense impact on Israel.
“Europe remains Israel’s biggest trading partner, the biggest partner in science and technology, the biggest partner in transportation and, maybe in the future, the biggest partner in energy,” he says. “Israel remains the EU’s most significant partner in the region. This is why we have some difficulty understanding the perception that the EU is anti-Israel.
“When you look at the facts it’s very different. There is also criticism that we are engaged in boycotting Israel. How can people get that idea to square with the fact that we have 32 billion euros in mutual trade every year? The EU is the single biggest public funder of science and research in this country. This doesn’t sound like a boycott to me.”
If Israelis were aware of the true nature of the bilateral relationship, he says their perceptions of Europe would change – also when it comes to antisemitism.
“Antisemitism in Europe is a phenomenon we are combating ‒ even more than Israel is ‒ and we are actually taking very determined steps to do something about it, including through cooperation with Internet providers and closing down websites that have antisemitic content, and we actually have good results on this.”
More than five decades of trade, cultural exchanges, political cooperation and a developed system of agreements have cemented bilateral relations. The 28-member bloc (soon to shrink to 27 after Brexit) accounts for about one-third of Israel’s total trade, and it was the EU’s 24th ranked trade partner globally in 2015.
Furthermore, Israel was the first non- European country to be associated with the EU Framework Program back in 1996, and its participation in the various cooperation programs since has been a success story giving added value to both sides. Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 program, signed in 2014, for instance, enabled thousands of Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs to cooperate with their European and international counterparts in cutting-edge scientific projects.
More recently, the 2013 Open Skies agreement has opened up scores of European destinations for Israeli tourists with lowcost flights and turned Israel into a regional flight hub.
Faaborg-Andersen’s tenure in Israel included a war, elections and the frustration of ongoing diplomatic deadlock in attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
He warns that the breakdown of peace negotiations combined with ongoing settlement activity makes the prospects for a two-state solution increasingly impractical. The diplomatic deadlock, he warns, could have serious implications for Israel’s longterm security and Palestinian aspirations, creating a potentially dangerous reality that may be exploited by radical elements in the region.
The outgoing EU ambassador met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about 10 times during his four-year stint and the EU assumption is that the Israeli leader remains committed to the two-state solution, as he outlined in his policy speech at Bar-Ilan University in October 2013, although questions remain over what kind of Palestinian state he envisions.
Bilateral political cooperation thrives in a number of areas and includes ongoing efforts to ensure regional stability by bolstering Jordan and Egypt.
On the security front, Faaborg-Andersen acknowledges that Israel has provided real-time intelligence to European countries regarding the Islamic State threat. Two high-level Israel-EU anti-terrorism dialogues have taken place, and workshops have been held on deradicalization, terrorism financing and non-conventional terrorism, such as the cyber threat.
While sensitive to accusations of interfering in internal Israeli affairs, the ambassador has spoken out a number of times against Knesset legislation perceived either as damaging to peace prospects or anti-democratic. Two recent cases are the NGO transparency law that forced human rights groups that receive more than half their funding from abroad – including from European governments – to disclose it prominently in official reports and the law legalizing settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land.
Faaborg-Andersen believes Israeli decision makers pay attention when the EU voices concern.
“I’m sure because I know that Israel is taking into account the expected international reaction to various pieces of legislation that is put on the table in the Knesset. It was very clear during the whole discussion of the NGO transparency bill and, obviously, also when the issue of retroactive legalization of settlements on private Palestinian land was discussed.
“Of course, Israel is very attentive to what the international community thinks about what is going on here. So, I think it’s the duty of the international community, including on me as the representative of the EU, to let them know in advance what the likely reaction will be on such issues so they can take this into consideration. The worst thing would be if they weren’t aware that something would trigger a response. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to the Knesset to discuss with different MKs exactly these issues. So, yes, indeed, I think people are listening.”
Faaborg-Andersen, who has returned to the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen awaiting his next assignment, has been replaced by Italian diplomat Emanuele Giaufret as the EU’s new envoy.
For the only MEP elected to the European Parliament from Germany’s Family Party, Mr Gericke packs quite a punch. An outspoken critic of the erosion of family values, when he speaks in the European Parliament, people listen. But it is his unashamed support for the State of Israel, his love of the country and its democratic values, and his willingness to step up to the plate in defence of it that sets him apart for us here in EIPA.
As a member of EIPA’s advisory committee and a newly signed up member of a Parliamentary working group looking into accountability and conditionality of EU Aid as a whole, Mr Gericke is often seen speaking up on Israel’s behalf, either late into the night during Parliamentary debates in Strasbourg or first thing in the morning at briefings and events.
An articulate drafter of Parliamentary questions and also questions to the European Commission too, Arne Gericke has a knack of getting straight to the matter, leaving little wriggle room for opponents to try and untangle themselves. For these reasons and for being a great friend of EIPA’s as well as Israel’s, Mr Gericke you are our MEP of the month. Mazal Tov!
Today (25th of February) Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee and MEPs on EIPA’s Advisory Board met with Mr. Ohad Cohen, Head of Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry.
The joint event in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Mission to the EU, underlined the importance of strong EU-Israel bilateral trade relations.
With a current détente in relations between the EU and Israel following the fallout of the labelling guidelines, MEPs, key staffers and representatives of the Ministry of Trade, held a round table discussion about the clear mutual benefits to both Israel and the EU of continued trade arrangements and Research and Development programs.
MEPs did however hear of Israel’s concerns about the spill-over effects of the labelling guidelines and the associated possibility of a “quiet boycott” of Israeli companies and products which may happen under the radar.
Another key question raised was how to ensure that EU-Israel economic relations were decoupled from matters relating to the on-going political machinations of the peace process.
Another week and still the indiscriminate stabbing attacks against Israelis continue, another week and still no condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, nor calls on this bloodlust to cease.
Can you imagine the international uproar and the weight of worldwide opinion if Israelis were wandering around randomly stabbing Palestinian Arabs? And can you imagine if the Prime Minister and his Ministers justified it as ‘popular resistance’? It would, quite rightly, result in a deafening cacophony of condemnation.
Yet with one more off-duty sergeant dead, and a civilian and two border guards wounded as a result of stabbing attacks in Sha’ar Binyamin and Jerusalem this week, there is instead deafening silence from the European Union. No attempts to hold the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas to account. No attempts to impose cuts on their funding as they seek to wash their hands and say “this is simply a reaction to the occupation”.
Meanwhile Israelis, stoic as always go about their daily lives and respond in the way they do best: with gallows humour.
I was in Jerusalem at the start of the week, the first time since October, and the sense of tension was palpable. People looked over their shoulders, were wary of people who didn’t look Israeli, and they make jokes about who gets to stand in the middle if they are walking in threes, as that’s the best place to be if someone tries to stab you.
Whilst waiting for an Israeli friend to show up at Cinema City in the Government quarter, I found myself leaning against a wall, rather than sitting down so as to get a better view of people passing by. And I felt bad, knowing this is daily life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
This has to stop. And the EU needs to massively up its game in getting it to stop. If the Palestinian Authority think it can get away with inciting violence, then cry crocodile tears after acts of terror take place, well, it will.
So far – and now we are now in our fifth month since the wave of stabbing started – the EU has done precious little. A few words of condemnation, but no sanctions, no holding to account, no proper scrutiny, in short nothing of real diplomatic nor political worth.
So, as a result, the Palestinian Authority can continue to act with impunity. Safe in the knowledge that the EU is a toothless tiger. And that means more stabbings. More dead Israelis and Palestinians.
As Director of a Brussels based pro-Israel advocacy group, we are actively working on a political campaign to ensure that there is conditionality when it comes to EU aid.
What do I mean by conditionality? The Palestinian Authority gets Millions of Euros in taxpayers money in aid and support. Money that currently goes to support the cradle to the grave hatred of anything Jewish or Israeli. It currently supports schools named after suicide bombers, it supports the families of incarcerated terrorists, with a sliding scale of money dependent on the atrocity committed. It supports a regime – and I use that word in its proper context – that espouses the politics of the lowest common denominator: rabble rousing and hate mongering as a tactic to avert attention from its own shortcomings, namely endemic corruption and complete impotence in meeting the pressing social and economic needs of the people it professes to ‘represent’ despite the billions in aid money it has received over the years. I put represent in parentheses for good reason, the last and only elections, as you know, were in 2005.
And Brussels is turning a blind eye for now. Which is hardly surprising given it has its collective blinkers on when it comes to its obsession with settlements. After the labelling debacle of last November, the EU has been trying to mend bridges with the State of Israel.
But it still refuses to tackle the bloody great elephant in the room, resplendent in neon signage that flashes “Palestinian violence and incitement to violence.”
Ask any Israeli what their biggest concern is and the vast majority will answer in one word: security. Yet all of the EU’s diplomatic ammunition is pointed at settlements, thereby alienating one side of your partners for peace, and worse still playing directly into the false Palestinian assertion that “it’s the settlements stupid”.
If the EU is serious about getting the Peace Process back on track, serious about being seen as an honest broker, and serious about rebuilding its relationship with the Israeli government and its people, it needs to remove the blinkers and allow the spotlight to move to EU aid and funding Mahmoud Abbas’ hate churning Palestinian Authority.
It needs to hit the PA where it hurts: In its pockets. Conditionality means that PA funds get cut unless it stops inciting violence.
With 229 attacks to date, 340 hurt, and 32 Israelis murdered since this ‘campaign’ started, it’s essential that this incitement stops.
Turn the screws on PA bank accounts today and I’d bet it will stop tomorrow.
This Op-Ed was written by EIAP executive director, Alex Benjamin and was published at The Times of Israel as well.
A lot has already been said about the Swedish government’s Middle East policy and I will not get dug down in my past criticism of it. After spending a couple of days in Israel together with colleagues from the European Parliament, I would like however to underline a clear observation; The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström’s anti-Israeli statements have damaged the image of Sweden more than we so far have realized.
That the Israeli government´s representatives, parliamentarians and media began speaking about a flaring diplomatic crisis is one thing, but when the general public and ideological supporters of Wallström react in the same way it illustrates the seriousness of the situation. In fact, Sweden’s reputation has been destroyed as a result of Wallström´s actions and some of the foremost critics are her own Social Democratic Party friends in the Israeli Labour Party.
In the meetings and conversations that I participated in, both in the Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish government’s actions have been a recurring topic. This was clearly expressed in Knesset’s Vice President, Social Democrat Nachman Shai, who explained that Margot Wallström not only has hurt her own image, but also Israel´s:
”What we are talking about is a terrible mistake. Tell her that we are hoping for a quick generation shift in Swedish Social democracy.”
Alongside this debacle, Israeli domestic politics are dominated by the country’s security situation. A special focus is of course on the Palestinian attacks against innocent civilians, attacks who are currently spreading terror among the population. Since the wave of terror began last year, over a hundred attacks have been conducted in which around thirty people have been killed and hundreds injured.
The functions of fundamental social institutions is being challenged and people’s daily lives have been limited. What previously was easy suddenly became impossible. At the same time, I was impressed by how well the society seems to work, how people’s concerns are taken care of and how quickly the necessary political decisions and measures have been taken. The handling of national crises in Israel is part of normality.
The security challenge is constantly present, and it also applies to the neighbouring countries, regionally and globally. Israel is surrounded by more or less hard line, hostile dictatorships ruling over their 450 million inhabitants. In addition a number of militant terrorist organizations are currently operating in Israel’s immediate vicinity; Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Sinai. All sharing the expressed purpose to destroy Israel.
This is relevant and important to recall in a political context where Israel is often portrayed as the stronger and militarily superior party. This is of course correct in relation to the Palestinians but in a broader perspective the country is in a vulnerable position facing the surrounding dictatorships and terror organizations.
After days of political discussions, meetings and field trips, I can conclude not only that the outside world´s perceptions of Israel’s security situation is at odds with reality. In the Swedish and European context it is almost only the occupation and the settlements that are discussed, which makes the picture incomplete. Other major events and phenomena are neglected or silenced.
People interested in foreign policy and media consumers seldom get to see the true Israel. A country with successful enterprises, entrepreneurship, research and education with empathetic and involved citizens.
Let me mention some of these citizens – people who daily are involved in shaping the Israeli society. Recently I met them in their different situations and places:
Salman Zarka, doctor at the Ziv hospital in Safed near the border with Lebanon and Syria. For years he has been responsible for projects treating victims of the civil war in Syria. Often the patients are people who were rescued by Israeli army patrols in the border areas.
When I met Salman Zarka he explained that the main focus is treating seriously injured and traumatized patients – both soldiers and civilians. So far, he and his team have been able to save the lives of 580 severely injured people out of the total of 3000 war wounded Syrians who so far have received care in Israeli hospitals.
”Most of them have learned at an early stage to see Israel as the worst enemy. But as a doctor and human being, it is my job to save lives, regardless of nationality”.
Gad Moshe Yarkony, Mayor in Eshkol in southern Israel. Born and raised on the Kibbutz Nirim, just a few kilometres from the border with Gaza, Yarkony lived for many years under attacks from Palestinian terrorist groups. In the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas he served in the Israeli army when a Palestinian rocket attack changed his life. Two of his closest friends were killed in the attack that also wounded himself. Hit by shrapnel both his legs are today amputated.
”The attack took place on the last day of the war. But I made a decision; to survive and work for peace with the Palestinians. From my hospital bed, I announced my candidacy for mayor.”
Yehuda Cohen, head of the Lipski company in Ariel in the West Bank. For several years Lipski is one of the leading manufacturers of plastic products in the region. The company is profitable, sales are steadily increasing and 20 per cent of what is produced is exported to Europe.
Half of Lipskis over a hundred employees are Israelis, half of them Palestinians. Yehuda Cohen said that staff turnover is low, and wages and employment conditions are the same for Palestinians and Israelis.
”For me, this job is a peace project. The owner of the company is considering moving the production because of the uncertainty regarding the EU’s decision on labelling of goods from the occupied territories. If so, I will not follow, since I want to continue working for coexistence with the Palestinians.”
Israel, like all countries is neither perfect nor flawless. But in all its simplicity, the meetings with Salman Zarka, Gad Moshe Yarkony and Yehuda Cohen, however complete the widely recognized and unfortunately one sided negative picture of the Middle East’s only democracy.
It’s time for that picture to change.
(This is an English translation of the blog post in Swedish ”Det verkliga Israel” published on this blog on February 13th 2016)
you can also find it here
Representatives of Israel and the European Union last week began low-key talks to resolve the current diplomatic crisis between the two players over the EU’s decision to label products manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli Haaretz daily reported.
Israeli officials told Haaretz that officials are currently working toward reaching agreements that would bring the relationship back on track.
According to the report, Helga Schmid, the EU’s Deputy Secretary General for the External Action Service, arrived in Israel last week.
During the secret visit, Schmid met with Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold, as well as representatives of the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office and officials from other ministries.
According to an unnamed official, Israel conveyed to Schmid that a condition for renewing dialogue with the EU regarding the Palestinian issue was that the EU take on a more respectful and balanced approach towards Israel.
“We told them that the decisions of the EU’scouncil of foreign ministers and the decision on the labeling of [settlement] products were unilateral and in fact adopted the Palestinian narrative. That’s no way to conduct a respectful dialogue,” the official told Haaretz.
Following the EU’s decision to release guidelines for labeling products from the settlements in supermarket chains throughout the continent, Israel announced that it was suspending some of the dialogue meetings with the EU, mainly regarding Palestinian projects and EU projects in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
The EU has insisted it was only clarifying existing rules on the place of origin for goods that will go on sale in the 28-nation bloc, adding that it had nothing to do with a boycott, which it says it does not support.
“For the past two weeks talks have been underway toward resolution with the EU,” an official in Jerusalem said.
The official added: “Israel’s ambassador to the EU institutions in Brussels, David Walzer, held talks on the matter and Helga Schmid visited here. The goal of the talks was to try to reach understandings that would restart talks on the Palestinian issue.”
The official told Haaretz the details were still not final, adding: “The EU is very unhappy that we froze everything having to do with the peace process vis a vis them. They understand that they have to give us something, in a statement, action or a more positive approach.”
This article was post on i24news on the 10th of February 2016
Tunnel entrances dozens of meters from the fence, fortified Hamas military positions and a cement factory – all is out in the open, right across the Gaza border; MK Yellin: ‘We’re in a race with Hamas, and we must not lose.’
There is complete silence on the Gaza border these days, but it’s mostly because both sides are focused on their work. On the one side of the border, Israel is drilling into the ground in an effort to locate tunnels that cross into Israeli territory, and on the other side Hamas is clearing out areas to dig tunnels.
“We’re in a race with Hamas on who will get there first: Israel with a technological development to locate tunnels, or Hamas succeeding in crossing the border and opening an entrance into Israel for the terrorists. That is the big question, and in this race we must not lose,” said MK Haim Yellin.
In the wake of the collapse of two tunnels near the border area over the past week, and Hamas’ admittance that the tunnel “enterprise” was working at full speed ahead, we left in an armored vehicle for a drive along the Gaza border. MK Haim Yellin (Yesh Atid), a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz and the former head of the Eshkol Regional Council, joined us on this trip, taken from north to south.
About a year and a half after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas is once again back on its feet, and then some. The line of Hamas military posts is only dozens of meters from the border fence, about 500 meters from one another. These posts are fortified with concrete and sandbags. Opposite the Hamas posts is an IDF pillbox, currently manned by fighters from the Golani Brigade. One facing the other, at loggerheads.
These Hamas posts serve several functions: Primarily, they are there to observe the area. Somewhere around these posts there’s a tunnel opening, that God only knows where it ends. Across the border in the central Gaza Strip, we could see a cement factory, near the fence. Right next to it is a levee between two Hamas posts.
There are mounds, at the center of which there is a pit that used to be an entrance to a tunnel which was blown up by the IDF. Hamas is digging again, rebuilding, and preparing for the next round for fighting.
Opposite that, the IDF is operating drills to locate tunnels and conducting tests.
Hamas, it would seem, is showing no signs of fear. Its line of military positions along the border is part of its psychological warfare, and a way to send out a message that the organization’s fighters are present on the ground.
Hamas fighters are speeding between the posts on motorcycles, patrolling, and providing equipment to the guards at the posts. They’re doing all of this in order to get the IDF’s attention, in the hopes the IDF lookouts fail to identify their main mission – the digging of tunnels.
On the eve of the end of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF declared that if Hamas resumes digging, it would serve as justification for ground operations.
“We’ve lost the deterrence sooner than expected,” Yellin said. “There’s a policy for the rocket fire – an IAF strike for every rocket fired. But what about the tunnels? There’s no response and no policy. Nor is there a policy for the rest of the threats – like the military posts. They built their positions based on our model, the same size. We can see mounds of dirt, and a factory to manufacture basic materials for iron and concrete. This is what they’re using to build the tunnels. This is a completely absurd reality. They can do whatever they want, it’s an absurd situation. It’s all out in the open, and all of this has been developing over the past six months.”
And there is one threat that is already dozens of meters away from the fence in the central Gaza Strip: The Islamic State group. Opposite one of the Israeli communities on the Gaza border, a fortified post was erected with a black flag, alongside the Palestinian flag.
This article was published on ynet on the 05.02.2016
Not necessarily the most obvious choice at first glance, But Mr Schultz has been solid and unwavering in his support for the State of Israel recently. Mr Schulz expressed his opposition to the labeling of settlements products, saying that such a move mainly hurts the Palestinians ‘’who make an honest living in working in factories there.’’ He made the remarks during a meeting with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in Berlin this month.
This is no mean feat given that the house he represents supports the guidelines by a significant majority. In fact, it was European Parliament pressure that saw the EEAS publish the new guidelines for the 28 member states to label products made in West Bank settlements in the first place. So for this, Mr Schulz, who clearly gets the situation on the ground, is January’s MEP of the month. Mazal Tov Mr President!
Ten years ago I was appointed Middle East Correspondent for Swedish National Television. Personally and on daily basis I experienced, and reported on, violence and terror attacks in Israel and the Palestinian areas. Regrettably, not much has changed since then. The core issues of the conflict have not been solved. And to be honest: in many aspects things have gone seriously worse.
The recent wave of terror against innocent Israeli civilians is fueling an already dangerous situation in the relations between Israelis and Palestinians. The terrorist attacks are intended to spread fear and horror among the civilian population, and sadly, it has already succeeded. People in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities today live in a constant distress and worry of further attacks.
The acts of violence so far seem to have one common denominator. The Palestinian attackers consider themselves taking part in ”protection” of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The fact that the Palestinian population accept the pledge ”to attack to protect”, is in one way understandable – the Palestinian society is completely infiltrated by anti-Semitism, anti-Israeli propaganda and hate. Children’s programs on Television, school education, preaching’s in mosques, and media reporting are all delivering the same distorted message: The al-Aqsa Mosque has to be protected from the ”Jewish threat”.
Politically responsible for the Palestinian propaganda and todays serious developments is the Palestinian leadership and notably; president Mahmoud Abbas. The president’s direct support for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians is as obvious as unacceptable. And let’s face it; the image of Mahmud Abbas as a reliable partner for peace, a representative of democracy and non-violence, is incorrect and false.
For peace to become a reality president Abbas needs to put an end to Palestinian violence – and the personal propaganda visits to the families of Palestinian terrorists. Furthermore the President needs, once and for all, to take action against corruption. The system with salaries, paid from the PA budget, to jailed Palestinian terrorists, has to be abolished. Money transfers to NGOs campaigning for hatred against Israel have to stop.
When it comes to bilateral aid and humanitarian assistance to the PA, my home country Sweden, will contribute with approximately 150 million Euro over the coming five years. Together with support and donations from other member countries and the EU funding, we are talking about huge amounts of money. Huge amounts that risk ending up in wrong pockets.
I believe the EU should stop sneaking around this issue by continuing to make large wire transfers to PA bank accounts. We need to be firm. Much of this aid is counterproductive – just as counterproductive as the labelling of products from settlements.
Instead we need to support and facilitate activities and projects that foster respect for human rights and democratic values in the Palestinian society. At the same time: whereas we are engaged in state-building measures with funds and expertise, we should link all the EU funds to a clear condition of an actual Palestinian renouncement to hate and all kind of violence.
As political representatives, as decision makers, we have a responsibility – not only to European tax payers, but also to people who are in need of our humanitarian support. For the sake of the most vulnerable, the most affected Palestinians, we are obliged to make sure that development aid from the EU is channeled in a accurate manner – to Palestinian organizations and stakeholders that promote and stands for peace, democracy and human rights. That is the single most effective way, and the most candid way, to assist the Palestinian people.
With these introductory remarks, I will again welcome you to this important seminar.
After a difficult end to 2015 in the EU-Israel relationship due to the labelling guidelines, EIPA kicked off 2016 with a hugely successful standing room only event in the European Parliament entitled “Safeguarding the Peace Process: can the EU be an honest broker?”
Hosted by European Parliament Vice-President Pascu and Lars Adaktusson MEP, the cross party event heard from distinguished Israeli and EU speakers on the subject of Palestinian incitement, conditioning EU aid on a rejection of Incitement to violence and lastly on the EU’s role in the Peace Process.
The decision to label settlement goods causes friction within the bloc and strains ties with a staunch ally.
Israel’s U.S. ambassador sent gift boxes for the 2015 holiday season containing wine, olive oil, body cream, and halva — and a defiant note calling out the European Union.
The products came from what the international community considers to be occupied territories, and Ambassador Ron Dermer was determined to make a blunt point about the EU’s recent move to instruct member countries on how to label goods produced in areas outside Israel’s 1967 borders.
“The Jewish state is singled out and held to a different standard than other countries,” Dermer wrote. “Of the over 200 unresolved territorial disputes around the world, Europe decided that only these Jewish-made products deserved to be labeled.”
“In response to this effort to cast a beacon of freedom, tolerance and decency as a pariah state, I have decided this holiday season to send you products that were made in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights,” he added.
Dermer’s reaction reflected the anger that many in Israel felt after the EU announced that the wording such as “product of West Bank (Israeli settlement)” should be displayed on cosmetics and food products, similar to the guidelines already in place inBelgium, the U.K and Denmark.
More than one month after the guidelines were issued, the fallout continues. The decision has dogged European officials, caused friction within the European Union and strained the bloc’s ties with Israel.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini faced combined pressure, built up over several years, from the European Parliament and EU countries critical of Israel’s settlement activity to act. But now, as she tries to reassert her role as a trusted broker in the Middle East peace process, the labeling decision has made her task difficult.
“For Mogherini it’s never been the right time,” said Hugh Lovatt, the Israel/Palestine project coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “She ran out of runway and had to issue it before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on November 16, because member states said ‘we don’t want to have to bring this up again.’”
In the immediate aftermath, Israeli canceled some meetings, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The labeling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories; Europe should be ashamed of itself.”
Then, at the end of November, Israel announced that it was suspending diplomatic contact with EU officials involved in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
“There have been a lot of gesticulations from the Israelis,” said one European diplomat, adding that particular ire had been directed at France, Belgium, Malta, Ireland and Sweden — countries traditionally seen as being more likely to criticize Israel.
But the diplomat said the EU is talking to Israel as before, pointing out that Fernando Gentilini, the EU’s Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, did not raise the issue on his recent visit to Israel.
The Israeli reaction “is an intimidation technique that the Israelis have tried and tested many times,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “For us, there’s no fundamental questioning of our relationship with Israel.”
Hostage to politics
Mogherini had a model for how not to proceed, in the previous attempt, by her predecessor, Catherine Ashton.
“It was handled badly,” a source close to this year’s deliberations said of the labeling guidelines proposed in 2013. “The Americans never heard about the proposal [before it was issued] and neither did the Israelis.”
Ashton’s push came at a time when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to revitalize the peace process. Israel complained and at Kerry’s request the EU shelved the proposal, which was hardly heard from again during the rest of Ashton’s tenure.
This time around, the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians were informed before the guidelines were released. “The work of quiet diplomacy,” the source said.
Another element of the strategy employed by Mogherini’s team was to attempt to use both political and technical arguments. Unlike the Ashton move, which was handled exclusively through the European External Action Service, this time more prominence was given to the role played by the Commission’s trade directorate.
“The EEAS chose to put communication on this matter in the hands of DG Trade, and say it was purely technical,” an EU official said. “As a way to unload the burden.”
In issuing the guidelines, an EU official argued the Commission was merely responding to member states’ request for “full and efficient implementation of existing legislation when it comes to the [Israeli] settlements.”
“This notice does not create any new legislative rules,” a Commission spokesperson said. “While it reflects the Commission’s understanding of the relevant EU legislation, enforcement remains the primary responsibility of member states.”
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskisreiterated that the labeling instructions were just “a technical issue, not a political stance.”
The problem, according to Lovatt, was that by delaying publication out of fear of stoking tensions in the region, “Ashton and then Mogherini held the labeling guidelines hostage to political considerations — so they’ve lost the legal, technical argument which they’ve had in previous situations.”
He compared the labeling fuss to the way Brussels brought in its rules for financing going to entities located beyond Israel’s 1967 borders.
“There was no attempt to intervene politically to delay the EU’s funding guidlines in July 2013,” Lovatt said. “In that case the EU stuck to its guns without having to sacrifice political capital.”
Instead, on labeling, “it has taken three years and two ministerial letters to write three pages,” one exasperated diplomat pointed out. “We organized the Crimea sanctions against Russia in three weeks! It’s unfortunate, if this had gone ahead three years ago we would have avoided the hysterics.”
This article was written by Vince Chadwick and Maia De La Baume and was published on the Politico website on 04/01/2016
As you will be aware, and after much fanfare, the EU published its guidelines on labelling of products in the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Here at EIPA we think that in the midst of a continuing wave of indiscriminate terror attacks against Israel’s civilian population, the decision to publish these guidelines makes zero political sense from a set of EU institutions that want to be seen as an honest broker in the Peace Process.
The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief can try and dress this move up as consumer protection, a technical trade detail or as a non-binding set of guidelines, but to the vast majority of Israelis it will be viewed very simply: as a slap in the face and an overt political move to punish Israel.
What is worse is that EU labelling of settlement products gives credence to the Mahmoud Abbas narrative that the stabbing attacks and car-rammings are somehow linked to settlements.
This lack of balance and a feeling of Israel getting the stick while the Palestinian authority gets the carrot has already had grave consequences for the EU- Israel relationship. This relationship is very important and we at EIPA are concerned at the needless deterioration of it.
As we write, Israel and the EU are engaged in a game of tit for tat. In retaliation at the publication of the EU guidelines – which in short will see an EU refusal to recognise products from the West Bank and the Golan Heights as “product of Israel”, instead they must say “product of West bank (Israeli settlement)” – Israel has done the following.
- President Rivlin has cancelled his planned visit to the EU in Brussels on December
- The EU envoy to Israel was summoned to the MFA and was reprimanded
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suspended dialogue with the EU on a number of fronts
- Deputy Foreign Minister Hotoveli said the MFA will suspend all peace negotiations with the EU
- Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked said she will examine taking legal steps against the EU
- Minister Uri Ariel has returned his European made Citroen and is now driving a Japanese car
The question has to be asked: Was a move on labelling even necessary? What ends does it serve from an EU perspective other than souring the political milk with one side in the peace process?
EIPA will be working hard to convince the various Foreign ministries around Europe that this move should absolutely not be implemented if European capitals want to enjoy a balanced and harmonious relationship with the state of Israel.
The actions of the EU are an ample example of how not to behave diplomatically and politically. This damage will take time and effort to repair. EIPA are committed to facilitate this much needed rapprochement in the weeks ahead.
To read the Guidelines click here