PA violence is elephant in the room that EU can no longer ignore

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.


Israel, EU in secret talks to end diplomatic crisis

Talks aimed at reaching understandings that would restart talks on Palestinian issue

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

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Our MEP of The Month – Mr Martin Schulz – European Parliament President

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!

 

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Safeguarding the Peace Process Can the EU Be an “Honest Broker”?

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. 


How one phrase divided the EU and Israel

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.

An Israeli settler prepares olive oil containers at the Achia Olive press factory in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank on November 12, 2015. The European Union announced that goods from settlements -- Jewish communities built in areas occupied by force in 1967 -- must be specifically labelled, infuriating Israel. The EU ruling affects products imported from settlements in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights, all taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

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


Israel Suspends Peace Process Dialogue with EU

Last night Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to suspend contacts with EU representatives regarding the political process/peace process with the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu has ordered contacts to be frozen until “a reassessment process is completed”.

The MFA indicated in a statement that Israel was withdrawing from several bilateral forums dealing with the Palestinian issue.

“We have suspended the subcommittee on diplomacy, the subcommittee on human rights and international organizations,” the ministry said. “The remaining dialogues [with the EU] are continuing as planned

The move is a response to the recent decision by the EU to label settlement products from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister said: “The EU has decided to label only Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labelling the side that is being attacked by terrorism.” He then went on to add: “The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this.”

It should be stated that whilst Israel is suspending cooperation and work with the European Union itself on the peace process, it will continue diplomatic cooperation with individual member states such as Germany, Britain and France.ShowImage

In addition to the suspension of contacts with the EU, and as part of its fight against the EU decision, Israel has decided to take measures against 16 European countries: the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Croatia, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Slovenia, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium and Finland.

The measures include summoning the ambassadors of the 16 countries to the Foreign Ministry for an official rebuke; and restricting meetings between ambassadors and senior Israeli officials to low-level government staffers.

Here at EIPA we view this as a worrying move at a time when EU-Israel co-operation in fighting the terror and threat of terror should be at its peak.

As firm believers that the EU and Israel have much to share and co-operate on, we urge both sides to be restrained in their language and to rebuild the important political and diplomatic ties that both share.

We will of course keep you up to date on latest developments and to clarify the situation going forward. In the meantime we again urge cool heads to prevail, so that this situation can be seen as a diplomatic storm in a teacup that can and will be overcome as quickly as possible.


Alex Benjamin, EIPA Executive Director


Israel helps EU deal with new reality

It’s an odd sensation when friends in Israel are calling you up or sending you messages to stay safe. In Brussels.4689

The lockdown here – that has only been lifted this morning after the terror alert was downgraded – was the first real taste for many in the European capital of what the threat from Islamist terrorist looks and feels like. It was something so alien and so uncomfortable that many had no clue what to do.

Watching all this on the evening news from their living rooms in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many an Israeli would be forgiven for allowing themselves a wry smile and a “welcome to our world” remark. Let us not forget that ordinary Israelis are still facing a wave of stabbings and car rammings that continue to kill, maim and injure. This week saw 2 more dead and 11 wounded, including a 12 year girl that was stabbed.

Instead, Israel, despite the recent raw deal it got from the EU on labelling, and despite an overarching feeling that Europe doesn’t really care, was magnanimous and generous in its response to the terror attacks in Paris and the dark shadow of a real threat to life in Brussels.

Quietly, surely and delicately Israel has been sharing its expertise in dealing with terror with its counterparts in Europe. Last week many Israeli anti-terror experts were in Brussels, all below the publicity radar, offering briefings, solutions and best practice.

The highest profile of these visits this week came from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who held a number of private meetings with Belgian security officials.

The purpose of the trip was to establish unprecedented security ties involving Belgium and Israel. During his one-day trip to Europe, the IDF chief of staff also held meetings with high ranking military officials from the United States. Earlier this week, it was also revealed that Germany had received from Israeli intel services

key intelligence regarding an imminent terror attack against a packed soccer stadium.

This led lead German authorities to cancel a scheduled friendly soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands at Hanover Stadium on November 17.

It is a sad state of affairs that terror has brought its blood soaked hands to Europe. To many experts it wasn’t a case of if but when. Well, there can be no doubt that it is here now, and European capitals, particularly Paris and Brussels are left undeniably altered and shaken.

It’s a tough lesson for Europe to learn, where old certainties and comfortable clichés such as “why can’t we all just get along?” no longer apply.

This harsh new reality does however offer an unprecedented opportunity for rapprochement between the EU and Israel after a testy few months.

We do, after all, now share a very simple and stark reality: That there are those who seek our destruction, by any means necessary. That there are those who abhor democracy, freedom of speech and the liberties that we take for granted.

I sincerely hope that the tragic episodes in Paris and Brussels will wake Europe from a slumber that somehow separates and compartmentalises the Israel-Palestinian conflict into something “other”, something that is unique.

It is anything but. Settlements and the temple mount are simply the latest smokescreen in a long running attack on the only democracy in the middle east. This is instead a sadly on-going struggle against fundamentalism that sees no place, no future and no role for any non-arab in the region, just as it views any non-adherent to this brutal and murderous narrative as the enemy.

Israel has shown this week that it can swallow its bruised pride on EU labelling, rise above it and take a decisive and leading role in showing EU states how to deal with and fight terror. It is showing people how you can live and prosper, in spite of terrorism.

Brussels is renowned as a foggy place. But its is starting to feel like people are now slowly beginning to see what is at stake.

The Op-Ed was written by Alex Benjamin, EIPA executive director and was published in The Times of Israel


Reflect. React. Rethink. Resume.

Dutch MEP, Bastiaan Belder The start of a new year is an excellent time for reflection. When looking at the past year, I can’t help but notice that the struggle for Israel’s security in Europe remains. One needs to keep reacting to efforts that seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy in Europe and it’s security in the Middle East.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing in Europe. This BDS movement may be strong but it’s not powerful. Thankfully, there are true friends of Israel inside Europe and the European institutions. They work hard to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism within the European Union. They did it again, when faced with the strong negative draft joint motion for resolution on the EU’s role in the Middle East Peace Process that was adopted in the European Parliament last week.

In a very short timeframe, they had to reflect and think of strategies to tone down the language proposed by the Socialist and Democrats Party. The proposed resolution contained so much negative language that it was almost impossible to imagine any agreement by all political parties on a joint text. After four hours of negotiations, in which the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the first and third largest parties at the Parliament, teamed up to delete the most poisonous language from the document. The end result is still not satisfying, but much worse was prevented.

They are the face of the true friends of Israel in Europe. They seek to achieve the best possible outcome with what they’re given – a very bad deal. Nevertheless, they prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We reacted and used our political weight to tone down the text as much as feasibly possible. It was the choice of the lesser evil.

We took out, for example, the wording, which called for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners currently serving sentences in Israeli jails. The ECR and EPP refused profusely to include any such reference, arguing that some terrorists are in prison because they planned to commit, directly or indirectly, a terrorist act. Releasing such people would go entirely against peace and EU values. Finally, the left was forced to make a huge concession to leave out any such reference in the final draft of the resolution.

Other wording that was deleted from the text included the call for the labelling of Israeli produce originating from entities beyond the green line. The draft text called for the ‘correct labelling of Israeli settlement produce on the EU market, in line with existing EU legislation’. The ECR and the EPP once again used their political weight and demanded any such reference be omitted. How can, we argued, such reference be conducive to the EU’s attempt to create a positive environment in which peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians can resume?

Another success of our persistence was the inclusion of the passage that any rocket fire into Israel by militant groups is unacceptable and that it is imperative for the EU to work in partnership with Israel to prevent the re-arming of terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Unfortunately, the basic notion of Palestinian terrorism is always downplayed in the corridors of the European institutions. It is the friends of Israel who remind their left-wing colleagues, that the latter is the root cause for instability in the region and the true obstacle to peace.

All in all, the end result is not perfect but worse was prevented. In Europe, the friends of Israel, want to retain strong economic, scientific and security cooperation with Israel. Side by side with the Jewish state, we want to equally benefit from EU-Israeli collaboration and secure and safe and prosperous future for both our regions. We therefore will continue to work hard to secure strong EU-Israel relations and expand our cooperation in this coming new year.

Bastiaan Belder is a Dutch member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group at the European Parliament. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as Vice-Chair of the Israel Delegation. He is also an advisory board member of the Europe-Israel Public Affairs.

This Op-Ed was posted on The Jerusalem Post on the September 25th 2015