EU upgrading relations with Israel by the back door – part 2

On 24 July we reported on this blog that the European Union had apparently agreed to enhance the EU – Israel relationship with what we referred to as ‘a whole raft of measures all of which are considered technical and thus permissible under the Association Agreement as it stands’.

Since then, we have obtained a list of these measures. There are quite a lot of them. Some are considered ‘sectoral’ – i.e. they relate to a particular sector or policy; others are considered horizontal.

The information contained in the list is not detailed enough to establish exactly what changes are going to be made.

In response to the Arab Spring, the European Union agreed a ‘new response to a changing Neighbourhood’ in May 2011. This suggested that the EU will differentiate its cooperation and support to countries in the Southern Neighbourhood (of which Israel is one, it should be remembered) on the basis of ‘progress on political reforms and building deep democracy’ (p. 4). The approach in this response has been variously referred to as ‘more for more’. What is missing is an acknowledgement that this should go hand in hand with a ‘less for less’ approach – or at least a commitment to not giving more for less.

This is the dilemma that the EU has in its relationship with Israel. The list of measures agreed by the EU and Israel in July ‘aims at further exploring the opportunities offered by the current EU-Israel ENP Action Plan, i.e. the opportunities offered within the terms of the Association Agreement. But – as we said before – at a time when the actions of the Government of Israel (in the view of the EU among many) are hindering any realistic progress towards peace, then any exploration of such opportunities should either not take place at all or should be limited to actions which are actually designed to improve the chances for a lasting peace.

So in light of that criterion, what are the areas in which cooperation will be enhanced according to our list?

Civil Protection: the areas to be pursued are cooperation on risk management and responding to and managing natural disasters; whilst there is no argument that international cooperation in these areas is important, there is no indication that this area of cooperation will contribute to peace in any way.

Social situation, employment, poverty reduction: There is reference here to using Twinning to provide enhanced services to job seekers and employers. The document does not make it clear how this would be pursued but the implication is that this might allow job seekers from the EU to gain access to employment in Israel and vice versa and allow employers to advertise vacancies in each other’s markets. Whilst in principle there is nothing to be said against labour mobility, in a situation where Palestinians face serious complications not only in terms of obtaining visas for entry into the EU but also in terms of freedom of movement in their own territory, access to employment in Israel and in the EU, any enhancement of cooperation between the EU and Israel will not further peace. Furthermore, if we look just at town twinning between EU cities and towns and Israeli and Palestinian cities and towns respectively, it becomes clear that there is already significantly more activity with regard to EU-Israel twinning.

There are 28 cities and towns in Israel which are twinned with cities in the EU. There are 99 EU cities and towns involved in these arrangements (with a number of multiple twinnings). The largest number of EU twin towns any one Israeli city has is 15 (Tel Aviv). By contrast, only 7 Palestinian cities or towns benefit from any such twinning and there are 47 EU towns and cities involved. Of those 47, 29 have twinning arrangements with Bethlehem.

Thus any enhancement of any relationship involving twinning between the EU and Israel will further skew the activity towards Israel and away from Palestine, and if this focuses on employment opportunities then this will lead to fewer opportunities for Palestinians – a move which in our view is not designed to create the context in which peacebuilding can flourish.

Customs Cooperation: of 4 measures covered under this heading, one relates to promoting Palestinian trade. This is one measure which could potentially be welcome, but because it is pursued under the EU-Israel Association Committee and Council negotiations it begs the question as to how integrated into the discussions the Palestinian Authority is. This is not clear from the document.

The other 3 relate to bilateral issues including the participation of Israel in something called Customs 2013 and its successor programme. At least technically, a successor programme to an existing programme could be argued is much more than utilising the scope provided by the current Association Agreement. Finally, there is talk about ‘recognition of authorized trade bodies’. There is no reference anywhere at all in the document to reinforce the fact that any of the cooperation mentioned must remain strictly within the pre-1967 borders (i.e. the internationally recognised borders of Israel) and thus exclude anything relating to the Settlements in the occupied PalestinianTerritories which are illegal under international law. The fact that such mention is missing – here, in the document generally, and in one or two other salient places – must be a cause for concern.

Internal Market Cooperation: Apart from the fact that the term ‘internal market’ suggests almost implicitly that Israel is seen as part of the EU internal market, the fact that this action point suggests that new annexes to the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) should be negotiated is worrying. At present, one such annex, relating to pharmaceutical products, has been held up in the European Parliament because the European Parliament decided initially that after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza such an enhancement of relations was inappropriate. The discussion about that annex is still ongoing and there is still a possibility that the European Parliament consent will still be postponed. Given that, the suggestion that further such annexes might be pursued effectively seems to say that EU Member States are quite happy to ignore the European Parliament on this issue. This is a matter of concern.

Agricultural cooperation: in simple terms this is about further aligning the Israeli agricultural sector with the EU agricultural sector, no doubt in order to enhance trade. Given that the whole area of agricultural imports from Israel is fraught with issues around the import of produce from illegal Settlements (their labelling, their control at the point of import, their import per se are all major questions), then any further reference to this area which does not specifically and explicitly exclude Settlement produce is undermining the EU’s own position on Settlements. To quote Baroness Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union speaking here on 30 June 2010: Settlements and the demolition of homes are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

Tourism: Another area of major concern is the fact that there is a proposal to cooperate further on tourism. There is clear evidence that the government of Israel and Israeli tourism authorities present heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian Territories as Israeli tourist sites. There is no reference to cooperation with Palestinian authorities in this section and it is an area where no further cooperation can be justified, so long as there is the issue regarding the treatment of sites in the Palestinian Territories.

Energy Cooperation: The fact that there is even consideration of cooperation in this sector when Israel controls the supply of energy to the Palestinian Territories and this issue is not addressed in the action point is a matter of serious concern. The fact that there is a suggestion that Israel should participate in something called ‘Intelligent Energy Europe’ and its successor programme, which is a programme under the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (i.e. a new programme and by no means even theoretically covered by the current Association Agreement) is also a matter of concern and suggests that the thin and debatable line between exploiting the wriggle room and upgrading is even thinner than one might have thought.

Under the horizontal action points, the ones that are of most concern are those relating to cooperation in terms of justice and police. This foresees the conclusion of an operational cooperation agreement between Europol and Israel and various other police and security- related organisations. There is also reference to cooperation between the EuropeanPoliceCollege (Cepol) based in the UK. This suggests that there might be shared training between EU and Israeli police forces.

So what does this all mean: in essence, EU-Israel relationships are being treated both by the EU-Israel Association Committee (a working group at diplomat level) and by the EU-Israel Association Council (the forum for negotiation at ministerial level) as business as usual at the same time as the European Foreign Affairs Council (the very same ministers as sit in the EU-Israel Association Council) has raised serious concerns about the developments in Israel in relation to the peace process. Double standards, double speak, or just a high level of forgetfulness? But these are the very same people who make decisions on our behalf in matters of foreign policy and in matters of war and peace.

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About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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