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August 7, 2012

EU's latest message to Israel - "Do your worst without fear of sanction by us"

The first question the headline begs is this: What is, or rather what could be, Israel's worst?

In my opinion the short answer is this. In an effort to defuse the demographic time-bomb of occupation and close the Palestine file for ever, Israel resorts to a final round of ethnic cleansing, to drive the Palestinians off the West Bank and into Jordan and other neighbouring Arab states. (What about the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip prison camp? They are left to rot and will suffer the same fate as their West Bank brothers and sisters if they chose to stay and dare to threaten Israel’s security).

Understanding the full extent of the complicity of EU ministers and their governments in Israel’s defiance of international law does not require a lot of effort.

On 5 July, Oxfam released its latest report, On the Brink: The Impact of Settlements on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. Its findings included the following.

“Settlements and related Israeli policies, such as systematic demolitions and restrictions on land and water use, are creating a wretched reality for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley... Palestinian communities are under threat as settlement expansion and demolitions escalate... Palestinians can use just 6 percent of the land in the Jordan Valley, while Israeli settlers, who account for just 13 percent of the valley’s people, have control over 86 percent of it... Settlements in the Jordan Valley, illegal under international law, have established industrial farms that produce high value crops for sale in markets locally and abroad, and are supported by a range of Israeli government grants and subsidies that facilitate their growth and sustainability... At the same time, the poverty rate for Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley is nearly double that of the rest of the West Bank as many struggle to make a living from farming and animal rearing without adequate access to land.”

The Oxfam report also noted that it’s not only in the Jordan Valley that the pace of Israeli land theft is quickening. 2011 saw a 20 percent rise in new settlement construction across the whole of the occupied West Bank as compared to 2010. Over the same period, the number of Palestinians displaced by demolition doubled, with 60 percent of the demolitions carried out in areas close to settlements.

(To add to their assertion that God gave them the right to plunder Palestinian land, the settlers now have the endorsement of an earthly authority - the Levy Committee. Under the chairmanship of former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, it was set up earlier this year by Prime Minister Netanyahu to establish whether or not outposts constructed by settlers without government authorization were legal. The 89-page report of the Levy Committee ruled that they are “because Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law.” Jonathan Cook described this denial of Israeli occupation as “preposterous”. I go further. I think it is irrefutable proof of a Zionist mindset that is deluded to the point of clinical madness).

The Oxfam report called on the member states of the European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner, “to take urgent action to press the government of Israel to immediately stop building settlements and end the demolition of Palestinian structures, including homes, animal pens, water cisterns, and solar panels.”

Oxfam’s International Executive Director, Jeremy Hobbs, underlined this call for action with the statement that “World leaders have long been saying the right things but strong words alone are not enough.” (This important comment from Hobbs did not appear in the BBC’s take on the Oxfam report on its web site. I presumed that this omission was an instance of self-censorship by the BBC to avoid hassle from supporters of Israel right or wrong).

Three questions are now in order.

The first is: What are the right things in strong words that EU (and other) leaders have long been saying?

Here are some examples.

Statement by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, 8 June 2012: “I deplore Israeli Government plans to build over 800 additional settlement housing units as well as the plan to relocate some of the settlers from Ulpana within the occupied Palestinian territory. Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”

Statement by EU foreign affairs ministers, 14 May 2012: “The EU expresses deep concern about the marked acceleration of settlement construction following the end of the 2010 moratorium...” All 27 foreign ministers unanimously condemned Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes, its continuing settlement expansion and the rise of settler violence against Palestinians, which the UN said has leapt by 150% in the past year, largely due to the impunity of Israeli perpetrators. The foreign ministers also warned that Israel policies “threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”

Joint statement of ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, December 2011: “The Israeli government’s decision to speed up settlement construction is a wholly negative development. We call on the Israeli government to reverse these steps.”

Statement by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, November 2011: “Settlements on occupied land are illegal. We are very clear about that and have condemned recent decisions to accelerate settlement building, and I condemn them again today.”

US state department, April 2011: “… not only are continued Israeli settlements illegitimate, Israel’s actions run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations. The building of housing units in East Jerusalem would be detrimental to building good faith between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Statement by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, October 2010: “The Israeli government’s decision to build 2600 new housing units in the settlement of Givat Ha’matos runs against the spirit of the Middle East Quartet declaration and Israel’s roadmap obligations.”

“The Quartet (March 2010) urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem.”

A week after Jeremy Hobbs called for “urgent action”, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, made the following statement in an interview with Ha-aretz. ”The settlement policy is making it difficult to establish a democratic and sustainable Palestinian state which will be able to live in peace with Israel. Besides the great importance which we attach to the legal aspect and to international law, our position is that every policy and development that tries to create facts on the ground and is hindering the establishment of peace is a mistaken policy. That is a clear stance which is unequivocal. The illegal settlements must be brought to an end.”

The urgent action Jeremy Hobbs had in mind for the purpose of pressing Israel would require the EU to reassess its relations with the Zionist (not Jewish) state and decide that the time had come to use the leverage the EU has on account of the fact that about 60% of Israel’s trade is with Europe. The EU message to Israel then would be something like this: “If you want to continue enjoying the trade and other benefits of your relationship with us, you must comply with your obligations under international law.” An incremental process of EU pressure on Israel could (and in my view should) start with the banning of produce and products from the illegal Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank.

So much for what could (and should) have been. Now to the second question.

How did the EU actually respond to the call by Hobbs (and others) for urgent action to press Israel to end the building of illegal settlements and be serious about peace?

It decided to reward not punish Israel. At the annual meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council in Brussels on Tuesday 24 July, the EU confirmed that it was now ready to upgrade trade and diplomatic relations with Israel in more than 60 areas, including migration, energy and agriculture; and that it would remove obstacles impeding Israel's access to European government-controlled markets and enhance Israel's co-operation with nine EU agencies, including Europol and the European Space Agency. (The decision in principle to extend EU-Israel co-operation in 60 areas was taken in 2005, but implementation of it was put on hold when Israel went to war with Palestinians of the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008 and was accused of committing war crimes).

I agree 100% and then some with Jonathan Cook’s overall analysis and particular comment. The headline over his article in Counterpunch was Israel Rewarded... For What? He wrote (my emphasis added):

“The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu has serially defied and insulted foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama; given the settlers virtual free rein; blocked peace talks with the Palestinians; intimidated and marginalised human rights groups, UN agencies and even the Israeli courts; and fuelled a popular wave of Jewish ethnic and religious chauvinism against the country's Palestinian minority, foreign workers and asylum seekers.

“No wonder, then, that in poll after poll Israel ranks as one of the countries with the most negative influence on international affairs.

“And yet, the lower Israel sinks in public estimation, the more generous Western leaders are in handing out aid and special favours to their wayward ally. The past few days (this comment relates to the EU’s decision) have been particularly shameless.”

The third question is: On the matter of Israel’s policies and actions, what explains the refusal of EU ministers to match their words with deeds?

It’s not enough to say they are hypocrites of the highest order. They are but there’s much more to it than that. How much more was indicated by a senior EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity to The Guardian the day before the EU-Israel Association Council meeting. (In its report of what the unnamed diplomat said, The Guardian predicted with precision how the EU was going to reward Israel).

The diplomat told The Guardian that despite private complaints of the inconsistency of chastising Israel with one hand while rewarding it with the other, not one minister was prepared to oppose the extension of EU-Israel co-operation in 60 areas. He (or she?) put it this way:

“I was struck by the fact that a whole range of relations was offered to Israel - at the request of Israel - as if nothing is happening on the ground. Most ministers are too afraid to speak out in case they are singled out as being too critical towards Israel, because, in the end, relations with Israel are on the one hand relations with the Jewish community at large and on the other hand with Washington - nobody wants to have fuss with Washington. So ministers are fine with making political statements but they refrain from taking concrete action.”

That squares with what I have been writing and saying for some years. Almost everybody in public life in the Western world (not just the EU), and actually far beyond, is frightened, even terrified, of offending Zionism too much or at all. And there’s no mystery about why.

Provoking Zionism’s wrath invites, guarantees, a false charge of anti-Semitism, and that can destroy careers.

In my analysis what happened in Brussels on 24 July confirms something else I have been writing and saying for several years. The Zionist state is Israel is a monster beyond control.

And that’s why my next article will be under the headline IS PALESTINE A LOST CAUSE?

I will argue that it is unless... And I will spell out what the unless is.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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