The Role of the EU
The EU has an important threefold role in the Middle East. Diplomatically (as a member of the Middle East Quartet, along with the UN, the US and Russia), as a trading partner and as a donor of aid, advice and development assistance (principally to the Palestinians).
Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner and Israel benefits additionally from its privileged access to European markets under the EU-Israel Association Agreement (1995). The 2004 European Neighbourhood Policy of which Israel is a beneficiary offers opportunities for deeper bi-lateral associations than heretofore. The EU therefore has significant leverage on Israel.
In all its external relations, the EU should not implicate itself in any actions that breach international humanitarian law and must also ensure that the benefits of co-operation are used in the proper spirit of this law. Article Two of the EU-Israel Association Agreement states:
“Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles which guide their domestic and international policies and constitute an essential element of the Agreement.”
The EU’s normative obligations are set out firstly as a general principle of community law by the European Court of Justice: ‘The European Community shall respect international law in the exercise of its powers’. Secondly, it is set out in specific Articles 170 and 181a of the Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEC) which stipulate that Community external policies involving development and other co-operation ‘shall contribute to the objective of respecting human rights’.
The European Union is not meeting its obligations in this regard. The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) has described the EU’s handling of the problems posed by Israel’s violation of international humanitarian law as demonstrating “a pattern of accommodation bordering on acquiescence”.
The EMHRN Third Annual Review (June 2007) states:
“the policies that Israel has been pursuing in contravention of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are causes of that conflict and not merely products of it”.
The Review recommends that progress can only be made if there is clear accountability and penalties, such as the suspension of agreements, for non-compliance with international humanitarian law.
In 2002, the European Parliament voted to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement in response to gross human rights violations by Israel in Jenin and Nablus. However the EU Commission failed to take any action to hold Israel to account.
In 2005, EU foreign minsters unanimously agreed to shelve their own Heads of Mission report which was scathingly critical of Israeli policies in East Jerusalem.
Political/ideological alliances and historical considerations severely dull Europe’s ability to advance a cogent strategy for the promotion of justice and the rule of law in the region. Some member states are unwilling to do or say anything critical of Israeli policy thus ensuring European policy remains moribund. Meanwhile Israel seizes the opportunity to create “facts on the ground”.
Even as Israel continues to destroy millions of Euro worth of Palestinian infrastructure, paid for by European tax-payers, the EU demurs from taking any action to hold Israel to account. The August 2001-beginning May 2007 estimated total cost to EU – and Member State – funded projects for physical infrastructure (only) destroyed or damaged by Israeli military forces was €43,974,563. EMHRN Third Annual Review (June 2007).
An objective of the European Common Foreign and Defence Policy is “to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” By working together to raise awareness of the issues Irish citizens can help to achieve this objective.