Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
التضامن الإيرلندي الفلسطيني

The EU & Israel

IPSC EU Submission (Oct 2008): The EU’s Blind Eye

How the EU ignores Israel’s failure to fulfil its obligations under EU agreements

How the EU ignores Israel’s failure to fulfil its obligations under EU agreementsThe Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign have produced a new document that will besubmitted to the European Union and various other prominent bodies and individuals as part of our political lobbying campaign.

The document critiques the EU’s biased relationship with Israel, exposing how the EU ignores Israel’s failure to fulfil its obligations under various agreements including the Euro-Med Agreement, The European Neighbourhood Policy and the Agreement on Movement and Access. It also questions the recent ‘upgrading’ of relations between the EU and Israel, and reveals the EU’s double-standards when dealing with Israel as compared to Russia and Iran.

Download the IPSC EU Submission (Oct 2008): The EU’s Blind Eye

EU-Israel relations “upgraded”

Birthday present for a rogue state

The EU has had a special relationship with Israel since the two parties signed an economic co-operation agreement in 1975. In the following 30 years, relations between the two parties have developed to such an extent that today no other state has a closer relationship with the EU than Israel.
On 16 June 2008, as a 60th birthday present to Israel, the EU agreed to “upgrade” relations further. And it did so in the face of fierce opposition from the Palestinian Authority.

Key milestones

The key milestones in EU-Israel relations are as follows:

1975: Israel signs an economic co-operation agreement with the European Community.
1981: The Delegation of the European Commission to the state of Israel [1] officially opens.
1995: Israel signs the Barcelona Declaration, which established the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, a framework for political, economic and social co-operation between the EU and states in the Mediterranean region.
1995: Israel signs an Association Agreement under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, which granted it privileged access to the EU market in 2000.

1996: Israel becomes the first non-EU state to take part in the EU’s scientific and technical research programme.
2004: Israel signs an agreement with the EU, allowing it to participate in Galileo, the EU’s project for a Global Satellite Navigation System.
2004: Israel becomes a partner in the European Neighbourhood Policy agreeing an Action Plan with the EU covering activity in political, economic and social fields.
2008: The EU decides to further “upgrade” its relations with Israel.

Contempt for UN Charter

Since 1975, while relations between the EU and Israel have been blossoming, Israel has continuously breached the generally accepted rules of international behaviour laid down in the UN Charter. Article 2.4 of the UN Charter states:

“All [UN] Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” [2]

Throughout its existence as a state, Israel has treated this Article of the UN Charter with contempt and used force against its neighbours on a regular basis.

In 1956, in a conspiracy with the UK and France, it attacked Egypt, the conspirators being forced to withdraw by the US.

In 1967, it attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria and forcibly occupied the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, and annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights.

It proceeded to build Jewish settlements in the area it conquered, contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49 of which forbids an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. It has thumbed its nose at Security Council demands (in resolutions 446, 452 and 465) to cease building settlements and remove those it has built.

Likewise, it has thumbed its nose at Security Council demands that it reverse its annexation of East Jerusalem (in resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478) and of the Golan Heights (in resolution 497).

And it has thumbed its nose at the ruling of the International Court of Justice in July 2004 that it “cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto”.

More than 40 years later, forcible occupation, and settlement building, continues. East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are still annexed – and the Wall lengthens daily.


In 1978, and again in 1982, it attacked Lebanon and forcibly occupied part of it from 1982 until 2000. For 20 years, it ignored the Security Council demand (in resolution 425) that called upon it “immediately to cease its military action against Lebanese territorial integrity and withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory”. It finally withdrew its ground forces from Lebanon (apart from Shebaa Farms), because of military pressure from Hezbollah.

It attacked Lebanon again in July 2006, and withdrew a month later, again because of military pressure from Hezbollah. Israeli aircraft still regularly violate Lebanese sovereignty today, contrary to the UN Charter and various Security Council resolutions.

Rogue state

Today, Israel is violating over 30 Security Council resolutions that require action by it and it alone [3]. If any other state in the world were guilty of such persistent refusal to obey the will of the “international community”, it would be subject to continuous threats of economic and/or military sanctions by the EU. Instead, it is courted by the EU.

Israel’s use of force, and threat to use force, contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, continues unabated. On 6 September 2007, an Israeli aircraft entered Syrian airspace and bombed a building allegedly housing a nuclear facility. Hardly a day passes without it threatening to attack Iran, contrary to Article 2.4 of the Charter.

No state in the world is more deserving than Israel of being described as a “rogue” state. Yet, the EU has close relations with it, and is seeking even closer relations.

Barcelona Declaration

The most important development in the EU’s relations with Israel occurred in Barcelona in November 1995, when it signed the Barcelona Declaration [4]. This established the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership [5], encompassing 15 EU states plus 11 states in the Mediterranean region (Algeria, Cyrus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey) and the Palestinian Authority.
At the same time, Israel signed an Association Agreement [6] under the Partnership, aka the Euro-Med Agreement, giving it privileged access to the EU market. Today, about 33% of Israel’s exports are to the EU and 37% of its imports are from the EU (amounting to €9.8 billion and €13.8 billion, respectively, in 2006).

The Barcelona Declaration established what it describes as “a comprehensive partnership among the participants”. In addition, the participants undertook to behave according to international norms, both internationally and domestically.

For example, the participants undertook to:

“act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law, in particular those arising out of regional and international instruments to which they are party; …

“refrain, in accordance with the rules of international law, from any direct or indirect intervention in the internal affairs of another partner;

“respect the territorial integrity and unity of each of the other partners;

“settle their disputes by peaceful means, call upon all participants to renounce recourse to the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of another participant, including the acquisition of territory by force, and reaffirm the right to fully exercise sovereignty by legitimate means in accordance with the UN Charter and international law;” [4]

Obviously, from the outset in November 1995, the EU made an exception of Israel when it came to abiding by these generally recognised principles of international law, otherwise it would never have allowed it to be a participant in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in the first place.

In 1995, when Israel signed the Barcelona Declaration and undertook to abide by these principles, it was breaking all four of them in relation to Lebanon and Syria, two of its fellow participants in the Partnership, by forcibly occupying territory belonging to them. In 1995, it was forcibly occupying the West Bank and Gaza, contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. It was planting Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, contrary to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. And it was violating some 25 Security Council resolutions requiring action by it and it alone, contrary to its “obligations under international law” and to Article 25 of the UN Charter, which require member states of the UN to abide by decisions of the Security Council.

Yet, the EU welcomed it into the Partnership, despite its obvious contempt for the principles enshrined in the Declaration establishing the Partnership.

Not very much has changed in the interim – Israel still forcibly occupies Lebanese and Syrian territory and the West Bank and Gaza (and overflies Lebanese territory regularly). Today, it is violating even more Security Council resolutions requiring action by it and it alone (over 30 now). And bombing a building in Syria allegedly housing a nuclear facility is not obviously compatible with the principle of settling disputes with fellow participants by peaceful means.

One might think that this continued contempt for principles enshrined in the Declaration establishing the Partnership might lead the EU to question Israel’s suitability as a partner. But, on the contrary, the EU wants to hug it even closer.

Middle East WMD free zone

In the Barcelona Declaration, Israel also signed up to the following:

“The parties shall pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”

“Furthermore the parties will consider practical steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as excessive accumulation of conventional arms.” [4]

Israel is the only state in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons (and probably the only one that possesses chemical and biological weapons). So, its disarmament of these weapons is a necessary (and probably a sufficient) condition for bringing about a “Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction”. Needless to say, therefore, progress in bringing this about has been noticeable by its absence since Israel signed up to “pursue” this objective in 1995.

There has been no progress either on the Security Council’s demand in resolution 487, passed on 19 June 1981, that “Israel urgently … place its nuclear facilities under IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards”. 27 years later, Israel still hasn’t placed its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, nor is there any noticeable pressure from the EU to make it do so, let alone disarm in order to produce a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, which parties to the Barcelona Declaration are supposed to “pursue”.

By contrast, Iran’s nuclear facilities, including its uranium enrichment facilities, are under IAEA supervision. It is worth noting that, after extensive inspection in Iran, the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme, or ever had one. By contrast, Israel has possessed nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them for around 40 years. It is estimated that today Israel has around 200 nuclear warheads and various delivery systems, including by submarine-launched missile. It is capable of wiping Iran, and every Arab state, off the map at the touch of a button. Strange that the EU is actively pressuring Iran about its nuclear activities, but not Israel.

Euro-Med Agreement

Israel has comprehensively failed to fulfil the obligations it signed up to in the Barcelona Declaration. The Euro-Med Agreement with the EU under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership also contains human rights obligations. Article 2 of the 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 guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.” [6]

That states plainly that human rights compliance by Israel is an “essential element” of the Agreement – not an optional element, nor a desirable element, but an essential element.

There isn’t the slightest doubt that Israel has continuously failed to live up to these obligations, the most recent example being its economic strangulation of the people of Gaza in 2007/8. Of this, John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council on 26 February 2008:

“The effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel’s continuing obligations to the people of Gaza. It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.” [7]

Collective punishment is contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states:

“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” [8]

The EU itself has described the economic strangulation of Gaza as “collective punishment”, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner saying on 21 January 2008:

“I am against this collective punishment of the people of Gaza. I urge the Israeli authorities to restart fuel supplies and open the crossings for the passage of humanitarian and commercial supplies.” [9]

The Irish Foreign Minister, Dermot Ahern, agreed, telling the Dail Eireann on 11 March 2008:

“I remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is unacceptable that Israel should isolate the people of Gaza and cut off essential supplies in order to exert pressure on them to reject Hamas. I agree with the United Nations that this constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law.” [10]

So, the UN, the EU and Ireland are of the firm opinion that, by its economic strangulation of Gaza, Israel has violated international humanitarian law. And it is not as if this economic strangulation of Gaza is a momentary lapse from an otherwise unblemished record of human rights compliance. On the contrary, the collective punishment of the people of Gaza is the openly acknowledged policy of the Israeli Government that has been in operation, to a greater or lesser extent, for years. Famously, when Israel limited commercial shipments of food into Gaza in 2006, a senior government adviser, Dov Weisglass, explained that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger” [11].

There is not the slightest doubt that, by its economic strangulation of Gaza in 2007/8, Israel breached its human rights obligations under Article 2 of the Association Agreement, obligations that are stated to be an “essential element” of the Agreement. If Article 2 is to be taken seriously, then the Agreement should be suspended. Clearly, yet again, the EU makes an exception for Israel.

Agreements for Scientific and Technical Co-operation

In August 1996, Israel became the first non-EU state to take part in the EU’s scientific and technical research programmes. Since then, Israeli researchers, universities and companies have had the same access as their EU counterparts to EU research funds, in exchange for a contribution to the funds by Israel [12].
Under the fourth agreement, signed in July 2007, Israel is set to contribute €440 million to the €50 billion budget of the current EU programme (Framework Programme 7), which runs from 2007 to 2013. Representatives of Israel will also have the opportunity to participate as observers in the implementing committees and bodies of the programme.
European Neighbourhood Policy

A further upgrade in EU-Israel relations took place in 2004, when Israel became a “partner” in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) [13]. This encompasses both the EU’s southern neighbours that were already in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and its Eastern European neighbours.

The EU provides money for projects under the ENP, €5.6 billion in total being allocated for the period 2007-10. However, because of Israel’s relatively advanced state of economic development, a very small amount of this – €9 million – is specifically allocated to it (see European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument [14]). Clearly, Israel’s reasons for participating in the ENP are political rather than economic.
EU relations with other states under the ENP are supposed to be tailored to the honouring of human rights and other obligations. As the ENP website says:

“The EU offers our neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). The ENP goes beyond existing relationships to offer a deeper political relationship and economic integration. The level of ambition of the relationship will depend on the extent to which these values are shared [my emphasis].” [13]

Nevertheless, Israel was one of 7 states with which “action plans” were agreed in December 2004 – the others were Ukraine, Moldova, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority [15]. Since then, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in Eastern Europe and Egypt and Lebanon in the Mediterranean area have been added to the list.

The “action plan” for Israel [16] was based on a European Commission report on Israel [17] dated May 2004. One might expect that this would have examined Israel’s human rights record closely in order to determine whether or not Israel was fit for an ENP relationship. And it does to a degree: in a 24-page document, there are a few paragraphs that comment on (a) discrimination against Israeli Arabs and (b) Israeli action in the Occupied Territories.

On discrimination against Israeli Arabs, the document says:

“The Arab minority, Muslim, Christian and Druze, makes up almost 20% of the Israeli population. Although the Declaration of Independence proclaims equality for citizens, Israeli legislation contains laws and regulations that favour the Jewish majority. … As highlighted by an Israeli Commission report presented in 2003 (“Or Commission”), the Arab minority also suffers from discrimination in many areas including budget allocations, official planning, employment, education and health. … The Arab minority is severely affected by the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law of 2003, suspending for a renewable one-year period, the possibility of family reunification, subject to limited exceptions.

“About 100,000 Arabs (Bedouins), mostly in the Negev, live in villages considered illegal by the State. …” (p 10)

“According to the Israeli poverty definition, about 14% of the Israeli households were living in poverty in 2001, and the share is expected to have risen in the following years. Figures are higher among the Arab minority (where 45% of the families fell in the poverty category).” (p 16)

One might have thought that a state which, throughout its existence, has deliberately engaged in religious discrimination against a minority of its population would be deemed unfit by the EU for an ENP relationship. Or has religious discrimination become an “EU value”?

And it’s not as if Israel has taken steps to eliminate, or even mitigate, this discrimination since 2004. The latest Commission progress report on ENP implementation in Israel, published in April 2008, says:

“The promotion and protection of the Israeli Arab minority did not advance significantly during the reporting period, particularly in areas like land allocation, housing, planning, economic development, investment in social infrastructure and justice. A number of initiatives were launched in the field of justice and education but results were limited. The Arab education system continued to lag behind Jewish education. A clear strategy for land allocation to Israeli Arabs remains to be adopted. In March 2007, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published a report on the situation of the Israeli Arab minority and asked the Israeli government to take significant measures to promote minority rights in the above-mentioned areas.” [18]

On Israeli action in the Occupied Territories, the Commission report from May 2004 says:

“… In August 2003 the [United Nations] Committee [for Human Rights] reiterated its concerns at the increasing extent of human rights violations in those territories, particularly through military operations, the obstruction of freedom of movement and house demolitions. The EU recognises Israel’s right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. It has urged the Government of Israel, in exercising this right, to exert maximum effort to avoid civilian casualties and take no action that aggravates the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people. It has called on Israel to abstain from any punitive measures which are not in accordance with international law, including extrajudicial killings and destruction of houses.” (p8 )

It is difficult to believe that these few sentences constitute the full extent of what the EU has to say about the misery Israel has inflicted on Palestinians in 40 years of occupation. Even so, one might have thought that the evidence presented in these few sentences was sufficient to render Israel unfit in the eyes of the EU for an ENP relationship. Or have “extrajudicial killings and destruction of houses” also become “EU values”?

Have matters progressed since 2004? The Commission progress report from April 2008 says:

“Issues raised in the framework of the political dialogue included inter alia: the peace process, the situation in the Middle East, the situation of the Arab minority in Israel, restrictions of movement in West Bank and Gaza Strip, the construction of the separation barrier, administrative detentions, the dismantling of outposts, the envisaged expansion of certain Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, more checkpoints. Little concrete progress has however been achieved on the issues as such. In 2007 the fatalities resulting from conflict-related incidents were 377 Palestinians (compared to 643 in 2006) and 13 Israelis (compared to 27 in 2006).” [18]

60th birthday present

Despite Israel’s abysmal failure to live up to its obligations under current agreements, its relationship with the EU is now to be “upgraded”. This was done in the teeth of opposition from the Palestinian “Prime Minister”, Salam Fayyad, who, in a letter to EU leaders on 27 May 2008, wrote:

“I am writing you to register my deep reservations concerning such an upgrade while Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations, including certain of its commitments to the EU.” [19]

The decision to “upgrade” was taken at the 8th meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council on 16 June 2008. It was done at Israel’s request, as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains:

“More than a year ago, Foreign Minister Livni attended a meeting of the Association Council and initiated the upgrading process between Israel and the EU in recognition of Israel’s upcoming 60th birthday.” [20]

Why was the decision taken? An EU statement on the outcome of the Council meeting says:

“Our common goal to upgrade relations stems from our awareness of the traditional links, the cultural and human values, and the economic and security interests that we share. Israel is a key partner of the EU in the Mediterranean. It has contributed to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership since its origins in 1995.As a vibrant market economy, with a well developed public administration and a functioning rule of law, Israel also possesses the necessary institutional structures which permit it to work ever more closely and intensively with the European Union.” [21]

No mention there that “the promotion and protection of the Israeli Arab minority did not advance significantly” in 2006-8 “particularly in areas like land allocation, housing, planning, economic development, investment in social infrastructure and justice”. No mention either that there was “little concrete progress” on “the situation of the Arab minority in Israel, restrictions of movement in West Bank and Gaza Strip, the construction of the separation barrier, administrative detentions, the dismantling of outposts, the envisaged expansion of certain Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, more checkpoints”.

Three elements

What does the “upgrade” amount to? The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs says there are three elements to it:

Diplomatic: Institutionalization of the diplomatic dialogue between the Israeli and EU leaderships, by means of regular annual meetings on a senior level. In addition, there will be increased meetings between government ministers, senior officials and parliamentarians from both sides.

Israel will join European agencies, programs and working groups: This will mean bringing the Israeli economy and society closer to European norms and standards, and increasing the competitiveness of Israeli companies in the European market, primarily in the field of high-tech, with the signing of an aviation agreement that will lower prices for both sides, and others.

Israel’s integration into the European single market: A joint working group will examine the areas in which Israel is capable of integrating into the European single market. This will lay the groundwork for an additional upgrading of relations in the future.”

These matters are of little economic significance to Israel but it has achieved a considerable political victory. The greatest “rogue” state in the world, which has been collectively punishing the people of Gaza for the past year and has killed over 500 of them in that time [22], has been given a 60th birthday present by the EU, when objectively its behaviour merits economic and/or military sanctions to compel it to behave according to the generally recognised principles of international law.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is understandably very happy with Israel’s relations with the EU:

“Israel’s relations with Europe and with the EU have been improving in recent years. Israel enjoys a significant improvement in diplomatic relations with most European states, as well as with EU institutions, which is expressed, among other ways, in the many visits to Israel paid by European leaders.”

“In the past year a number of important agreements have been reached, including: an upgrade in the diplomatic-strategic dialogue between Israel and the EU; Israel’s joining the R & D program of the EU; and an additional liberalization in the field of agriculture. A framework agreement was signed for Israel to enter EU programs, and an aviation agreement is ready for signing. Also, a high-level business dialogue has been established between Israeli and European business communities. Negotiations on free trade in financial services are also about to begin.”


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