News has been breaking this week of an apparently draconian new set of EU trade guidelines* that would force Israel to declare the whole of the West Bank and East Jerusalem outside of the State of Israel in any future agreements, funding arrangements or award schemes with the EU! While the extent of the teeth in this new move is vague at the moment, the Israeli government is certainly showing serious concern over it.
The country’s deputy Foreign Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, told the Jerusalem Post,
“This is an over-eager bureaucratic process that can have far-reaching ramifications that Israel cannot agree to and which are liable to significantly hurt Israeli-EU cooperation in Research and Development, education, culture and scientific exchanges,” Elkin told The Jerusalem Post. And, he added, “it badly hurts the diplomatic process and Kerry’s efforts.”
That the EU would continue to tighten the screws on Israel’s activities beyond the green line, is no surprise to anyone. What is new this time is that the EU is trying to force Israel’s government into accepting a historical armistice line with no political meaning as the country’s international border. The new guidelines crystallise a number of previous quiet and mutually accepted decisions into one, much more publicly blatant, document.
Besides being an insult to Israel’s rights as a sovereign state, the guidelines interfere with every agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian leaders by presuming on an issue that can only be decided between the two negotiating parties (who haven’t actually negotiated anything for several years)! Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly takes the document seriously, having called an emergency cabinet meeting and issued a strong condemnation, in which he points out that execution of the guildelines will “…make it more difficult to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, because they will ask why negotiate when the Europeans are giving them what they want…”
The dust is still swirling in the air over this issue; even as to whether the offending document is a firm directive to all member states or a set of guidelines; but if it is as severe as is being reported I predict several possible outcomes; none of them good for Europe or Britain.
1. British trade with Israel has never been stronger and is growing all the time. Co-operation between British companies and Israeli start-ups through our Tel Aviv embassy’s technology hub is yielding tangible benefits for both countries. Furthermore, Britain is now Israel’s fourth largest export receiver. If the EU enforces the directive, which comes into force this Friday, it could have a catastrophic effect on the fruitful economic ties Britain has with Israel.
2. The EU as a whole will suffer if Israel does as she should and refuses to co-operate with the terms of the guidelines. European countries benefit from many Israeli medical and technological advances and future co-operation in these areas would grind to a halt to the detriment of us all. If Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to poke the EU in the eye, all he has to do is move small parts of his country’s drone production into the West Bank and let Brussels chew on a halt to her purchase of Israeli drone technology.
3. While Israel exports millions of dollars of goods and food to European nations, the EU is not Israel’s only trading partner. Even some Arab Gulf states have begun developing quiet links with their traditional enemy. Further east Israel is building stronger trade links with India and China, two of the world’s biggest economies. And of course Israel still has the USA, totally unaffected by silly decisions made by an unelected bureaucracy across the sea. No doubt Israel’s detractors and boycott-wishers will crow and celebrate this European condemnation of Israel’s so-called “occupation” of Judea and Samaria. Let’s be clear about this, though; if the EU enforces this latest anti-Israel directive it will do nothing for peace; it will do nothing for the economies of any European nations and will only bring to an end the benefits we all have from Israel’s technology, medical and agricultural advances.
4. Closer to home and just as damaging for Israel is the certainty that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will make as much mileage out of this as it can. What incentive does Mr Abbas have to stop laying down pre-conditions for talks with Israel if the EU is setting borders and defining his future state’s territory for him? Israel should ban all EU projects in Area C of the West Bank until the guidelines are changed. This would prevent the EU giving further aid to the PA to develop the Israeli-controlled part of the disputed territories. Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to go as far as applying full Israeli sovereignty over that part of the West bank, as demanded by some settler groups, but he can put pressure on the EU and the Palestinians by refusing to allow further EU funded projects there.
Sorry EU Commission, but methinks you’ve shot yourself in the foot this time!
*The actual document describes itself as “Guidelines”, but the Commission commits itself to “…implement these guidelines in their entirety…”, giving them more force than just advice to member states. As mentioned above, the strength of the “teeth” of this document will become apparent as it is applied.