The EU-Israel Association Council – the highest-level EU-Israel meeting – takes place in Brussels on Tuesday (24 July), barely a month after the people of Gaza marked five years under an Israeli-imposed closure.
Although a political upgrade of relations has formally been frozen since the Gaza war in 2008-09, deepening of economic and technical co-operation seems set to move ahead as usual. Meanwhile, the Israeli occupation continues to fragment the Palestinian population into a series of shrinking cantons, pushing a two-state solution closer to impossibility by the day. How much longer can this inconsistency go on?
Earlier hopes that closer EU ties with Israel would encourage its compliance with international law have been misplaced. If the EU is serious about a just peace in Israel and Palestine, it needs to make a stronger link between its relations with Israel and Israel's respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, as called for by a European Parliament resolution on 5 July. In particular, it should consider the extent to which internationally unlawful actions by Israel restrict EU aid to the occupied Palestinian territory and the development of a future Palestinian state.
The Association Council comes on the heels of the strongest statements yet by EU foreign ministers on the human-rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, which indicate that prospects for a viable Palestinian state next to Israel have never looked worse. A near-hermetic separation of Gaza from the West Bank persists, despite the recognition of the occupied Palestinian territory as a single territory in the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. This physical division keeps the Palestinian population warehoused in separate units, denying their right to move freely within their territory. Added to policies in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which are aimed at securing illegal Israeli settlements and their growth (such as restrictions on Palestinian building, house demolitions, forced displacement and movement restrictions), it appears that a future Palestinian state is being reduced to a set of fragmented enclaves, devoid of the essential resources and rights needed for development.
These facts are all too well known, and have been described in great detail in reports from the EU ambassadors in the occupied Palestinian territory, which clearly state that Israel's policies are jeopardising a two-state solution. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be taken into account in the further development of bilateral relations with Israel.
Bringing aid into the picture makes it even clearer that the EU could gain far more from putting greater pressure on Israel to change illegal occupation policies that keep many Palestinians dependent on aid. This would not only be in line with EU member states' duty to ensure respect for international humanitarian law, but would also contribute to the effectiveness and impact of the EU's annual aid to the occupied Palestinian territory, which amounts to over €300 million.
European leaders seeking closer ties with Israel would do well to recall the nearly €30 million of European aid projects destroyed by Israeli military operations in Gaza and the West Bank over the past decade. As aid donors, they should also add up the costs of accommodating the illegal closure of Gaza, a policy which creates aid dependency in the first place. Not least of these costs is the EU's €13 million plan to improve the only Gaza crossing for goods that Israel has left open, despite the lack of progress on opening other crossing points, and Israel's dismantling of a bigger donor-funded crossing earlier this year.
Finally, there is the overall question of the vast amounts of EU aid poured into building a Palestinian state. Surely, as the biggest donor to this enterprise, the EU is in a position to bring the question of often unlawful restrictions on Palestinian development into its bilateral relations with Israel? And if such an exercise of EU influence sounds utopian, then what exactly does the EU hope to build in the occupied Palestinian territory?
Giving carrots to Israel while it gives the stick to Palestinians has become a costly and dangerously complicit formula. It is high time that EU leaders realise this, and present Israel with the bill rather than taking the relationship to the next level.
This opinion piece on EU-Israel relations was published on the European Voice online edition